If we could reinvent MDBs to respond to urgent development and climate needs and to benefit from 70 years of experience with the model, what would they look like? Many are focused on the scale of MDB finance. This paper focuses on how the model needs to change to effectively deploy more finance. A central question for the model is how country investment priorities are set. This paper advocates that countries should chart their own low-carbon climate resilient development and growth paths, with robust analytical support from MDBs that integrates climate and development challenges, including cross-border challenges, and helps countries set priorities for investments and policies. MDBs should work together as a coherent system to support one country-owned strategy, rather than individually creating their own separate strategies and policy conditions. This approach will help overcome fears by borrowing countries that rich shareholders are compelling them to abandon their own development priorities in favor of other countries’ climate priorities. It will also help break down the silos within and across MDBs that thwart collaboration and diminish their effectiveness.
The country strategies should go deep rather than broad, aiming for transformative outcomes in a few priority sectors selected for their importance for achieving the country’s sustainable development and climate goals. Success should be measured based on achievement of targeted outcomes, not by the size of financial inputs. Governments, MDBs, and other development partners should all make finance and other commitments under the strategy and be held accountable for their performance. Governments that meet their policy and finance commitments should be assured of consistent, predictable budget support from MDBs, along with investment project and pay-for-results lending. Beyond their own lending, MDBs should focus on improving the terms of market borrowing for sustainable development, making more use of their guarantee and insurance products. And MDB boards should spend less time on individual project approvals and more on monitoring outcome progress at the country level and country contributions to cross-border goals.
A second critical challenge is how to boost MDB performance in mobilizing private finance for climate and development goals. The paper advocates putting mobilization at the center of MDB institutional strategies, setting ambitious mobilization targets, and implementing institutional changes needed to achieve those targets. Two core changes are critical: (1) changing financial product offerings to better match instruments to private capital market gaps, which means less emphasis on senior loans and more deployment of subordinated financial products; and (2) focusing more on creating portfolios of sustainable finance assets to offer private investment opportunities at scale. Partnerships with institutional investors and more risk- tolerant investors are both essential to achieve scale and manage increased risk.