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We Heard Public Development Banks, but Will They Have the Guts to Deliver?

A farmer with her child in the outskirts of Kathmandu, Nepal, 2019. Credit : Forus

PARIS, Oct 22 2021 (IPS) - Public development banks have committed to ramp up action to tackle climate change, to protect biodiversity, to promote human rights, to align their investments with the SDGs and the Paris Agreement, and to create spaces of dialogue with civil society, farmers, indigenous peoples, and communities affected by the projects that they, as banks, finance.

These words have been said in the beautiful setting of Rome’s Villa Aurelia and laid down in colorful ink on the website of the Finance in Common initiative. But will the banks really walk the talk?

Over 500 public development banks gathered on the occasion of the Finance in Common summit on October 19-20, just days ahead of the G20 summit and COP26.

Ahead of the summit, many civil society groups mobilized to push public development banks to put people’s interests first and to not fall back into the old economic paradigm of perpetual growth.

On paper, we seem to all agree that transformative change towards sustainability and resilience is paramount, but does the development finance community really have what it takes to change the status quo? We know that our current global challenges cannot be fixed by the time the banks gather again next year.

But we demand from public development banks to not pat each other on the back. The time has come to show results. As expressed by one panelist: “the diagnosis is there, the studies are there, now what we really need to do is put all this into action”.

Therefore, next year, we hope to see not only announcements by headquarter-based high-level representatives in grey suits, we would love to hear from those on the ground, how the projects have delivered for them, and for their communities; and what we can learn from that to make the bank’s investments better in the future.

Public development banks need to create inclusive spaces of dialogue with civil society and groups usually excluded from the decision-making table. Actions need to be visible and interactions transparent.

Meeting the current challenges requires bold action, new partnerships and a renewal in trust. As civil society leader and Forus’ Chair, Iara Pietricovsky, from Brazil, said in the opening session “the respect of people and the environment is not negotiable, if we want to leave no one behind,” and “no one can tackle these challenges alone or from an ivory tower”.

Next year, the Finance in Common summit will he hosted by the African Development Bank, and civil society organizations from the region already have a message to share. “In the African context, we need public development banks to listen to communities and to include civil society in all the steps of the decision-making process,” says Julien Comlan Agbessi, representative of REPAOC, the West African NGO Platforms Network.

“We represent thousands of civil society organizations that work on development. They know the challenges and needs of the communities, our door is open to discuss ways in which we can collaborate.”

In their final communiqué, the Finance in Common coalition said that in 2022, they will be “setting up of an ad-hoc working group with interested CSOs (…) to institutionalize dialogue at the local, national and international levels.”

“We are ready to engage from tomorrow to see this strengthened dialogue become a reality. Because each day that passes without thinking together with civil society on how to tackle the immense current challenges is a missed opportunity to fulfill the banks’ promise of delivering first and foremost for the people and for our planet.

Sarah Strack is Director of Forus – a global network of civil society organizations representing over 22,000 NGOs


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