Six Takeaways from the World Bank Course on the Fundamentals of Environmental and Social Framework (ESF)

I completed the World Bank’s Course on the Fundamentals of Environmental and Social Framework (ESF) – an 8-module online course hosted on the Bank’s Open Learning Centre(OLC) platform.

Prior to this time, I was quite familiar with the requirements of International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of World Bank Group such as the Performance Standards (PS 1-8) and Group International Industry Practice (GIIP) general and industry specific EHS guidelines. In my line of duty, I interface with IFC’s relevant environmental and social specialists on a periodic basis in fulfillment of project monitoring and reporting requirements.

Therefore, in taking this course, I kept an open mind and had to ignore anything I knew before now about the World Bank or its subsidiary companies like IFC, IDA and IBRD. I was pleasantly surprised at the extent and depth of the knowledge I acquired from these fascinating modules.  Special thanks to Mfon Essien for the inspiration and guidance to take this course.

Enough said, please see below six takeaways that I found most relevant to my learning experience:

Risk Categorization

The ESF framework places a significant focus on risk management. Hence risk categorization adopts a 4-tiered level of risk categorization for projects namely Low, Moderate, Substantial and High. This approach factors in the context of the project and the Environmental and Social (E&S) commitment and capacity of the borrower entity. This was quite different from the IFC’s 3-tier level risk categorization (A, B, C or 1, 2 or 3) that I was familiar with.

Proportionality and Risk-Based Project Evaluation

The concept of proportionality and risk-based approach to E&S evaluation of projects. This concept refers to carrying out assessments, mitigation measures and implementation support at the level needed to understand and manage the potential risks of a project. Hence this concept provides guidance to relevant project E&S professionals on key EHS issues to consider during evaluation, and where to channel the appropriate level of financial resources, personnel expertise and effort on the project; as well as facilitate top management decision making particularly for planning and budgetary purposes.

Common Approach

The concept of common approach applies to when same project is funded by more than one international finance or multilateral agencies. In this case the funding agencies agree on a single set of requirements for the assessment and management of environmental and social risks and impacts on a project as long as it allows the project to achieve results that are materially consistent with the objective of the World Bank’s E & S Standards. The implication is that it provides leverage for relevant project E&S professionals of the borrower entity to adopt monitoring and reporting frameworks or mechanisms that will enable the project to meet compliance requirements of World Bank and other funding partners and improves the effectiveness of the team to manage the process.

Additional Environmental and Social Standards

The World Bank ESF covers Environmental and Social Standards (ESS) ES1-10 against Performance Standards (PS1-8) required by the IFC. The additional sections on ESS9 – Financial Intermediaries and ESS10 – Stakeholder Engagement and Information Disclosure provides further guidance to relevant project E & S professionals of the borrower entity on how to manage different stakeholder scenarios particularly the project affected people and interest parties, in order to comply with the World Bank’s project financing requirements.

Roles and Responsibilities

The final and most important learning point for me is that ESF clearly describes the roles and responsibilities of the World Bank and Borrower entity in the various phases of the project management cycle, and highlights the corresponding deliverables expected from both parties in order to comply with the agreed Environmental and Social Commitment Plan (ESCP).

Mode of Course Delivery

The course is loaded with great content delivered by colorful slides with hyperlinks to definitions and reference documents; and also practical application of ESF is illustrated with real life project scenarios using meeting conversations between World Bank and Borrower Entities Environmental and Social Specialists. To improve your learning experience, a summary of the contents was provided at the end of each module.

In a nutshell I learnt a lot and these were my most significant highlights. I would encourage all Environmental and Social Specialist or professional looking to make a career change to the HSSE space to take this course.

Note: The World Bank’s Environmental and Social Framework(ESF) are mainly focused on project investment financing for public sector agencies of borrower countries.

Written by: Chukwudi Iwuozor