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 to dissatisfaction with neoliberlism’s strong emphasis on economic growth (payne 2096). Instead, a more comprehensive outlook on development was being called for, one more devoted to portraying the ‘human face’ behind development and ultimately being called the human development approach. Amartya Sen was one significant influence on this changing development discourse. His work from the blank to blank 1990’s? focused on amplifying people’s choices, giving them greater voice, and the expansion of their capabilities (Robin Perry pg 8). Amartya Sen’s work gained much prominence in the 1990’s especially with his notion ‘development as freedom’. During this time, the human development approach had been integrated into the framework of international finance institutions, including the World Bank (Payne 2171).
The controversy with SAPs and the transfer to PRSPs.
Emphasis on poverty and human rights only magnified as increasing notice was given to the failures of neoliberalist policy and more specifically, Structural Adjustment Programs (payne). SAPs, which were applied across the world to countries seeking loans from the World Bank, were defined by their focus on economic growth, trade liberalization, privatization of state...