The new global agenda and the future of the multilateral development bank system

Research reports and studies
January 2018
Amar Bhattacharya, Homi Kharas, Mark Plant and Annalisa Prizzon

The new global agenda, with Agenda 2030 at its core, is ambitious, comprehensive and universal. The three central goals now are to reignite growth, deliver on the sustainable development goals, and meet the ambitions of the Paris Agreement aimed at mitigating climate change and adapting to its effects. Achieving these goals will require a significant scaling up and reorientation of investments, especially for sustainable infrastructure and human development. Implementing this agenda is urgent, as the world is witnessing the largest wave of urban expansion in history and more infrastructure than the world’s existing stock will come on stream over the next 15 years. This is also the last opportunity to manage remaining significant demographic transitions.

Multilateral development banks (MDBs), with their highly effective capacity to help countries strengthen policy and institutional foundations and to leverage finance, have a central role to play. They are trying to respond, but human and financial constraints and unclear and expanded mandates from shareholders are holding them back. Clarifying their mandates and addressing the constraints are essential to enable them to scale up and make more effective their support for the new global agenda. But while independent evaluations suggest that each MDB is individually performing well, the system as a whole is not delivering enough. 

This paper suggests ways to improve policy and operational coherence among MDBs and outlines how better shareholder governance could bring this about. It focuses on the need for stepped-up financing of investments in developing countries, but should be viewed in the broader context of managing globalisation, especially with regard to trade and financial stability.