The Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) from the World Bank

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Arguments from academics, NGOs, the United Nations, and ordinary People from around the globe have made claims that little has changed in the World Bank’s approach to concessional lending and debt relief after the fall of the Washington Consensus. As the failures of neoliberalism manifested and the general development discourse began to favor new emerging theories, the World Bank shifted its lending approach from Structural Adjustment Programs to Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs). The PRSPs were meant to be a key tool representing the new and refined post-Washington notion of development with a focus on human rights (Robin Perry). Instead, many argue that SAPs and PRSPs are the same in concept with merely a different name. While this essay does not refute that PRSPs encompass many of the core neoliberal principles that were characteristic of SAPs, it does seek to explore the question, in what ways did the World Bank’s approach to PRSPs encompass mainstream development discourse at the time? Rather than focusing on the lack of change between SAPs and PRSPs, as most scholarly work on the subject has, this essay looks to focus on the changes implemented during the shift. This essay is also not trying to answer the question, how effective or ‘good’ were the PRSPs, but simply what development theories helped to influence its approach.

The shift from Neoliberalism to the Human Development Approach

The World Bank’s transition from SAPs to PRSPs occurred during a shift in the wider development discourse during the 1990’s. Neoliberalism was losing support as new development approaches were on the rise, focusing on social concerns, poverty, inequality, gender, and basic rights. These new approaches were partially owing ...

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...r were always or even majorly successful in their policy outcomes. There is a wide range of evidence showing how PRSPs did not lead to the empowerment of women or do an ideal job of including the general population in the initial drafting of the PRSPs. However, changes in the initial approach to concessional lending did occur within the World Bank as it shifted from SAPs to PRSPs by allowing mainstream development discourse of the 1990’s to help influence its development approach. Neoliberalist strategies did not fall to the wayside, and are still found in many PRSPs though not in the place of such obvious dominance as it once was with the SAPs. Instead, neoliberalism is now one of several development theories and discourses that helps construct the PRSPs, sitting alongside the Rights-Based Approach, Feminist theory, and an overall emphasis on poverty reduction.

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