World Bank president James Wolfensohn tomorrow faces his Hong Kong critics to find out where his multinational agency is getting it wrong. For the urbane, former Wall Street boss, being told what is bad has become as important as being praised for what is right. It is four years since a broad coalition of aid, community and social issue groups launched the '50 years is enough' campaign against the bank. Since then its officials have been doing a lot of listening and creating forums for opponents - or simply those who want to make a contribution - to be heard. Whether or not the annual meeting is earmarked by scene-stealing demonstrations waits to be seen. But the bank is confident that it has either defused or is has productively redirected much of the criticism. This has been skilfully achieved through a programme that has focused on both the source of the criticism - the non-government organisations - and the media. Critics have been given the opportunity to voice their views while getting out the message of what the bank does has become a priority. At tomorrow's meeting, representatives of six Hong Kong welfare and humanitarian groups will call on the bank to ensure the paramountcy of equity and social justice in the development process. Outside the Hong Kong Convention Centre, other critics have threatened more traditional forms of protest from behind barricades and police cordons. The eclectic range of projects undertaken by the bank is neatly reflected in the diversity of its opponents. Concerns about dam projects in Laos, labour rights in Latin America and human rights in China are matched with equal passion by complaints against the development paradigm. The bank refers to NGOs as any group or institution that is independent from government and that has humanitarian or co-operative, rather than commercial objectives. It focuses on NGOs that work in development, relief or environmental protection, or that represent the poor or vulnerable. In Washington, NGO liaison officer Kris Martin said nearly half the bank's projects had some form of NGO involvement. Ms Martin said: 'They round out and enhance our work in the field. They are players and partners that are increasingly involved in our projects. It provides an alternative source of information.' Mr Wolfensohn believes creating a voice for NGOs will help transform a bureaucratic culture into a results-oriented one. He has devised a 'strategic compact' to make the bank more responsive to the needs of its constituency. Ms Martin said: 'On policy formulation they are a voice and a critical voice.' They can also be used as a basis of political support for projects, generating the political muscle to pressure a domestic government to maintain support. 'They are part of the development circle which is increasingly becoming bigger and bigger. The bank has been ahead of the curve. Without a major role for the people of a country our policies do not work. Our major interlocutor cannot only be the finance director of a country.' Ms Martin's role has been to direct the NGOs' energies to try to ensure these energies are not lost in carping criticism. 'We play a much more constructive role. Better dialogue, access, information has relieved a lot of the distrust.' But is the loudest voice the best heard? Ms Martin said: 'It is tough. The bank has put more and more people on this task. It is an evolving role. In the early 1980s the bank began talking to the NGOs about what they do and what we did. There was mutual collaboration. 'It was not until the late 1980s that we began to figure out the best thing was not to be handed a scheme. They had to be involved in the design and implementation. We made a shift in policy that they became involved in all aspects.' But the board was sceptical of delegating ultimate power and independently funding the NGOs. 'They have become our advisers and the next hurdle is whether we will become advocates together. We are starting to work more closely and an increasing number of NGOs want to join us. The bank has humbled itself but it cannot do everything. We have reached out and the NGOs have responded. Only now can we broaden the initiatives to issues such as international debt.' The bank is reviewing the core principles that characterise assistance programmes. The Structural Adjustment Group - or Sapri - has engaged governments and NGOs to study the effects of structural adjustment aid. It will attempt to identify whether the aid has hurt those it is meant to assist - the poor - while giving succor to those it was meant to reform. For Oxfam programme director Tricia Parker, who will be attending tomorrow's meeting, East Asia has made remarkable progress. According to Oxfam, the past 40 years have witnessed the fastest reduction in poverty for the greatest number of people in history. About 200 million have worked their way out of poverty during a period when 400 million have been added to the region's population. But according to Ms Parker, massive challenges remain. 'We are seeking to empower people and the way they are being treated in the rapid rush to economic development with the world.' At the core of their argument is that there is a trade-off between policies for rapid growth and policies for poverty reduction. 'The World Bank is based on the reduction of state involvement and promotion of the private sector. 'We believe it has a number of problems because it is profit rather than socially driven. This can lead to a range of problems.' The bank argues the need to prioritise health and education to underpin the success it has had. 'It seems as though the bank has given much credibility and influence to private business. The degradation of labour and the environmental loss is designed to help private business rather than citizens. 'We feel they could be much more conscious of the problems of the model they are purveying.'