The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) calls for an international response. But when and why does collective action work best? We studied the World Bank Group’s global collaborations to find out.
The global health ecosystem is complex, with many actors, initiatives and competing priorities. The World Bank has been navigating this landscape and supporting a wide spectrum of collaborations for decades.
In the early 2000s, the Bank helped create the Global Fund and GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance. Since then, the Bank has found itself contributing to important global public health issues, including responding to many epidemics that are now household names – SARS, MERS, Ebola, Avian Flu, and others.
Unlike these past epidemics, the COVID-19 pandemic has rapidly morphed into a global health and economic crisis. Addressing the multiple impacts of the pandemic will require collective action on a greater scale and bringing together, or convening, multiple actors to draw on their respective comparative advantages.
Lessons from Evaluating “the World’s bank”
The Independent Evaluation Group recently finished a major evaluation of the World Bank Group’s global convening. Though the report was wrapped up just before the COVID-19 outbreak, some of its key findings and recommendations are relevant to the global response:
We found high demand for the World Bank Group’s global convening. The high demand is because partners see the need to come together to develop joint solutions to pressing challenges and trust the Bank Group to do a good job. Trust is always important in a crisis. Now, more than ever, people look for experts and organizations that they can trust to lead.
Several factors drive effectiveness. Our evaluation found that the Bank Group’s convening is more likely to be effective when global partners share a common understanding and sense of urgency that collective action is needed; internal capacities are strong; and initiatives have clear objectives, links to country programs, and sustained engagement. These conditions are all present for the World Bank Group’s COVID-19 response.
There is value in focus and continuity. A clear sense of the specific goals of the Bank Group’s convening and the scope of its engagements are essential foundations for effective global work. If an organization, any organization, tries to do everything, it does nothing well. If debt relief for the poorest countries is the key goal, stick to that goal for some time. Don’t introduce too many competing goals, and don’t abandon the goal before it is within sight.
Set goals and track progress. The Bank Group often does not give itself enough credit for the results of its global work. When there often are no clear goals for the global work, and no tracking of progress, reporting the results becomes impossible. It would help the World Bank Group to better track, assess, and report the results of its global work.
Manage tensions between – and within – organizations. There is some degree of tension and competition over roles and mandates in the global community. Tension may arise with other organizations as both they and the World Bank Group seek, or are perceived to seek, pieces of the COVID-19 agenda and the organizational prestige that comes from being at the forefront of the crisis response. Also, inside the World Bank, units may compete to stake out their piece of the action. Tensions are not necessarily a bad thing, but they do need to be managed.
An understanding of when collective action works best and why, with the same focus on results applied to global and other work, will help lay the foundations for even more effective joint efforts to address a host of global challenges.
Laying the groundwork for global teamwork
Digging down into the initiatives that are at the forefront to help developing countries cope with COVID-19, reveals many of the footprints of the World Bank Group’s global work.
These build on years of concerted effort setting up partnerships, cooperation platforms, data exchanges, and financial mechanisms that allow countries and organizations to join forces on shared problems.
Recent examples are the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, which was co-convened by the Bank and WHO to ensure preparedness for global health crises, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a global mechanism to finance and co-ordinate vaccine development for which the World Bank is a trustee. While these were launched in 2018 and 2017 respectively, they are in fact the fruits of the World Bank’s focused and sustained global engagements in health.
The G20’s push for bilateral debt relief for poor countries, to free up resources to cope with the impacts of the coronavirus, is another example of current global convening. This can be traced back to the World Bank Group’s and the International Monetary Fund’s convening of G20 member countries over many years, working on debt relief, crisis responses and diverse initiatives in many sectors.
The global effort to address the COVID-19 pandemic will face many more challenges, and drawing on lessons from past experiences of convening can help individual actors navigate the complex terrain of collective action.
The World Bank plays a large convening role in global health issues. Learn more in Appendix F of The World’s Bank: An Evaluation of the World Bank Group’s Global Convening.