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The World Bank and Social Justice

Justice. Despite the World Bank’s remarkable achievements over the span of seven decades, justice is not a word everybody associates with “The Bank.” That however may change, following recent events. Last week, lawyers, scholars, economists, politicians, judges, financiers and analysts from around the world were invited to Washington, to participate in The Bank’s Law, Justice and Development Week, aka, LJD Week 2015.

My modest contribution to the assembly was a presentation titled “Normative Drivers of Justice, Development, Law and National Well-being.” The overarching thesis: comprehensive and sustainable development requires social justice, and policies and practices to drive it; laws are not likely to be respected and law-enforcement will seem heavy-handed without social justice. Drawing on several research streams, I tried to make the case for (1) systemic analysis and understanding of devastated and developing communities and states, and the disenfranchised people in them; (2) multi-method assessment, measurement and modeling to determine best practices; (3) constructive engagement – including financial investment, technical resources, education, market literacy and expertise – to affect justice, law, development and ultimately individual, community and national well-being. The positive response to this presentation from the various people who attended, and their interest to collaborate on projects that incorporate ideas, methods and findings shared, left me optimistic.

The World Bank has the reach, influence and capability literally to change the world. LJD Week 2015 revealed a serious effort to revisit and to expand the concept of development. A more holistic conceptualization to include social justice is underway at The Bank, and presumably the many countries in which it is engaged. New interpretations, methods, measures, interventions and outcomes hopefully will follow.

All this potentially foretells more inclusive, wise and just investments in and programs for under-served people residing in developing economies, and the rest of us with stakes in their sustainable health, wealth and well-being. On an increasingly crowded and interdependent planet, that includes all of us.

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