Opening session, AIDS 2012, DC. The formidable people were not on the podium, but in the audience. So much conviction and power softened and cloaked in messages delivered by a native American chief and a grateful 13 year-old HIV free Nigerian girl.
The fear that AIDS would collapse nations and that it would cross borders from the communities where the have-nots dwell, and infect everyone - the haves and the have-mores – has proven unfounded, not because it was apocalyptic, but because a community of activists would not let it happen.
These formidable, committed activists pushed donors, governments and others to respond. Today, Jim Kim, President of the World Bank – stated this with apparently genuine admiration.
I remember reading a speech in 2011 by the soon to be outgoing World Bank President Robert Zoellick. It amazed me then to see that the bank was looking at how it did its business of pro-poor growth and poverty eradication. In April that year, President Robert Zoellick gave an important and speech suggesting the World Bank should extend its reach to supporting civil society organisations to enhance transparency and accountability. He put it in quite stark terms: “In 1944, the World Bank was established by governments to lend to governments. In 1956, our shareholders established the International Finance Corporation, IFC, to invest in the private sector. Now it may be time to invest in the private, not-for-profit sector – civil society – to help strengthen the capacity of organisations working on transparency, accountability, and service delivery. We could give priority to countries in the Middle East and North Africa, and in Sub-Saharan Africa.”
Civil society in the global south should be seen not as government failure and stop-gap to tackle this or that, but an integral part of building and maintaining a healthy society. “I am going to put civil society at the centre of my leadership…”said Jim Kim today. He said this knowing that this is an audience that would hold him to account. This is the right move by the World Bank. Can they deliver?