MANILA — If last year the Asian Development Bank embarked on a trip down memory lane as part of its golden anniversary celebration, this year, on its 51st annual meeting, the institution is laying out the foundations for its future.
The bank will be discussing emerging trends in Asia-Pacific, such as the opportunities and challenges tech brings, as well as the region’s changing demographic profile, fitting under the overarching theme “Linking People and Economies for Inclusive Development.”
In the decades since the bank’s 1966 launch, some $270 billion in loans and grants has been disbursed in a region that has seen immense change. But it was the present and future that loomed large during last week's ADB annual meeting. Here's a look at the key points on the table during the meeting.
Strategy 2030, ADB’s long-term corporate strategy which is currently in draft form and under review, will also be discussed at the four-day event, both with developing member countries as well as civil society organizations.
Devex is reporting on the ground from ADB headquarters in Manila and here are some of the main issues we’ll be following closely throughout the meetings.
As if for emphasis, the bank dedicated a special chapter on technology and how it affects jobs in its flagship publication, the Asian Development Outlook 2018.
There have been questions as to what extent the bank has harnessed the potential of new technologies in its operations. Admittedly, it doesn’t have all the necessary expertise within its ranks and is increasingly looking for outside experts, particularly from the private sector, to fill in the knowledge gaps.
During the sessions, the bank will explore how tech can help address Asia’s aging societies, how it is contributing to transforming energy systems, and its impact on the future of work in the region, among other areas.
Asia’s elderly population is projected to reach over 920 million mid-century, and that holds significant implications for the region’s economic growth and social development.
Eldercare is part of the bank’s operational priorities under its health sector work. In China, for example, the bank has several projects in its pipeline to 2020 looking at elderly care services.
The key ask here is: How can countries, the bank, and development players in the region better serve Asia’s growing elderly population? What policies, including outside the health sector, need attention and investments?
Environmental and social safeguards
As banks such as ADB grow their financing capacities to meet Asia’s growing infrastructure needs and new players come in to help fill the financing gaps, there is a need to ensure the necessary environmental and social safeguards don’t get left behind.
ADB has its own safeguard policy, but vigilance will be critical in monitoring its effective implementation.
CSOs attending the annual meeting are keen to discuss these issues, including in places where democratic space may be limited, and in the context of ADB’s growing private sector operations.
Already, some members of civil society are raising issues on a bank co-financed hydro project, the Nenskra dam, in the Upper Svaneti region of Georgia, and its socioeconomic impacts on the local communities living there.
Amid all these discussions is the question of how ADB plans to adapt and deliver. Over the past few years, the bank has embarked on a number of reforms, from merging its lending windows to launching a new procurement framework, to accommodate and adapt to the changing needs of its developing member countries. ADB also continues to position itself as a premium broker of development knowledge and knowhow, in addition to development financier.
All these efforts form part of the bank’s long-term corporate strategy to 2030. The document — still in draft form — identifies the bank’s vision, approach and operational priorities for the next decade. It accounts for emerging trends in the region, which include rising inequalities amid economic growth and technological advancements, growing infrastructure investment needs and the emergence of new development players, and a changing demographic profile.
The role of the private sector is also a central part of the draft strategy and informs several of the discussions in the annual meeting, including how to leverage the sector’s resources and expertise in the region’s massive infrastructure undertaking, around job creation and driving innovation.
The bank has undertaken extensive consultations on the strategy, which are expected to continue during the course of the annual meeting. On Wednesday, in a closed-door session, the bank’s strategy and policy department discussed highlights of the strategy and welcomed feedback from members of civil society.
On Thursday, the bank’s Strategy, Policy, and Review Department will also be presenting ADB’s 2017 Development Effectiveness Review — dubbed as the bank’s “institutional report card” — and what lessons it offers for the bank’s future work.