As ADB expands operations, prospective partners step up their interest

A member of staff writing notes during a meeting at the Asian Development Bank Tajikistan Resident Mission in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. Photo by: ADB / CC BY-NC

The Asian Development Bank held its eighth annual Business Opportunities Fair at its Manila, Philippines, headquarters on March 22 and 23. ADB officials reflected on the bank’s past performance, defined its future priorities and offered candid advice on what it takes to win projects with the bank. Attracting the largest audience of consultants and partners in its history, the event also highlighted the global interest in working with Asia’s oldest multilateral development bank, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

Several strategic shifts are underway at ADB. Building on a mid-term review of Strategy 2020, the bank is preparing a new framework strategy to respond to the evolving development challenges in the Asia-Pacific region. ADB Strategy 2030, which is slated for finalization in 2018, will expand the vision of the bank, define how the ADB aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals, and identify potential institutional and organizational reforms. At the same time the merger of ADB’s two main lending instruments — the Asian Development Fund and the Ordinary Capital Resources — took effect on January 1, 2017, after the bank reached an all-time high of $17.5 billion in sovereign and non-sovereign project approvals in 2016. By 2020, ADB is planning on increasing loan and grant approvals to over $20 billion.

“This pipeline represents wide-ranging business opportunities,” said Deborah Stokes, ADB vice-president for administration and corporate management, who linked ADB’s budget and operations expansion to efforts to close Asia’s significant development financing gap.

The vast majority of ADB finance is channeled as loans through developing member countries. South Asia accounts for the largest portion of the ADB portfolio at 33 percent, while Bangladesh, China, Pakistan, Vietnam and India account for approximately 60 percent of ADB’s portfolio.

ADB also manages a growing technical assistance portfolio designated to help prepare projects and assist recipient governments in implementation. In 2016, ADB contracted 897 technical assistance projects across sectors at approximately $1.6 billion. According to a Devex analysis, Myanmar has the largest non-lending portfolio, comprised predominantly of technical assistance, with $52 million for 2017-2019.

Key pointers for working effectively with ADB

• Develop your brand name

• Register in ADB Consultant Management System

• Know the rules of the game and guidelines on the use of consultants, anti-corruption policy

• Monitor opportunities regularly

• Know the country of assignment

• Partner with entities likely to be shortlisted

• Prepare a strong and responsive technical proposal

• Pay attention to data sheet information

• Manage your contract

The ADB technical assistance budget represents the highest potential source of funding opportunities for consultants, research institutions, civil society and other implementers. About 90 percent of the Business Opportunities Fair attendees were from these types of organizations.

Increasing efficiency and reducing time are the main drivers of the second phase of the ADB procurement reforms that started in 2014. The funds merger is expected to increase approvals and speed up the procurement process, but ADB is focusing on other important contracting reforms. According to officials, the time to get contracts out of the door decreased 16 percent since 2014, but the average contracting timeline still extends over 300 days.

Manmohan Parkash, ADB advisor in procurement policy and portfolio management, disclosed that ADB will post procurement specialists within country delegations, which is expected to hasten the procurement process. ADB is also emphasizing the importance and benefits of taking a “value for money” approach to all procurement activities to lower costs and optimize quality.

Among the many messages exchanged between ADB officials and the bank’s partners was the importance of the early planning stage of projects, which will help ADB find the most qualified partners and assist consultants and suppliers in identifying project opportunities early on in the procurement cycle. Eric Gagnon, head of consulting services at the ADB, stressed the importance of Country Operations Business Plans, which align ADB’s plans with country partnership or regional cooperation strategies and define grants and projects in the pipeline. This is a critical starting point for any organization seeking business opportunities with ADB.

"Ultimately what you really want to do is put yourself ahead of the eight ball by monitoring projects as they are being developed and identify in time when a package would be tendered,” instructed Gagnon.

To assist implementers with this process, Devex aggregated and analyzed all the public information from the latest Country Operations Business Plans and launched an interactive visualization tool that allows individuals and firms to search for ADB lending or non-lending contributions by year, sector and location.

ADB officials also shared more candid and nuanced advice about working with the bank. They acknowledge that working with ADB can unlock the door for business in emerging economies. In other words, winning a contract with ADB in a new market can often pave the way to other contracts with ADB, other donor agencies, national governments or the private sector. ADB explicitly cited Afghanistan, Cambodia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, and other Pacific states as locations to consider for business development because of robust project pipelines and less competition.

But working with ADB requires a sustained commitment and a tailored engagement strategy. "Don't entertain any dream. We are difficult to work with. If you don't have a foot in the door, it will be difficult to open that door,” said Gagnon.

Bank officials advise that if a firm has no previous experience or track record with the institution, an easier and better way to make your firm known is by selling your experts, instead of the organization. This may mean focusing on individual consulting assignments where the recruitment process is shorter and simpler and ADB is more willing to take risks on new partners, due to lower project budgets. These individual contracts will help your firm build valuable project references, brand recognition and familiarity with ADB processes and personnel, all of which are keys to winning larger consulting contracts.

Check out more practical business and development advice online, and subscribe to Money Matters to receive the latest contract award and shortlist announcements, and procurement and fundraising news.

About the author

  • Pete Troilo

    Former director of global advisory and analysis, Pete managed all Devex research and analysis operations worldwide and monitors key trends in the global development business. Prior to joining Devex, Pete was a political and security risk consultant with a focus on Southeast Asia. He has also advised the U.S. government on foreign policy and led projects for the Asian Development Bank and International Finance Corp. He still consults for Devex on a project basis.