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Can the World Bank Build Social Capital? The Experience of Social Funds in Malawi and Zambia


  • Anju Vajja
  • Howard White


Social funds have been one of the main manifestations of the World Bank's move toward promoting projects with a participatory orientation. Supporters of social funds argue that participation in social fund activities builds community social capital. Critics of the Bank's use of social capital argue that it ignores power structures but these critics have focused on the Bank's research rather than its operations. This paper examines 'social capital' in a project context: social funds in Malawi and Zambia. In contrast to the model of collective action suggested by proponents of social funds, it is shown that the nature of community participation is indeed shaped by existing power and social relations. Project identification and execution is led by a small number of people in the community, usually the head teacher in cooperation with the PTA and traditional authorities. The community is then mobilised using the traditional structures of village headmen. Most community members participate actively in making bricks, but passively in decision making. However, this process should be seen as an institutional adaptation to what social funds offer, not elite capture. Most community members are satisfied with the outcome, although the chosen project is not what they would have chosen themselves. Given these processes, social funds do little to build social capital but instead, appear to be users of existing social capital.

Suggested Citation

  • Anju Vajja & Howard White, 2008. "Can the World Bank Build Social Capital? The Experience of Social Funds in Malawi and Zambia," Journal of Development Studies, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 44(8), pages 1145-1168.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:jdevst:v:44:y:2008:i:8:p:1145-1168
    DOI: 10.1080/00220380802242404

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Laura B. Rawlings & Lynne Sherburne-Benz & Julie van Domelen, 2004. "Evaluating Social Funds : A Cross-Country Analysis of Community Investments," World Bank Publications, The World Bank, number 15057.
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    Cited by:

    1. King, Elisabeth & Samii, Cyrus, 2014. "Fast-Track Institution Building in Conflict-Affected Countries? Insights from Recent Field Experiments," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 64(C), pages 740-754.
    2. Takayama, Taisuke & Nakatani, Tomoaki, 2015. "The Impact of Participatory Projects on Social Capital: Evidence from Farmland Consolidation Projects in Japan," 2015 Conference, August 9-14, 2015, Milan, Italy 211938, International Association of Agricultural Economists.
    3. Howard White, 2013. "An introduction to the use of randomised control trials to evaluate development interventions," Journal of Development Effectiveness, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 5(1), pages 30-49, March.
    4. Lorna Zischka & Marina Della Giusta, 2016. "Helping without Trusting: Disentangling Prosocial Behaviours," Economics & Management Discussion Papers em-dp2016-11, Henley Business School, Reading University.
    5. Lorna Zischka, 2014. "Social Capital Stocks, Giving Flows and Welfare Outcomes," Economics & Management Discussion Papers em-dp2014-04, Henley Business School, Reading University.
    6. A. Lasagni & E. Lollo, 2011. "Participation in Rotating Savings and Credit Associations in Indonesia: New Empirical Evidence on Social Capital," Economics Department Working Papers 2011-EP05, Department of Economics, Parma University (Italy).
    7. Lorna Zischka, 2016. "The Interaction between Prosocial (Giving) Behaviours and Social Cohesion," Economics & Management Discussion Papers em-dp2016-07, Henley Business School, Reading University.
    8. Kurosaki, Takashi & Khan, Hidayat Ullah, 2014. "Community-Based Development and Aggregate Shocks in Developing Countries: The Experience of an NGO in Pakistan," PRIMCED Discussion Paper Series 54, Institute of Economic Research, Hitotsubashi University.

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