Uniting grassroots organizations with specialists to challenge World Bank policies


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In 1999, International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) successfully pressured the World Bank to end its funding to China’s Western Poverty Reduction Project through a two-pronged approach of mobilizing at the grassroots level to lobby the U.S. government and convincing Washington specialists to draft a claim to the World Bank investigation panel listing the internal policy violations.

ICT is a Washington based, non-profit organization that has worked to promote human rights and self-determination for Tibetans since 1988.  In 1999, ICT launched a massive campaign to protest against the World Bank’s agreement to fund China’s Western Poverty Reduction Project, which proposed to move nearly 60,000 poor Chinese farmers into the Tibetan region.  ICT opposed the project on the grounds that massive migration degrades the environment and dilutes Tibetan culture.

After receiving two anonymous letters from Tibetans outlining the consequences of the project, ICT started to mobilize American grassroots organizations, including many Buddhist groups, to send mass e-mails, petitions, and pamphlets opposing the project to U.S. congressmen.  Once these diverse groups had been organized, ICT organized massive rallies in front of World Bank buildings to call attention to its policies and to shame its employees and management.

A major part of ICT's success was due to the large Tibetan constituency in the U.S. as well as the large number of Americans concerned about Tibet.  By mobilizing these constituents to write letters to their congressmen and participate in rallies, ICT was able to generate tremendous support from Congress which, in turn, pushed the administration to place diplomatic pressure on the World Bank to end funding.  For instance, Tibetans and supportive Americans took the day off to participate in the Tibetan Festival in Washington which occurred around the time that the World Bank was about to cast its votes.  Massive rallying shamed some bank employees taking a stand against the World Bank.  The ICT then became a conduit through which sympathetic bank employees leaked information to the press.

At the same time, ICT contacted two Washington specialists who had extensive knowledge about the internal workings of the World Bank.  These specialists were able to research, investigate, and draft a claim which was sent to the World Bank’s investigation panel.  The claim outlined specific policies that the Bank had violated in negotiating this project including wrongfully classifying the project and not following the proper procedures in publicizing the initiative.

The combined strategies of uniting grassroots organizations to lobby the U.S. government and seeking specialists to draft a formal claim led to the success of ICT’s campaign.  In 1999, the independent investigation panel of the World Bank found that the Bank had violated almost all of its social and environmental policies. In the end, the Chinese government, pressured by the U.S. and Japanese governments, withdrew the project proposal reluctantly.


New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.

What we can learn from this tactic: 

This tactic demonstrates the importance of approaching a problem from multiple angles. The ICT was able to achieve success when it mobilized the grassroots to petition the government and used the World Bank's own policies against it. Other organiztions may also be able to find success by using multiple means to address a problem. For more information on how to identify potential allies in solving a human rights problem, visit our page on Tactical Mapping.