Launch of the Asia Regional Trade and Connectivity Fund at the 51st annual meeting of the Asian Development Bank. Photo by: Asian Development Bank

MANILA — The same fund set to help break down regulatory bottlenecks in Asia and the Pacific is also a signal that the Asian Development Bank is serious about its regional cooperation innovation, according to Arjun Goswami, chief of ADB regional cooperation and integration thematic group.

The Asia Regional Trade and Connectivity Fund, also known as ARTCF, in partnership with the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development, will provide support to address some of the frontier challenges ADB members face in improving regional integration, such as cross-border transport difficulties and energy connectivity. DfID will provide an initial contribution of up to $30 million.  

ADB annual meeting preview: What we're looking into

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 the future.

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The fund, launched Wednesday at ADB headquarters in Manila during the bank’s 51st annual meeting, is an opportunity to provide targeted financing for regional projects to increase poverty reduction and gender impacts in eight Central and South Asian countries, according to Duncan Overfield, DfID Asia regional deputy head.

But it’s also an example of ADB’s vision for future regional cooperation work, “in a way, what you’re witnessing today is what we’re doing on the ‘engine input’ side, to make sure that the kind of innovative and quality outputs that we’re looking for — for the kind of frontier, nextgeneration RCI [regional cooperation and integration] program — really happens,” Goswami told Devex.

In 2016, in response to a midterm review of its Strategy 2020, ADB approved a new RCI operational plan with the goal of spurring innovation and quality in ADB’s regional cooperation work — set to represent 30 percent of the bank’s operations by 2030. Ultimately, the thematic group aspires to be a “business research unit” supporting an innovative project pipeline focused on both public and private sectors, Goswami said.

In order to do it, two things are necessary, he noted.

The first is combining mobilization of resources with knowledge from external partners — something the ARTCF exemplifies, according to Goswami.

“We did joint knowledge work together, which both sides found very enriching, on economic corridors and new concepts related to that,” he said. “Now it’s leading to a much bigger trust fund where we can take that forward in a much bigger way.”

The second is investing in the skills of RCI program staff, Goswami said. Adding that the bank is getting ready to embark on a new staff skills and career development initiative informed by findings from a skills survey conducted across ADB.

“RCI staff are in some ways our most valuable resource because they are the ones who have to earn the trust of the countries in doing regional cooperation and integration work. They have to run the program, process projects … and these new frontier areas that we’re talking about are going to require a push in terms of investment,” Goswami said.

Positive feedback from member countries and development partners thus far has the RCI chief convinced the thematic group is on the right path toward its goal of portfolio growth through innovation.

“We’re not just depending on money and external partnerships, we’re also simultaneously building our own internal strength,” he said. “If you have both the engines firing, then you’re going to get a powerful result.”

About the author

  • Kelli Rogers

    Kelli Rogers is an Associate Editor for Devex. Based on the U.S. West Coast, she works with Devex's team of correspondents and editors around the world, with a particular focus on gender. She previously worked as Devex’s Southeast Asia correspondent based in Bangkok, covering disaster and crisis response, resilience, women’s rights, and climate change throughout the region. Prior to that, she reported on social and environmental issues from Nairobi, Kenya. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and has since reported from more than 20 countries.