While important differences remain between them, the World Council of Churches (WCC), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) have agreed to go on together in 2004 exploring their respective approaches to the challenges of poverty and inequity in a globalized economy.
The agreement was one of the main outcomes of a 28-29 October 2003 encounter in Washington DC of representatives of the three institutions. The encounter also proposed doing joint case studies on public and private roles - and civil society participation - in development, as well as a high-level summit of the three institutions' boards.
The encounter identified priority issues for further discussion: how the two financial institutions take human rights into account in their operations, and whether it is possible to achieve a common understanding on the challenges of globalization and the best ways to address them.
These issues will be on the agenda of the proposed high-level summit of WCC, IMF and WB boards, tentatively scheduled for the fall of 2004.
The second in a series initiated in February 2003, the Washington encounter was seen by participants as a step forward, since it had produced deeper mutual understanding of the respective positions on the issues discussed, i.e., participation of civil society in development, institutional governance and accountability, the roles of public and private sectors in development, and the challenges of globalization.
Joint case studies on topics like water privatization were identified as a promising way forward via concrete discussions of the issues, although the practical details still need to be worked out.
WCC representatives also saw a need for deeper debate within the fellowship of churches itself. Thus, a second meeting of representatives of member churches and church-related development agencies was also suggested for the first semester of 2004.
So far, the encounters have been open, transparent and mutually challenging, and we have deepened our understanding of the dynamics of the international financial institutions, said Rogate Mshana, WCC programme executive for economic justice. But - he added - we still don't know whether they are prepared to move away from the neoliberal paradigm, which we see as responsible for much of the suffering in our world today.