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Civil Society Newsletter
Special Edition March 28, 2003

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Fund seeks stronger civil society dialogue:
Outside expert to facilitate guidance note for staff

The International Monetary Fund has begun a wide-ranging examination of its relations with the nongovernmental organizations, business lobbies, think tanks, and trade unions that are grouped under the label "civil society." Discussions between IMF staff and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have grown more frequent in recent years, and their scope has widened. The aim of the study is to provide a framework for IMF staff to understand and contribute to the expanding dialogue and thus make it more productive.


Presently, the extent of IMF contacts with CSOs varies greatly, depending on region, topic, and the people involved. The IMF plans to develop the staff guidelines by examining successes and failures and exploring the dynamics of its evolving relationship with civil society. The IMF Executive Board expressed support for the study (http://www.imf.org/external/np/sec/pn/2003/pn0333.htm) during the course of its discussion of the Fund external communications strategy, a paper (http://www.imf.org/external/np/exr/docs/2003/021303.htm) that contains an annex (Annex II) on Fund relations with civil society.

The study is scheduled for completion in mid-2003, and the guidance note to staff will follow.

To ensure that the study is independent and reflects a balanced spectrum of views from civil society, the Fund has called on an outside expert, Prof. Jan Aart Scholte of the Centre for the Study of Globalization and Regionalization at the University of Warwick in the U.K., who will facilitate the discussion within the Fund and seek ideas and commentary from a variety of civil society organizations.

Prof. Scholte is well acquainted with the CSO world, as well as IMF headquarters and field staff. He wrote a report last year, "Civil Society Voices and the International Monetary Fund," published by the North-South Institute in Ottawa (www.nsi-ins.ca/download/Int_Mon_Fund.pdf), that was based on 300 interviews with IMF staff and CSO members in more than dozen countries. The report concluded that relations between the Fund and civil society can benefit both sides, as well as society in general. "Civil society activism has helped to make the IMF more publicly transparent," he wrote. "The IMF is today far less obscure and secretive than it was before various civil society advocates launched concerted calls for greater openness."

Obstacles to dialogue do exist within both IMF staff and CSOs, Prof. Scholte found. His report said that the IMF as an organization is still somewhat new to the idea that contacts with civil society are vital to the Fund's work. On the other hand, some members of the CSO world have no interest in interaction with an organization that Scholte says they see as an "instrument of imperialism."

Nevertheless, the drive to widen the lines of communication is stronger than the resistance, according to Prof. Scholte. He also argued against the notion that the goal of IMF-CSO dialogue should be consensus. A better outcome would be the creation of a setting in which debates about regulating the global economy become livelier and more informed, resulting in creative proposals.

In keeping with the spirit of the information-gathering project, the staff guidelines that will emerge will be posted on the IMF web site (http://www.imf.org) with an invitation for further public commentary and suggestions.