Rethinking the relationship between the IDB Group and Civil Society: The Panama experience

Verónica Zavala , Jhonatan Astudillo, Carlos Garcimartín

Verónica Zavala , Jhonatan Astudillo, Carlos Garcimartín


The Panama IDB Country Office developed an innovative method to facilitate citizen participation in the design of their Country Strategy. This is not only a success story, but also serves as a referent for the public sector. By presenting effective ways for incorporating civil society into different project stages, organizations such as these meet the demands of the current regional context.

Networks and discussion tables where civil society organizations (CSOs) participate weave a unique tapestry for direct collaboration and interaction, as they bring different perspectives and experiences together. They also provide opportunities for exchanging knowledge and creating partnerships with and among these organizations.

The IDB has learned that channeling its participation in these meetings through its technical, sector and/or citizen engagement specialists promotes the sharing of technical knowledge and enhances interaction with civil society. In fact, specialists are the ones who best understand issues in each country from their fields of work.

Identifying these possibilities led the Panama Country Office to explore new opportunities for including civil society in the design of the Bank Strategy in the country, which defines the IDB work priorities with new national governments. Thus, the objectives of inclusion became:

1) Increasing civil society representation;
2) ensuring that communities take greater ownership in consultation and participation processes; and
3) promoting the dissemination of the IDB’s experience and technical knowledge.

After identifying opportunities for collaboration and consultation , we decided to hold meetings outside the Panama capital, in an effort to increase civil society representation. To do that, we included organizations operating in these locations and/or lacking the time, resources, or proximity to participate in consultations traditionally held in Panama City. The rise in rural CSO participation was more than evident.

In this line, meetings were located where we could become a relevant actor for Panama’s economic and social development. Meetings were organized together with CSOs present in those communities, and their enthusiastic participation not only facilitated logistics but increased their representation in the consultation process and its legitimacy.

A second opportunity represented promoting our team’s interaction with civil society. Relevant IDB sector specialists were invited to each meeting and, instead of generic events, we focused on covering topics of local interest, thus encouraging communication between specialists and local CSOs from their areas of work.

Two meetings stand out so far: one in David, capital of the Chiriquí province in the west, and another one in Santiago, capital of Veraguas, in the center. Twenty representatives from local CSOs attended the first meeting, including business associations from multiple sectors, universities, environmental organizations and foundations. Participants discussed the challenges of competitiveness and territorial cohesion, as well as IDB actions in the fields of energy and labor markets. Two IDB specialists presented projects being developed in David. 

Thirty representatives from indigenous and business associations, youth, academic and farmers organizations, universities and foundations, among others, attended the meeting in Santiago. Participants discussed the challenges of social and territorial cohesion, as well as IDB actions in the field of transportation and access to financing. Like in David, two specialists presented and discussed projects conducted in Santiago.

We learned three lessons from this process:

  1. These meetings contributed to spread the word about our work, and the current development landscape in places and communities where our projects are being conducted.

  2. They expanded civil society’s understanding of the IDB, of governments and the private sector’s work towards sustainable development, while enriching our perspectives with their opinions and knowledge.

  3. The enthusiastic participation of our specialists and CSO representatives was the best tool for measuring the success of the changes made. In fact, multiple associations from other locations in the country requested these meetings.

In accordance with the IDB Group-Civil Society Engagement Strategy, we concluded that dialogues and consultations outside major cities are especially important in countries like Panama. Considering that in recent years high levels of inequality are closely related to greatly-increasing territorial imbalances[1], dialogue and consultation are tools for better assessing population living conditions, more defining policy actions, and consolidating collaborative relationships between different communities.

[1] Astudillo, J., Fernández, M., Garcimartín, C. La desigualdad de Panamá: su carácter territorial y el papel de la inversión pública

Verónica Zavala , Jhonatan Astudillo, Carlos Garcimartín

Verónica Zavala , Jhonatan Astudillo, Carlos Garcimartín

Verónica Zavala
Manager of the Department for the Countries of Central America, Haiti, Mexico, Panama and the Dominican Republic, and Country Representative in Panama

Verónica Zavala is the Manager of the IDB’s Department for the Countries of Central America, Haiti, Mexico, Panama and the Dominican Republic. She also serves as the Bank’s Country Representative in Panama since January 2018. A Peruvian citizen, she holds a law degree from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru and a Master’s in Public Administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.


Jhonatan Astudillo
Research Assistant and Civil Society Liaison at the Panama Country Office

Jhonatan Astudillo is an economist and serves as Research Assistant at the Panama Country Office of the Department for CID Countries. Since March 2018, he is also the Civil Society Liaison in Panama. As research assistant, Jhonatan participates in research projects conducted by the department and provides assistance with the preparation of documents related to the country strategy and the assessment of macroeconomic conditions.


Carlos Garcimartín
Country Economist for Panama

Carlos Garcimartín holds a doctorate from the Complutense University of Madrid. He is the Country Economist for Panama at the Inter-American Development Bank. He previously served at the Ministry of Finance in Spain.  He has been a consultant and external advisor for multiple organizations and has taught at several universities.

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