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Africa And Aboriginal Tuesdays: World Bank Reaching Out To Indigenous Peoples

While investment lendingóloans and creditsóremains the core of the World Bank's work, the institution occasionally must seek creative ways to extend assistance to marginalized people who otherwise might not be properly served by its traditional lending outlets.

The Bank's mandate is to deal with country governments, but in the case of indigenous peoples, a new grant facility established last month will allocate money directly to their communities.

The new Grant Facility for Indigenous People will give support to indigenous peoples' projects that couldn't be supported through regular funding mechanisms. It will provide annual grants for innovative and culturally-appropriate projects, such as preserving artistic heritage or establishing intellectual property for medicinal plants they customarily use.

"The World Bank recognized that indigenous peoples can play a vital role as partners in global sustainable development," said Ian Johnson, World Bank vice president for sustainable development, when the facility was announced.

"They hold a special place in the world due to their unique circumstances, heritage and history. In a time of increasing resource scarcity, the greatest challenge for development agencies is to learn to build on the strengths of existing social and cultural organizations."

Although these small, one-time grants, they demonstrate the Bank's long-term commitment to indigenous peoples, said Navin Rai, World Bank senior social development specialist. "It is also an opportunity for them to pilot projects they think could work in their communities."

To finance these types of projects through regular investment lending mechanisms would require an agreement with the board, and a much more substantial commitment on the part of the borrower (the government of the country). "Here we can finance projects as long as the borrower doesn't object," said Rai.

"The Grants Facility for Indigenous Peoples is an opportunity and an option for Indigenous Peoples to develop themselves. The facility has the potential to generate new dynamics and relationships for Indigenous Peoples to engage with the World Bank," said Victor Kaisepo, Chair of the Interim Board of the Grants Facility.

A Papuan Indigenous Peoples leader, Kaisepo has been instrumental, together with other indigenous leaders, in engaging the World Bank in a renewed dialogue on indigenous peoples issues. He served as co-chair in the October 2002 Policy Roundtable between Indigenous Peoples leaders and the World Bank, in which the revised Indigenous Peoples policy was addressed.

The idea for the facility grew out of consultations with indigenous peoples the Bank initiated a few years ago in order to revise its indigenous peoples policy. Over the last six years, the Bank has consulted some 1,200 indigenous peoples from 32 countries. This was the first time the Bank engaged in direct dialogue with indigenous peoples globally.

"While we still have some disagreements over the policy, we were able to meet and address their demands on the operational level by establishing this facility," said Rai.

During this "political debate," as indigenous peoples refer to these consultations, they articulated two frustrations: a lack of direct engagement with the Bank and a lack of available direct funding resources.

They wanted access to the Bank because, while the Bank works directly with the borrower governments, the governments sometimes don't work with their indigenous populations, explained Rai.

"The Bank's mandate doesn't allow us to lend directly to indigenous peoples," said Rai. "But this grant facility gives us a window to reach out to them and establish a direct relationship with them."

Indigenous peoples also wanted to have ownership over projects. They wanted an opportunity to initiate, plan and implement their own projects, which usually isn't the case in typical investment lending scenarios, where they may be the project's beneficiaries, but are rarely the project's initiators.

Although the grant facility has just been established, it is moving fast and the first application round has already started. The deadline for proposals is December 14, and the first winners will be announced mid January, when $30,000 worth of projects will be given out.

Whether a month and a half will be long enough for applications to trickle in, Rai explained that information about this facility has been circulated since last May, when its inception was first announced at the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

The facility is currently managed by an interim board, where indigenous people are in voting majority. The final board will be put in place in June, and will include six indigenous representatives, one from each region of the world. It's up to the groups themselves to decide on how to choose their envoy, Rai said.

The governance of the facility will give indigenous peoples a strong say in how to manage the fund and what kind of projects to fund, he added.

Regarding the indigenous peoples policy, Rai said that while some disagreements remain, the Bank has been very clear and candid about the sources of these disagreements, which center on the issue of self-identification. While indigenous people want self-identification to be the principal criteria for the application of the policy, the Bank wants identification by others of an indigenous person to complement self-identification.

Over the last few years, however, the Bank's relationship with indigenous peoples has improved due to the fact that it has moved to a framework of direct contacts with Indigenous Peoples organizations and its leaders.

"They do see us as a sincere partner. They see us as an organization struggling to do the right thing, the best we can, within the existing international legal structure," says Rai.

© 2003 The World Bank Group, All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

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