ADB was conceived amid the postwar rehabilitation and reconstruction efforts of the early 1960s. The vision was of a financial institution that would be Asian in character and foster economic growth and cooperation in the region - then one of the poorest in the world.
A resolution passed at the first Ministerial Conference on Asian Economic Cooperation held by the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East in 1963 set that vision on the way to becoming reality.
The Philippines capital of Manila was chosen to host the new institution - the Asian Development Bank - which opened on 19 December 1966, with 31 members that came together to serve a predominantly agricultural region. Takeshi Watanabe was ADB's first President.
For the rest of the 1960s, ADB focused much of its assistance on food production and rural development. Its operations included ADB's first technical assistance, loans, including a first on concessional terms in 1969, and bond issue in Germany.
ADB's assistance expanded in the 1970s into education and health, and then to infrastructure and industry. The gradual emergence of Asian economies in the latter part of the decade spurred demand for better infrastructure to support economic growth. ADB focused on improving roads and providing electricity.
When the world suffered its first oil price shock, ADB shifted more of its assistance to support energy projects, especially those promoting the development of domestic energy sources in member countries.
Cofinancing operations began to provide additional resources for ADB projects and programs. ADB first bond issue in Asia - worth $16.7 million and issued in Japan - took place in 1970.
A major landmark was the establishment in 1974 of the Asian Development Fund to provide concessional lending to ADB's poorest members.
At the close of the decade, some Asian economies had improved considerably and graduated from ADB's regular assistance.
As the region's economy evolved, it became clear that the private sector was an important ally in driving growth. ADB thus in the 1980s made its first direct equity investment and began to use its track record to mobilize additional resources for development from the private sector.
In the wake of the second oil crisis, ADB continued its support to infrastructure development, particularly energy projects. ADB also increased its support to social infrastructure, including gender, microfinance, environmental, education, urban planning, and health issues.
In 1982, ADB opened its first field office - a Resident Mission in Bangladesh - to bring operations closer to their intended beneficiaries. Later in the decade, ADB approved a policy supporting collaboration with nongovernment organizations to address the basic needs of disadvantaged groups in its developing member countries.
The start of the 1990s saw ADB begin promoting regional cooperation, forging close ties among neighboring countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion.
In 1995, ADB became the first multilateral organization to have a Board-approved governance policy to ensure that development assistance fully benefits the poor. Policies on the inspection function, involuntary resettlement, and indigenous peoples - designed to protect the rights of people affected by a project - were also approved.
ADB's membership, meanwhile, continued to expand with the addition of several Central Asian countries following the end of the Cold War.
In mid-1997, a severe financial crisis hit the region, setting back Asia's spectacular economic gains. ADB responded with projects and programs to strengthen financial sectors and create social safety nets for the poor. ADB approved its largest single loan-a $4 billion emergency loan to the Republic of Korea-and established the Asian Currency Crisis Support Facility to accelerate assistance.
In 1999, recognizing that development was still bypassing so many in the region, ADB adopted poverty reduction as its overarching goal.
With the new century, a new focus on helping its developing members achieve the Millennium Development Goals and making development more effective was adopted within ADB.
In 2003, a severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic hit the region, making it clear that fighting infectious diseases requires regional cooperation. ADB began providing support at national and regional levels to help countries more effectively respond to avian influenza and the growing threat of HIV/AIDS.
ADB also had to respond to unprecedented natural disasters, committing more than $850 million for recovery in areas of India, Indonesia, Maldives, and Sri Lanka hit by the December 2004 Asian tsunami. In addition, a $1 billion line of assistance to help victims of the October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan was set up.
In 2008, ADB's Board of Directors approved Strategy 2020: The Long-Term Strategic Framework of the Asian Development Bank 2008-2020, a policy document guiding its operations to 2020.
In 2009, ADB's Board of Governors agreed to triple ADB's capital base from $55 billion to $165 billion, giving it much-needed resources to respond to the global economic crisis. The 200% increase is the largest in ADB's history, and the first since the 1994 100% capital increase.
Developing Asia moved beyond the economic crisis to emerge as a new engine of global growth in 2010 when the region’s gross domestic product increased by 9.0%. This was more than double the global growth rate during the same period and well above the 5.9% rate recorded in the region in 2009.
While the speed and strength of its economic recovery surprised many, the region still faced daunting challenges, remaining home to two thirds of the world’s poor. Widening income and non-income disparities among and within countries further accentuated the contrast between the so-called ‘two faces’ of Asia. This increasing gap re-focused ADB on the need to promote inclusive growth through its lending and technical assistance.
To reaffirm its commitment to inclusion, transparency, and accountability, ADB approved a new Public Communications Policy in 2011. This revised policy, which refines disclosure requirements for ADB documents, has enhanced stakeholders’ trust in and ability to engage with ADB, thereby increasing the effectiveness of ADB operations.
In response to reforms initiated by the Government of Myanmar, ADB begun to reengage with the country in early 2012. In January 2013, Myanmar settled in full its arrears owed to ADB since lending ceased in 1988. In April 2014, ADB established its Myanmar Resident Mission, with offices in Nay Pyi Taw and Yangon. Lending operations have now resumed, and a number of technical assistance grants have been implemented.
A midterm review of ADB’s guiding policy document Strategy 2020 was launched in 2013. The review involved extensive external consultation and concluded that while ADB’s broad strategic direction was still valid, it needed to sharpen and rebalance operations to meet the needs of a rapidly changing environment in the region.
In May 2014, ADB President Takehiko Nakao announced that the ADB Board of Governors had agreed to a groundbreaking initiative to combine the lending operations of ADB’s Asian Development Fund (ADF) with its ordinary capital resources (OCR) balance sheet. The merger will boost ADB’s total annual lending and grant approvals to as high as $20 billion—50% more than the current level. The merger is an important milestone for ADB, as it will dramatically expand its lending capacity—particularly to poor countries—when it takes effect in January 2017.
The era of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is drawing to a close in 2015. Asia’s MDG achievements have been mixed. While ADB’s work has contributed to Asia and the Pacific slashing extreme poverty by more than half, the region is still home to 1.4 billion people who live on $2 a day or less and almost three-quarters of the world’s underweight children. About 600 million people have no access to electricity and 1.7 billion still lack improved sanitation. These realities mean a huge amount of work still to be addressed by the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals and by multilateral organizations like ADB dedicated to eradicating poverty.