What are the World Bank Meetings and why do they matter?
Each year, in autumn, the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund host their Annual Meetings in Washington D.C. The meetings bring together thousands of representatives from governments, the media, civil society organisations, parliamentarians, academia, and the private sector, to discuss poverty reduction and economic development. For RESULTS UK, the Annual Meetings represent a key moment in our calendar; the decisions taken each autumn in Washington can have a huge impact on the lives of the world’s poorest and most marginalised. For our work on health, nutrition, education and economic opportunities, understanding and influencing the policies of the World Bank is crucial.
While an opportune moment to engage with the world’s largest development institution, the World Bank’s Annual Meeting can be a crowded space. With all sectors and all players vying for their piece of the development pie, engaging decision makers on the issues you work on can prove a tall order. That’s why, when World Bank President, Jim Kim, announced this year that he would host a Human Capital Summit focusing on the importance of investing in the early years, we knew it could be a turning point for our work on nutrition and education. With the President of the World Bank focusing his attention on bringing Finance Ministers to the Summit, it became clear that political momentum was building and that concrete commitments could be made.
Who was at the Human Capital Summit and what happened?
The Human Capital Summit took place on 6th October (if you’re interested, you can view it here) and saw Finance Ministers from Senegal, Madagascar, Tanzania, Indonesia, Pakistan, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Ethiopia join Jim Kim in addressing a packed out conference room at the World Bank Buildings in downtown D.C.
TV host, Julie Gichuru opened proceedings by telling the audience that “you cannot tell a hungry child that you gave them food yesterday” - a poignant opening remark that set out the moral case for investing in the early years. Then came Jim Kim, who used his opening intervention to put forth the economic case and explain how three critical interventions can boost peace, productivity and prosperity globally:
- Good nutrition in the first 1000 days
- Early stimulation and learning opportunities
- Nurturing and protecting children
These three interventions, according to Kim, must be expanded if countries want to remain competitive and meet the economic demands of tomorrow. As a show of intent, Kim pledged to reconvene similar high-level meetings at future World Bank events. He also vowed to raise the profile of the issue each year at the World Economic Forum and highlight which governments were failing to deal with high rates of stunting among children.
At the country level, further ambitious commitments were made. Waqar Masood Khan, the Finance Secretary of Pakistan announced his plans to allocate 1.06% of the Pakistani budget to nutrition. Amadou Ba, Minister of Finance and Economy in Senegal, announced budget increases for the early years and set out his plans for the expansion of pre-primary education. Philip Isdor Mpango, Minister of Finance and Planning in Tanzania, made an impassioned call to the international community to follow Jim Kim’s lead and focus global attention on the early years.
From the conversations I had in D.C, the Summit was a long time coming, the culmination of years of hard work. The challenge now is to seize the moment and ensure that momentum continues building as we look towards the World Bank’s Spring Meetings and a potential Nutrition for Growth Conference next year.
Why was the summit important for our work on nutrition?
With the global spotlight on nutrition and the early years, this year’s Annual Meeting offered a great opportunity to showcase our work on nutrition to a broader audience.
As our elected representatives, law makers and high-profile public figures, parliamentarians can be, and are, among the most effective advocates. For this reason, a number of colleagues working on these issues decided that a gathering of politicians from around the world, each of which should have a background or interest in nutrition, would be an effective way of building on the energy and momentum that the World Bank President was stirring up.
Thanks to the efforts of those colleagues, in the morning just before the Human Capital Summit, we convened the inaugural meeting of the Leading Group on Parliamentary Engagement on Early Childhood Development and Nutrition. Members of Parliament from Malawi, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Madagascar, Burkina Faso, the UK, and a senior advisor from the office of a US Congressman, sat round a table and discussed the following:
- Experiences working on legislation related to nutrition and early childhood development
- Successes and challenges when calling for more investment in nutrition and early childhood development
- Next steps for promoting good nutrition and early childhood development after returning home
- Thoughts on the Leading Group on Parliamentary Engagement on Early Childhood Development and Nutrition, what it could offer and what should happen next
We heard the impact that Tanzanian legislation had on edging the country closer towards World Health Assembly breastfeeding targets. We listened to an MP outline his experience setting up a network of MPs for nutrition in Burkina Faso and how important it was for convincing financial decision makers of the merits of investing in nutrition. The member from the Ivory Coast pledged to return home and set up a parliamentary group to draw attention to the issue, and all present set out their interest in continuing to work with or grow the Leading Group. We are looking to meet again early next year and I will make sure to keep you all updated on progress with this.
Last week’s meetings were a step in the right direction, yet only a step. The real work begins now. The message from D.C was loud and clear, if we are to satisfy the economic demands of tomorrow’s world, we have to invest more in the early development of our children. We can all play a part in making that happen. As Martin Luther King famously said, “time itself is neutral. It can be used destructively or constructively”, let’s act quickly and use it constructively.