Article by H.E. Dr. Bandar Hajjar, President, Islamic Development Bank (IsDB)
The discovery of the COVID-19 vaccine and its subsequent distribution in several countries provides hope as the year 2021 sets in; it builds confidence that countries might enter the ‘new normal.’ There is renewed optimism that 2021 will mark the beginning of a global recovery and that the international community will be motivated to deepen cooperation in order to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) during the Decade of Action.
The year 2020 was truly exceptional due to the COVID-19 pandemic, during which the global economy experienced an ever-deepening recession, leading to disruptions in all areas of social and economic activity. The member countries of the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) were no exception; they were deeply impacted by the pandemic. In order to stand by our member countries in these challenging times, the IsDB Group, comprising the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB), the Islamic Research and Training Institute (IRTI), the Islamic Corporation for the Development of the Private Sector (ICD), the Islamic Corporation for the Insurance of Investment and Export Credit (ICIEC) and the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC), launched its US$2.3 billion Strategic Preparedness and Response Program (SPRP) to help its member countries in the short, medium and long terms. The SPRP is being implemented under the ‘Respond, Restore and Restart” tracks (3Rs).
The SPRP provides immediate and urgent assistance focused on strengthening health systems while keeping a clear line of sight for restoring the economies of IsDB member countries and putting them back on track towards a more stable future.
In the first phase of the SPRP, we gave priority to the health sector in our member countries, providing more than 3 million pieces of personal protective equipment, more than 4 million testing kits and other medical equipment. We also supported building the capacities of 20,000 health workers who are in the frontlines of the fight against COVID-19. Furthermore, we provided food supplies to around 9 million persons in our member countries, as well as financial and technical support to 7,350 small and medium-sized enterprises, the business activities of which were affected by the pandemic. We also developed the capacities of more than 43 million persons in our member countries through COVID-19 prevention and awareness campaigns and created job opportunities for around 57,600 individuals to help them withstand the negative impacts of the pandemic.
One of the many lessons drawn from this global pandemic is that working together is the only way out. At IsDB, we believe that it is through stronger and more effective South-South and Triangular Cooperation that the world will be in a better position to address its collective challenges, with respect to both dealing with the ongoing pandemic and achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
In addition to responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 presented IsDB with the opportunity to lead global efforts towards addressing the current challenges facing humanity. During the year, IsDB assumed the chairmanship of the Heads of Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs) and called for more collaboration and synergies among all development partners and stakeholders to overcome the existing pandemic and to prepare a conducive environment for global economic recovery.
Also in 2020, Saudi Arabia’s Presidency of the G20 gave the IsDB Group the opportunity to support, participate in and contribute to shaping the agenda during vital discussions affecting the global community. It was an excellent occasion for the Group to actively promote its innovative and most recent initiatives in this global forum and to contribute to the fight against COVID-19 while realizing opportunities of the 21st Century for the benefit of all.
In order to prepare ourselves for the global challenges that lie ahead, we have embarked on a transformation to become a more flexible and responsive institution. Over the last few years, we reformulated our business model, which now focuses on strengthening the comparative advantages and competitiveness of our member countries. We are doing so by promoting global value chains as part of our objective to “make markets work for development”. This is to ensure that our member countries can accelerate their development by strengthening industrialization, engaging the private sector in development efforts and integrating their domestic value chains with global markets. Through this approach, we will help in creating decent jobs and contribute to poverty alleviation efforts. Furthermore, to strengthen our responsiveness, we are also decentralizing our activities with more field presence to be closer to, and better serve, our clients in the member countries.
Last but not least, we are changing the Bank into a “bank of development and developers”; a development institution that not only provides financing but also plays a key role in connecting and engaging key partners to transform the development journey of our member countries. We are expanding our network of developers from member and non-member countries, as well as the public, private and third sectors, to bring innovative solutions to our member countries from all angles.
At IsDB, we believe that all our member countries have a wealth of knowledge and expertise, regardless of their level of development. In order to channel comprehensive and innovative development solutions from one member country to another, the Bank has been extensively using its homegrown Reverse Linkage mechanism to enable the exchange of knowledge, expertise and innovative technologies to devise solutions for sustainable development. Through this mechanism, IsDB plays the role of a facilitator and connector to mobilize resources and identify development solutions from across the globe to meet the challenges of its member countries.
Despite the difficult circumstances imposed by COVID-19, IsDB noted that its member countries are willing to share their newly gained know-how, experiences and learned lessons on health-related issues and beyond with their peers in a genuine spirit of solidarity. Leveraging this solidarity during the pandemic, IsDB introduced the Africa e-learning and Knowledge Sharing Platform to facilitate peer learning and knowledge sharing on preparing and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic among medical and paramedical staff, as well as decisionmakers in IsDB African member countries to provide a suitable response to the pandemic. In total, more than 19,000 persons viewed the webinars, including 6,000 medical and paramedical attendees from 25 IsDB African member countries. Around 120 speakers from 35 countries (member and non-member countries) had the opportunity to share knowledge, best practices and expertise.
Furthermore, we provided support to fragile countries to share their experiences among themselves. We also identified centers of excellence from our member countries, such as the Aga Khan University, the Institut Pasteur of Dakar, the International Center for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh (icddr,b) and others that are willing to share their knowledge with peers to mitigate the negative impact of the pandemic. During the year, we also pushed new frontiers in order to bring new know-how and expertise to our member countries from non-member countries in the Global South. For instance, we engaged Singapore for the first time in various interventions designed to support institutions in our member countries with vital know-how and expertise for their fight against COVID-19.
We also managed to bring the private sector on board through Reverse Linkage, tapping into its vast financial resources, higher-quality technical expertise and agility in project implementation. Our member countries have active and socially responsible private companies willing to boost the positive impact of development activities that can improve the quality of human life. For instance, Serba Dinamik, a Malaysian private partner of IsDB under Reverse Linkage, donated a pandemic response package worth US$2.25 million in support of the Bank’s SPRP as a gesture of goodwill and solidarity.
In recognition of the crucial role of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) in enhancing our member countries’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic under SPRP, the Bank mobilized several global partnerships on STI-based COVID-19 innovative solutions from key health partners operating in the field of diagnostics and healthcare technology delivery to immediately respond to shortages of essential healthcare supplies and to strengthen local production capacity of medical healthcare products and pharmaceuticals. It also dedicated the Transform Fund’s 3rd Call for Innovation to COVID-19 and crowdsourced 30 COVID-19 innovative solutions for improving digital health surveillance and development of medical devices, products and diagnostics, developing online digital education platforms and addressing COVID-19 issues related to food security and water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH). The Transform Fund will support these solutions with a total approved budget of US$7.3 million through a US$2.1 million grant financing and US$5.2 million equity shares. In addition, under the partnership with The World Academy of Science (TWAS) through the Joint Research & Technology Transfer Grant, we will support collaborative research between two groups of scientists and technologists from an IsDB developing member country and an IsDB least developed member country that puts forward high-quality research projects to advance knowledge and to help in addressing the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In conclusion, it is now obvious that the post-COVID-19 world requires stronger cooperation and strategic partnerships. We need to adapt ourselves and become more proactive in order to address global challenges and transform them into opportunities for a prosperous future for everyone.
Our belief in the tremendous potential of our member countries in particular, and in the Global South in general, was reinforced in 2020. Promoting further collaboration to leverage the wealth of knowledge, expertise and resources requires the involvement of facilitators such as IsDB to catalyze the transfer of solutions from one country to another and to promote solidarity-based cooperation among the countries of the South, as well as with the rest of the world. IsDB will continue to play this role in order to support the development agendas of its member countries while contributing to achieving the SDGs through South-South and Triangular Cooperation.