Are international organizations influenced by global goalsetting? The case of the World Bank, the SDGs and the reduction of inequality

Melanie van Driel

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperAcademic


In 2015, 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were universally agreed upon, to be reached by 2030. International Organizations provided input during the SDG negotiation process, and many received the role of ‘indicator custodian’ for the SDG indicator framework. Although International Organizations therefore play an important role within the overall governance architecture of the SDGs and are crucial for the ‘success’ of this set of goals, not much is known about the extent to which these global actors themselves are influenced by global goalsetting.

The current study contributes to filling this gap by studying one of the most prominent international organizations’ uptake and prioritization of the SDGs, namely the World Bank. The main questions we try to answer in this paper are the following: Have the SDGs become an integral part of World Bank discourse? Or are they solely used for outside reporting? Is the Bank also taking on goals that it might not have agreed with during the negotiation process? And if so, how does the Bank use these goals in its discourse?

The aim of this study is two-fold. Firstly, we study the uptake of different SDGs within World Bank discourse. Thereafter, we provide a detailed case study of one goal, namely SDG 10 that aims to reduce inequalities, a novel goal captured in the SDG framework. This goal has been one of the most controversial goals that came out of the SDG negotiation process, and it has been remarked by scholars that the World Bank disputed the need for an individual goal on inequality. Since this goal was nevertheless taken up in the final list, it provides a good case study to explore the extent to which setting goals that might not fully resonate with a particular organization can nevertheless influence its priorities and communication.

For this study, we compiled a corpus consistent of 282 key World Bank documents, separated into a pre-SDG (2000-2015) and SDG period (2016-2020). These documents include i) speeches of World Bank presidents, ii) Annual Reports and iii) Flagship Reports. We used (automated) text analysis to map the overall coverage and prioritization of the SDGs by the World Bank. Thereafter, we used a mixed-method approach to analyze the case of SDG 10 on inequality, combining (automated) text analysis and discourse analysis. This resulted in an overall picture of the (change in) occurrence and contextualization of this disputed topic over time.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2021
EventECPR General Conference -
Duration: 30 Aug 20213 Sept 2021


ConferenceECPR General Conference


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