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GAP Hosts Successful Discussion About Racial Issues at the World Bank and IDB

, January 13, 2010

Last night GAP hosted a discussion at Busboys and Poets about racial issues at the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). There was a full house, with standing room only and more than 70 people in attendance, including representatives and employees from the IDB, World Bank (as observers), civil society and the U.S. government.

Round table participants included Bea Edwards, GAP International Program Director; Tina Tinde, Diversity Advisor at the IDB; Andrew Morrison, Chief of Gender and Diversity Unit, IDB; Gilberto Amaya, D.C. Representative of the Central American Black Organization (CABO, ONECA); Vince McElhinny, Manager of the Bank Information Center’s BICECA project; Joia Nuri, Chief of Staff at TransAfrica Forum; Carlos Quesada, Latin America Regional Program Director at Global Rights; Wamara Mwine, White House Correspondent for Politics in Color and author of a National Examiner report about racial discrimination at the World Bank; and Aisha Brown, Founder and CEO, Global Awareness Project Consulting.

Bea Edwards discussed the findings from GAP’s reports about discrimination at the World Bank and IDB.

Tina Tinde pointed out that many more people suffer the effects of discrimination than actually bring formal complaints about it. Ms. Tinde discussed the outcomes of IDB’s recent Leadership in Diversity Conference and initiatives that the IDB plans to take to improve its diversity, including a focus on recruiting Afro-descendants and indigenous peoples, succession planning, and launching a self-identification process in 2010 that will help the IDB set targets for improving its diversity.

Andrew Morrison agreed with some of the findings from GAP's report including the necessity of addressing the needs of communities that suffer from racial and ethnic discrimination in country dialogues and strategies; improving the data collected by the IDB on race, ethnicity and poverty; and improving the IDB’s tracking of projects that benefit Afro-descendant and indigenous communities, including infrastructure projects. Mr. Morrison said that the Bank plans to look at the state of social exclusion in Latin America every two years.

Gilberto Amaya discussed a recent Declaration adopted in December by the General Assembly of ONECA, a network of Afro-descendant organizations from Central America that works to promote economic development and social inclusion for Afro-descendent communities. The resolution states that, having learned about GAP’s report on racial discrimination at the World Bank and IDB, the Assembly resolves to “prepare an action plan to strengthen a relationship working with these entities and make its team available to them to support the design proposals that respond to the demand for our communities in terms of capacity development and investment promotion.” ONECA challenged the Banks to have clear, measurable goals in their projects and partnerships with Afro-descendent and indigenous communities and to commit to having an external organization measure the Banks’ implementation of these goals.

Vince McElhinny said that there has been no causal association between the IDB’s lending and a reduction of inequality in Latin America and stated that the IDB is not even in the ballpark of targeting enough lending to address social inequality issues. He stated that now is the opportune time to discuss these issues, as the IDB is in negotiations for its Ninth Replenishment, in which taxpayers from donor countries will be asked to contribute significant capital resources to the IDB. He discussed the failure of the IDB in general to set targets and urged the Bank to have “less talk and more targets.” He said that if those targets are not met, someone high-up at the IDB should lose their job, a statement that received an ovation from the audience.

Joia Nuri stated that something is systemically wrong with the International Financial Institutions and their lending practices, including the conditionalities that they impose on the developing world. In that sense Ms. Nuri pointed out that more lending is not necessarily the answer to development issues. Ms. Nuri also observed that often people are afraid to complain about discrimination.

Carlos Quesada stated that discrimination is also a problem at the Organization of American States. He encouraged the IDB to join an inter-agency consultation on race and ethnicity and encouraged the International Financial Institutions to have a human rights approach to development. He also urged these organizations to apply affirmative action in the hiring process and to have a multi-professional environment that employs less economists and more people from other fields, such as human rights experts and sociologists.

Aisha Brown urged the Banks to look at discrimination against Afro-descendants particularly, rather than lumping different groups together. She urged the Banks to partner more with Afro-descendent communities. She also pointed out that there are many qualified Afro-descendents in the United States, Canada and Europe and that recruiting them should also be a priority for the development banks.

Wamara Mwine discussed his investigation into discrimination at the World Bank. He said that many World Bank employees expressed their concerns about discrimination to him, but feared coming forward publicly. He summarized an incident that he investigated at the World Bank, in which someone spray painted a racial slur and a derogatory message outside the Bank’s Legal Affairs Offices. Mr. Mwine stressed the importance of having a system to punish those who engage in such discriminatory acts. He also urged the Bank to create a system to hire and then track the retention and promotion of African-Americans.

There was a lively question and answer session with thoughtful discussion. Among other things, participants discussed recent comments made by the President of the IDB in which he implied that the Bank would sacrifice the quality of its operations if it recruited more diverse personnel. A suggestion was made that the IDB rethink its mandate and also create a staff incentive structure that rewards employees who promote diversity in the workplace or projects. The need for a human rights based approach at the World Bank and IDB was discussed, as was the need to address the needs of Indigenous populations.

GAP encourages people who attended this event to post comments to this blog entry.