The World Bank Definition and Programmatic Focus on ‘Approaches to Equity’

An abstract of The World Bank’s definition and programmatic focus on approaches to equity.

The World Bank definition of equity hinges on two principles. The first revolves around the concept of equal opportunities, which holds that pre-determined circumstances should not determine an individual’s path in life (Equity and Development xi). Rather, the World Bank posits that individual talents and efforts can be realized when horizontal inequalities such as race, gender, social or family background are not inhibitive (Ibid.) Second is a concern for avoiding absolute deprivation with respect to health, education and consumption levels (Ibid.) The equity approach is seen as beneficial intrinsically and because, as a vehicle for improving the lives of the most deprived, it makes economies more prosperous and sustainable as a whole.


Nationality, race, gender and gender socialization, social groups and access to capital are identified as determinant factors pertaining to inequity. On a macroeconomic scale, The World Bank also points to market failures such as credit, insurance, land and human capital (2). The World Development Report describes concerns about “inequality traps”, which relate to overlapping deprivations that are reinforced by one another and sustained from one generation to the next. Ultimately these inequality traps ensure the preservation of separate social mobility paths for the elite and the most deprived respectively.


The deprivations described above amount to disproportionate rates of infant mortality, shorter length of life, low quality and inhibited access to schooling, income poverty and lower access to clean water. These factors reinforce the multi-faceted deprivations experienced by the most marginalized.

Characteristics of The World Bank Approach

The World Bank is concerned primarily with correcting market failures. When not possible, however, redistribution mechanisms that impact access to services and political influence, it suggests, can improve economic efficiency (Equity and Development 2). Their equity approach emphasizes achieving more equal access to public services and information, property rights and greater fairness in the markets. The World Bank reflects a demand-based approach to services by suggesting customized interventions that are targeted toward local needs.

Target Demographic

The World Bank focuses on addressing those omitted from policy interventions on behalf of the least resourced, the most disadvantaged and the least-heard voices. In particular, the 2006 World Development Report (Equity and Development 12) emphasizes social safety nets for the working poor, for those unable to work, and for especially vulnerable groups. Early childhood interventions are of particular interest. The 2007 World Development Report, Development and the Next Generation, highlights developing and implementing policies about opportunities, capabilities, and outcomes with a lens on youth. The report discusses opportunities in terms of increasing access and improving services in order to better human capital. Capabilities are discussed in terms of ensuring that youth opinions are heard and their decisions are well informed and adequately resourced. Lastly, the report targets second chances for youth who have made bad decisions or experienced other setbacks in life.

Theory and Justification for the Equity Approach

The World Bank realizes that outcomes can never be equal because of legitimate differences in people’s preferences, choices and efforts. The approach to equality of opportunity through asset distribution, economic opportunities, and political violence should be prioritized over the concern for inequality in incomes. The World Bank holds that more equitable societies are more sustainable and form more robust economies.


Additional Resources from The World Bank

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