Working Paper | HBS Working Paper Series | 2007

Accountability in Complex Organizations: World Bank Responses to Civil Society

by Alnoor Ebrahim and Steve Herz


Civil society actors have been pushing for greater accountability of the World Bank for at least three decades. This paper outlines the range of accountability mechanisms currently in place at the World Bank along four basic levels: (1) staff, (2) project, (3) policy, and (4) board governance. We argue that civil society organizations have been influential in pushing for greater accountability at the project and policy levels, particularly through the establishment and enforcement of social and environmental safeguards and complaint and response mechanisms. But they have been much less successful in changing staff incentives for accountability to affected communities, or in improving board accountability through greater transparency in decision making, more representative vote allocation, or better parliamentary scrutiny. In other words, although civil society efforts have led to some gains in accountability with respect to Bank policies and projects, the deeper structural features of the institution—the incentives staff face and how the institution is governed—remain largely unchanged.

Keywords: Corporate Accountability; Corporate Governance; Governing and Advisory Boards; Compensation and Benefits; Business and Community Relations; Social Enterprise; Motivation and Incentives;


Ebrahim, Alnoor, and Steve Herz. "Accountability in Complex Organizations: World Bank Responses to Civil Society." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 08-027, October 2007.