Innovation and partnership to tackle poverty


By Dr Bandar Al Hajjar,

President of the Islamic Development Bank

When people talk about ways of helping the poor, many words often come to mind; perhaps charity, solidarity or compassion. Innovation is not normally one of them. But innovation is exactly what we need if we are to transform this world into the one we want it to be, overcoming poverty and disease within our lifetimes. In 2015, the world agreed on 17 ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), with 169 targets that set out how we’d like to see the world improve. But without innovation, we’ll never reach them.

Ever since I took the helm at the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) just over a year ago, I have been working to ensure that our institution is at the forefront of innovation, so that we can do even more to effect positive change. Founded in 1973, IsDB is the largest development bank in the Muslim World, serving 57 countries across the globe and Muslim communities in its non-member countries; committing over $5 billion per year in project financing. But we are not resting on our laurels. We are innovating our business model to improve the way we serve our member countries. We are innovating in the types of finance we provide to support all manner of different projects. Above all, we are investing in scientific research, because our member countries need new tools and technologies to tackle the emerging problems of tomorrow’s world.

In this work, one of our most important partners is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the world’s largest private philanthropic organization, with an annual spending at par with ours. Like the IsDB, the Gates Foundation is committed to ensuring that everyone has the chance to lead a healthy and productive life. That is why I was glad to make my first trip last week to its headquarters in Seattle, where I met with Bill Gates and his team, to find ways to strengthen our partnership. Mr. Gates was one of the first people to call to congratulate me when I took this job, and he assured me then of his commitment to our joint work to fight poverty.

Since that time, we have achieved a lot together, with over $600m of projects in health, agriculture and infrastructure’ approved in the last year through the Lives & Livelihoods Fund, which our generous member countries have supported, alongside Mr. Gates’ foundation. These are now coming to fruition through 14 development projects in countries like Senegal, Morocco, Burkina Faso, Tajikistan, Cameroon, Sudan, Guinea, and more.

Last week, in Seattle, the focus was on how we can increase the scale of innovation we are achieving. We examined the effectiveness of our blended finance innovations, through which our largest partnerships to date have been built. Experts in scientific discovery, both from the Islamic Development Bank and the Gates Foundation, discussed how we can combine our resources to fund the development of new tools. All this will result in a new sense of energy and purpose in the longstanding collaboration between both parties.

There is a long way to go to achieve the goals we have set for ourselves. But I am filled with optimism by the partnerships we are building with the Gates Foundation and others, bringing the best skills and experience from around the world to join in this important work.