Whether it’s climate change, poverty, the cost of living crisis, or any number of other challenges we face today, there is one common thread. We need money to help prepare and respond. A lot of it.
Credible estimates put the costs in the trillions of dollars — an order of magnitude greater than what’s currently on the table, particularly for lower income countries.
The good news is that institutions exist that were designed to mobilise money to spur development and invest in global challenges. The bad news is that they are underused, out of date, and in need of a refresh. Those institutions are called multilateral development banks (MDBs). Collectively they hold over US$1.8 trillion in assets and could leverage hundreds of billions – up to a trillion dollars – more in new lending if they used that capital more efficiently.
This page is about how they work and how to get them to work better.
Unlocking additional funds will require doing five things to change how the MDBs work (which we explain below):
A few countries hold the majority of the voting shares, making their support critical for implementing the reforms necessary to unlock new funds.
Here’s a live tracker of where those countries stand on the five reforms.
Changes to the World Bank’s balance sheet could unleash hundreds of billions more in financing. Money that could help vulnerable countries invest in future growth, resilience and help end poverty. The interactive tool allows you to gamify the World Bank’s balance sheet to see the impacts of key reforms currently being debated.
The tool enables you to:
The tool is designed to be illustrative and is based on the data and information the World Bank makes publicly available. It can’t account for all factors, particularly where good data is not available. Actual new lending in any given year will be influenced by a range of other factors. While the tool illustrates how much more financing the World Bank could potentially mobilize, it does not model actual lending in future years.
The tool looks only at the World Bank’s IBRD. It plays an outsized role in influencing other MDBs and shaping the global agenda so the impact of the World Bank implementing these reforms could be amplified many times over if others follow.
They are Multilateral: That means they are owned by countries that collectively make up their shareholders. Some countries are borrowers, some are donors, some are both, but they all sign up to an international treaty that provides certainty to all involved.
They focus on Development: The purpose is to provide finance for investments in future prosperity: that includes everything from roads and power plants to education programs and pandemic prevention.
They are Banks: Shareholders provide capital in the form of cash and guarantees that they will step in if things go poorly. That makes the MDBs very secure investments. They issue bonds on international markets, thereby increasing the amount that is available to be on-lent to countries at a cheaper rate and on better terms than countries could access themselves. When that money is repaid, it can be lent to another borrower. This is extraordinarily efficient. Since 1944, the World Bank has taken US$19 billion of cash from shareholders and turned it into over US$800 billion of lending.
MDBs are considered to be safe and stable for three key reasons:
Most have two lending facilities called “windows”:
A government will typically come to one of the banks with an application for a loan. Legal, policy, and technical experts will then advise on both the structure of the loan and the policies needed to make it work.
They hold over US$1.8 trillion in assets. Here’s a breakdown.
Let’s take a closer look at the World Bank:
Global and cross border challenges like climate change, pandemic threats, and food insecurity pose greater risks than ever before. Credible estimates for the scale of external finance needed to invest in sustainable development and the green energy transition are in the range of US$1 trillion a year. If left untackled, today’s multiple crises will inevitably exacerbate already rising geopolitical tensions.
Traditional sources of finance are not keeping pace with those needs:
MDBs should be stepping in to help countries overcome these challenges. Instead, they are:
Too slow: Many countries prefer to borrow at a higher cost on international markets or from China because it means that they can move faster with fewer conditions. While the time from conception to board approval fell during Covid to 258 days, the 5-year average for all World Bank projects from concept note to board approval is 387 days, though for some sectors it is significantly faster (e.g. for health it is 117 days). However, the historical average time from project concept note to disbursement for World Bank projects is 465 days (often due to delays beyond the World Bank’s control).
Too inflexible: They currently lend to country governments, but that fails to take account of the need for investment in cross border challenges and global public goods like reducing carbon emissions and preparing for pandemics.
Too closed: Loans will ultimately be paid by the next generation of taxpayers in borrowing countries. Current taxpayers should have a say in determining priorities and how money is spent. Power and decision making remains largely in the hands of a small number of high-income countries.
Too cautious: They don’t use their balance sheets effectively enough. Increasing their risk appetites, even by modest amounts, could enable them to borrow and lend significantly more.
An expert group commissioned by the G20 attempted to answer a basic question: How can MDBs lend more without requiring new capital or triggering downgrades to their credit ratings?
MDB shareholders have the power to implement these recommendations. And a few have outsized power because of how many shares they hold. Nine shareholders (in order of voting share: US, Japan, China, Germany, UK, France, Russia, India, and Canada) hold 49% of voting power at the IBRD (part of the World Bank).
This chart shows the share of votes controlled by members of the International Development Association (IDA) and the International Bank For Reconstruction and Development (IBRD).
The latest data for IDA is for 31 December 2022, and for IBRD 06 February 2023.
See here for the latest intel on where they stand.
Fulfilling this agenda will require joint action by major shareholders to implement all of the recommendations together. Speed will be critical in responding to the urgency of need and to take advantage of the current political appetite for reform.
Here’s what needs to happen and when: