What to expect at the ADB annual meeting

The Palace of Independence in Astana, Kazakhstan is where the Asian Development Bank’s 47th Annual Meeting will take place. Photo by: ADB

On Friday, the movers and shakers at the Asian Development Bank will once again take center stage and begin deciding what are the next steps to take in mapping out Asia-Pacific’s development future at the bank’s annual meeting in Astana, Kazakhstan.

Traditionally held in the first week of May, the annual meeting gathers the Manila-based institution’s best aid experts, development practitioners, high-level government officials, business leaders, investors and civil society representatives to talk about the region’s development progress and provide a blueprint on how to push member nations forward, together.

This year’s agenda will focus on connectivity, particularly in both soft (communications) and hard (transport) infrastructure initiatives with a focus on linking Central Asia — an emerging bloc in Asia-Pacific — to the rest of the region. This will also mark the return of ADB’s centerpiece event in Central Asia 4 years after the 2010 gathering in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. The last three annual meetings were held in Vietnam, the Philippines and India.

Infrastructure, as emphasized several times by the institution, is a pressing development issue in Asia-Pacific, with infrastructure needs amounting to over $800 billion annually — something even ADB has admitted to not being able to meet fully, and compelling President Takehiko Nakao to note that cofinancing and partnerships would play a huge role in bridging the region’s development gap in the future.

But aside from discussions about connectivity and infrastructure, what other things can we expect from ADB’s annual meeting?

Nakao, one year on

One of the highlights of the event will be the first anniversary of Nakao’s appointment as president, and how he views his role in ADB a year after the former Japanese diplomat replaced Haruhiko Kuroda, who served for eight years.

In his inaugural address, Nakao is expected to bare his plans for the year, encouraging all members of the development community — partner governments, aid organizations, the private sector and others — to take part in the bank’s initiatives to adequately meet the region’s development needs.

Although it’s premature to get a foothold and feel of how the bank is performing under his leadership, reception among development experts have been pretty warm towards the ADB chief, although they admit that much work remains to be done.

Traditionally, ADB has been headed by former finance officers of the Japanese government, and the leadership style within the bank seemed to follow an oriental flavor — focusing mainly on a consensus and common good approach.

Bank sources told Devex that work culture in the bank hasn’t undergone drastic changes under Nakao, although a renewed focus on providing knowledge —particularly in speeding up the midterm review of ADB’s long-term “Strategy 2020,” — was a personal priority urged by the president.

Halfway through Strategy 2020, beyond the MDGs

Realigning development operations based on the Strategy 2020 and working toward sustainable and inclusive development beyond the Millennium Development Goals 2015 deadline will be two hot topics in Astana.

In its midterm review of the Strategy 2020, ADB reaffirmed the plan’s relevance and effectiveness in achieving the region’s development goals. But as the region rapidly transforms, so should the bank’s approach in addressing overarching development issues to avoid becoming obsolete.

Part of the revisions expected to be discussed and implemented by the bank based on the grand plan include a 10-point strategic priority list which features inclusive economic growth, environment and climate change, regional cooperation, private sector engagement and delivering value for money, among others.

Some of the seminars in the event include a panel focusing on deconstructing the Strategy 2020 and the realization of the post-2015 MDG agenda, focusing on the proposed expansion of these development objectives from eight to 12. This is in recognition of the fact that no country in the region will achieve all 8 goals, but none will fail either.

“The experience serves as the basis for more vigorous efforts ahead to ensure that future growth is not just rapid, but also more inclusive and environmentally responsible for sustainable human development,” according to one of the seminars’ descriptions.

Buzz topics

Other issues that will be discussed at the annual meeting are disaster management, independent evaluation for better development effectiveness, going local, breaking from the middle-income conundrum and project safeguards.

For disaster management and climate change, a key talking point will the recent devastation of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, and there the focus will be on how to make a multi-stakeholder approach in disaster risk mitigation and response much more effective.

Independent evaluation and going local will also be highlighted. Effectiveness has been a key development challenge globally, especially now that the trend in international development financing is belt-tightening, while making sure that people on the ground actually enjoy the benefits and can even participate in the development process as partners and not just beneficiaries.

Another hot topic is the rising challenge of the “middle-income country trap” and how to get out of it. ADB explained in its midterm review of Strategy 2020 that despite many of its developing member countries graduating to middle-income status, issues like high unemployment still linger.

A ‘knowledge bank’ for Asia-Pacific?

Finally, partnerships and providing knowledge solutions will definitely also be discussed in detail in Astana, underlining the need for more collaboration and learning from each other in development activities in the region.

One of the seminars on the first day includes a discussion on how to make public-private partnership initiatives really work — an emerging development approach that could potentially deliver more effectiveness and efficiency given the private sector’s expertise and technical know-how.

This could set the tone for the ADB’s plan to become a knowledge bank for Asia-Pacific development — something other development experts, like William Easterly, are not thoroughly convinced about. Steven Rood, The Asia Foundation country representative in the Philippines, said this should be an absolute priority moving forward.

“It is vital that Asians have the ability to learn from other Asians,” he told Devex. “That a regional institution provides leadership that focuses on what is relevant for the Asia-Pacific region.”

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See more:

What Myanmar needs from ADB
How to keep ADB relevant in a changing Asia
Is the time ripe for China's own aid agency?
Where does ADB spend its money?
ADB's plans to make itself more relevant, responsive and effective
ADB: Cofinancing, partnerships to bridge Asia-Pacific’s development gap

About the author

  • Lean Alfred Santos

    Lean Alfred Santos is a former Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. He previously covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics.