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Letter to World Bank's President Zoellick on B-SPAN and transparency

September 19, 2011

Mr. Robert Zoellick
World Bank
1818 H Street, NW
Washington, DC

Dear President Zoellick

We, the organizations and individuals undersigned, write to urge you to use your authority to expand funding for B-SPAN, the Bank’s Internet-based webcasting system, so that it can fulfill its original mandate.

A recent New York Times article on transparency issues at the World Bank [1] mentioned the important role that B-SPAN used to play in promoting the transparency of the institution. In the aftermath of the Times story, the Center for Global Development, a major Washington think tank on international development, called on the Bank to re-invigorate B-SPAN with appropriate resources. [2]

As background, B-SPAN was initially a joint venture of the Development Economics Research Group and World Bank Institute (WBI) and was launched in 2000.  The objective of the service was to film the plethora of policy dialogues, seminars and conferences taking place inside Bank headquarters and stream the content to the public.  B-SPAN was launched with a crucial principle: absolute transparency, meaning no editing of the webcasts.  

B-SPAN was designed to be a conduit of information between the Bank and the public.  The motivation to begin B-SPAN was to provide development practitioners across the world with an opportunity to access knowledge critical in helping them reduce global poverty and enhance sustainable development. It also provided Bank personnel with an opportunity to connect and expand communications opportunities with external constituencies.

After its launch, B-SPAN was enthusiastically embraced by thousands of Bank staff and the viewing public.  Between 2000 and 2004, B-SPAN disseminated more than 700 unedited webcasts of Bank events to the public.  In 2004, B-SPAN webcasts were watched by one-quarter million viewers and its website accounted for almost 2% of the entire Internet traffic the Bank received that year.

Unfortunately, in 2005, WBI decided to use its resources elsewhere. Its funding of B-SPAN declined precipitously and the cost of the service for Bank staff became unaffordable.  The service entered a rapid decline in the amount and diversity of content it could make available.  It remains in this condition today.  However, much has changed since 2005.  New streaming and social media technologies that didn’t exist then can now disseminate B-SPAN streams at very low cost and with mobile phone applications these events can now reach countless millions.

As demonstrated by the updated Access to Information Disclosure Policy, Open Data Initiative, financial data disclosure and plaudits for its aid transparency from a Publish What You Fund report, the World Bank has made important progress in recent years on transparency.  The re-invigoration of B-SPAN as an open, uncensored channel of internal policy dialogues being streamed to the public would be another fundamental leap forward.  The knowledge it would provide government officials and policymakers in shareholder countries – content often generated from their sources and resources – as well as academics, researchers and development practitioners globally would have a profound impact on the development and aid communities.  It would also have tangible benefits for the Bank as it would focus global attention upon the institution as the best source of knowledge on development, thereby generating new business opportunities.  

In the words of the Center for Global Development: “literally thousands of events go uncovered every year because they don’t have dissemination budgets — a great loss to the global development community that can be rectified by the stroke of a high-level pen in the President’s office, or in the offices of the Bank’s External Relations Vice Presidency or the World Bank Institute.  Thanks to President Zoellick and his colleagues, the Bank has opened many of its databases to the global community.  We urge that the same coverage now be extended to the extraordinary diversity and depth of its internal development dialogue:  Expand B-Span to fulfill its original mandate, using the latest innovations in low-cost web access to share the Bank’s internal treasure trove with the global community.”

We urge you to follow this recommendation.  We may be reached at Adres poczty elektronicznej jest chroniony przed robotami spamującymi. W przeglądarce musi być włączona obsługa JavaScript, żeby go zobaczyć. .  Thank you for your consideration of this suggestion and your continued leadership on transparency issues.


  1. ActionAid USA
  2. Action for Economic Reforms, Philippines
  3. Americans for Informed Democracy
  4. Anabel Cruz, Director, Communications and Development Institute, Uruguay
  5. Andreas Bummel, Chairman, Committee for a Democratic United Nations
  6. Arun Gandhi, founder, Gandhi Worldwide Education Institute, and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi
  7. Axel Dreher, Chair of International and Development Politics, University of Heidelberg, Editor, Review of International Organizations
  8. Bank Information Center, Washington, DC
  9. Bernhard G. Gunter, President, Bangladesh Development Research Center
  10. Bessma Momani, Senior Fellow, Centre for International Governance and Innovation, Associate Professor, University of Waterloo
  11. Both ENDS, Netherlands
  12. Bruce Jenkins, international development consultant and IFI transparency advocate
  13. Bruce Rich, attorney, Washington, DC, author Mortgaging the Earth: The World Bank, Environmental Impoverishment, and the Crisis of Development
  14. Bruce Tasker, editor, Blowing the World Bank Whistle Blog in Armenia
  15. Campaign for Good Governance, Bangladesh
  16. Catherine Weaver, Associate Professor, LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas, author, Hypocrisy Trap: The World Bank and the Poverty of Reform
  17. Center for International Environmental Law, Washington, DC
  18. Central and Eastern European Bankwatch Network, Czech Republic
  19. Centre For Social Concern, Malawi
  20. Centre National de Cooperation au Developpement, Belgium
  21. Cinnamon Dornsife, Acting Co-Director, International Development Program, John Hopkins University, and former U.S. Executive Director to the Asian Development Bank
  22. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, South Africa
  23. Claude I. Salem, Executive Director, Partnerships for Capacity Development
  24. Clyde Prestowitz, President, Economic Strategy Institute
  25. Daphne Wysham, Fellow, Institute for Policy Studies
  26. David Hunter, Director, International Legal Studies Program, Washington College of Law, The American University
  27. David Phillips, author, Reforming the World Bank: Twenty Years of Trial and Error
  28. David Shaman, author The World Bank Unveiled: Inside the Revolutionary Struggle for Transparency
  29. Development Group for Alternative Policies, Washington, DC
  30. Don Kraus, CEO, Citizens for Global Solutions
  31. Don Tapscott, author, MacroWikinomics: Rebooting Business and the World, and Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything
  32. EURODAD, Belgium
  33. Feminist Task Force of the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, New York
  34. Fiseha Eshete, Assistant Professor of Economics, Bowie State University
  35. Friends of the Earth US
  36. Gary Edwards, Chairman and CEO, Ethos International, Inc.
  37. Gender Action, Washington, DC
  38. Global Network Latin America, Peru
  39. Government Accountability Project, Washington, DC
  40. Health Poverty Action, United Kingdom
  41. Ilka Camarotti, international development consultant
  42. INKOTA netzwerk, Germany
  43. Institute of Global Responsibility, Poland
  44. Integrated Social Development Centre, Ghana
  45. International Accountability Project, San Francisco
  46. International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development
  47. Isaac Otabor, Fiscal Responsibility Commission, Nigeria
  48. James M. Roberts, former U.S. State Department Foreign Service Officer
  49. Jeffrey Winters, Associate Professor and Honors Program Director, Northwestern University, co-editor, Reinventing the World Bank
  50. John Christensen, Director, Tax Justice Network
  51. John Weeks, Professor Emeritus, University of London
  52. John Williamson, development economist, author of the phrase “The Washington Consensus”
  53. Jonathan Fox, Professor of Latin American and Latino Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz
  54. Jorge Daniel Taillant, Founder, Center for Human Rights and Environment, Argentina
  55. Jubilee Scotland
  56. Jubilee USA
  57. Karen Chevallier, Project Chief, Aménités
  58. Karen Crump, Information Services Latin America
  59. Karen Joyner, international development consultant
  60. Kevin Gallagher, Associate Professor, Global Development and Environment Institute, Boston University
  61. Kris Dev, President and CEO, Life Line to Business, India
  62. Leon Kukkuk, international development consultant
  63. Liane Schalatek, Associate Director, Heinrich Boell Foundation North America
  64. Liviu Vedrasco, Chief of Party, Pandemic Preparedness Program, International Medical Corps
  65. Luis Triveño, Chief Executive Officer, Institute for Liberty and Democracy, Peru
  66. Dr. Maartje van Putten, Managing Director, Global Accountability, The Netherlands, former member of the World Bank Inspection Panel
  67. Margaret Keck, Professor of Political Science, John Hopkins University, co-author, Activists Beyond Borders
  68. Marianists International NGO, New York
  69. Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, Washington, DC
  70. Maurice McTigue, Vice President, Mercatus Center, George Mason University
  71. Max Kummerow, Chief Economist, Greenfield Capital
  72. Michael Brown, President, Satya Development International
  73. Michael Chibba, Managing Director, International Centre for Development Effectiveness and Poverty Reduction, Canada
  74. Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, U.S. Province
  75. Nagy Hanna, former senior advisor and lead corporate strategist, World Bank
  76. National Ecological Centre of Ukraine
  77. New Rules for Global Finance Coalition, Washington, DC
  78. Norwegian Forum for Environment and Development
  79. ODA Watch, Philippines
  80. Oil Workers Rights Protection Organization Public Union, Azerbaijan
  81. Pacific Environment, San Francisco
  82. Per Kurowski, former Executive Director, World Bank, 2002-2004
  83. Peter Burgess, CEO, Community Analytics
  84. Prague Global Policy Institute (Glopolis), Czech Republic
  85. Publish What You Fund, United Kingdom
  86. Rajesh Makwana, Director, Share The World’s Resources
  87. Ralph Luken, former UNIDO official
  88. Renee Dankerlin, Senior Research Associate, Beacon Hill Institute
  89. Rick Reibstein, Lecturer, Environmental Law and Policy, Boston University
  90. Rita Pandey, Professor of Economics, National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, India
  91. Robert Hans, Senior Managing Director, IOS Partners, Inc.
  92. Sierra Club, Washington, DC
  93. SLUG (Slett U-landsgjelda), Norway
  94. Social Justice Committee of Montreal
  95. Steve Berkman, author, The World Bank and the Gods of Lending
  96. Susan Aaronson, Professor, George Washington University, author, Taking Trade to the Streets: The Lost History of Public Efforts to Shape Globalization
  97. Sustainable Energy Watch, France
  98. Teresa Kramarz, University of Toronto
  99. Tom Farer, Professor, University of Denver, former Dean, Joseph Korbel School of International Studies
  100. Transparency International USA
  101. Urban Poor Associates, Philippines
  102. VOICE Bangladesh
  103. Volta Basin Development Foundation, Ghana
  104. Waleed Ahmad Jameel Addas, economic advisor, Islamic Development Bank
  105. WEED – World Economy, Ecology and Development Association, Germany
  106. William Pace, Executive Director, Institute for Global Policy
  107. World Development Movement, United Kingdom


[1] Stephanie Strom, The New York Times, World Bank Is Opening Its Treasure Chest of Data, July 2, 2011

[2] David Wheeler, Michele de Nevers, Center for Global Development, B-SPAN and a Broader Vision of Public Information from the World Bank, July 5, 2011