Open letter to a colleague in a Christian oriented NGO who requested feedback on his organization's policy statement on relations with the World Bank
The request for feedback on an engagement with the World is real as is my reply. Other than the World Bank and my signature, the names used have been fictionalized to protect the guilty.
March 7, 1992
My apologies for taking so long to respond to your letter of December 27. It arrived while I was in South Africa and got buried in a pile before I realized the import of what you were requesting of me.
I'm not going to offer a detailed critique of the memo on Save the World's relationships with the World Bank here as in my view the central question is not how to relate to the Bank, but rather whether. If Save the World is committed to getting World Bank money then it must work with the Bank and there is nothing I can offer make it right. If Save the World wants to contribute to correcting the enormous and unconscionable damage done by the Bank then it should concentrate on exposing the Bank for what it is and work to eliminate public support for its funding and policies.
Working with the Bank with the expectation of reforming it is at best an act of self-deception. Save the World's presence as a Christian organization will only lend legitimacy to Bank's existence and its misleading claims that it is working for the poor, the environment, and participation. The very nature of the institution is a denial of such commitments. You can coat a relationship such as Save the World is contemplating with caveats that may ease the conscience of Save the World staff. The draft memo you sent is a brave attempt, but it cannot obviate the basic fact that the basis of the underlying decision is a desire to access the Bank's money. This is only justified to the extent that one defines development effectiveness as a function of funding. That, however, is a flawed premise that presents one of the most significant of obstacles to authentic development. Tinkering with a memo based on a fundamentally flawed premise is a pointless exercise.
I have arrived only reluctantly at these conclusions as the outcome of a long and painful intellectual and moral struggle. A turning point came with my experience writing a paper with David Brown on NGOs and their development roles for the Bank. Though the Bank only recently published these papers, they were written several years ago. I justified that involvement on the premise that I would be able to help the Bank assume a more appropriate and effective role in relation to NGOs. A series of events convinced me of how wrong and naive I had been. Highly valid criticism by Southern colleagues of my role in legitimating Bank involvement with NGOs led me to a commitment to break off all further involvement with that institution. This decision has become both a moral commitment and a personal statement. I believe it has been a correct choice.
The Bank is above all an instrument for advancing the interests of transnational capital, a force that is rapidly breaking down what little institutional capacity human society has to deal with its environmental, economic and social crisis. Indeed, the Bank has become an extraordinarily effective instrument for advancing those interests--which are consistent with its fundamental nature as an international bank in the business of increasing international indebtedness. If the Bank understood the real nature of our global crisis it would have to direct its efforts to phasing itself out of existence. I don't see evidence of any inclination in that direction.
We have become captives to a development theology based on the worship of money as the ultimate good and the life force of society. The mother church of this religion of mammon is the World Bank/IMF complex. The faithful rush to prostrate themselves at its alter. Christ reputedly threw the money changers out of the temple. He would surely be saddened to see modern Christians rushing to embrace them for self-enrichment in the name of helping the poor.
The further I examine these issues and the underlying reality of what is happening to our society the more serious I realize this issue is. I have shared with a number of my Save the World friends my growing conviction that there is a fifth generation NGO strategy and that spirituality is its foundation. This spirituality is the antithesis of everything for which the World Bank stands and works.
Given the profound spiritual commitment of many of the wonderful people I have met in Save the World I can only believe and hope that there are many within the organization who are as appalled as I am at the organization's demonstrated willingness to join the line of people and institutions eager to exchange their values for money at the World Bank teller's cage. Whether or not Save the World chooses to remain in this line becomes as fundamental as any test can be of its commitment to social justice and the integrity of God's gift of life.
So these are my views on the draft memo. Sorry I didn't get these reactions to you sooner.
Feel free to share this letter with anyone who may be interested. There is nothing irrevocable about a pact with the Bank and hopefully the dialogue on this issue will continue within Save the World as a part of its continuing search for an institutional purpose and direction consistent with the values it espouses.
With best regards.
David C. Korten