Address to ADB Country Directors Forum 2019 - Takehiko Nakao

Speech | 20 August 2019

Address by Takehiko Nakao, President, Asian Development Bank at the ADB Country Directors Forum 2019 on 20 August 2019 in ADB headquarters, Manila, Philippines


Good morning. 

I am pleased to once again welcome you to the annual Country Directors Forum. 

The theme of our meeting is The Experience of Strategy 2030 Implementation. We have learned much over the last year that is worthy of discussion.  

To set the scene for this discussion, I would like to share my thoughts on our progress in implementing Strategy 2030, the role of Country Directors, and how our ongoing reforms support you to do your jobs. 

Strategy 2030 – 1 year on 

In 2018, ADB committed a record high $21.6 billion in loans – 10% higher than in 2017, and 55% higher than when I became ADB President in 2013. We will continue to focus on quality and innovation in our operations, while maintaining moderate volume growth. 

In the year since Strategy 2030 was approved, we have made significant progress in establishing the foundations for its implementation. I would like to summarize some of the main steps: 

First, Strategy 2030 is already reflected in the five Country Partnership Strategies (Azerbaijan, Fiji, Kyrgyz Republic, Philippines, and Uzbekistan) that have been endorsed by the Board.  

Second, in November 2018 the Board approved the capital expenditure proposal for the first stage of Digital Agenda 2030, a major program of capital investment in ADB’s IT systems to help drive its digital transformation. 

Third, we have established an innovation task force to provide recommendations on how to support more innovation in operations. These recommendations will focus on how to promote innovation, how to improve procedures to facilitate innovative approaches, and how to strengthen the institution to support them. 

Fourth, we have commenced the review of Resident Mission operations, led by SPD and BPMSD. This review will cover the functions and roles of Resident Missions, and the issues and constraints that they face in supporting Strategy 2030. You will hear more about the review during the Forum and have an opportunity to provide your input.  

Fifth, we have prepared draft plans for the seven operational priorities and will submit them to the Board for endorsement later this year.  The plans highlight ADB’s role in forging innovative and multi-sectoral sectoral solutions to meet the needs of our clients, and the need to further strengthen our One ADB approach.  

Sixth, the action plan for private sector operations is also expected to go to the Board this year. The action plan will be an important milestone for private sector operations to work together with our sector and thematic teams in regional departments and countries. It will reinforce the One ADB approach by breaking silos. We are bringing our private sector operations closer to clients by posting more staff to resident missions. We will open an office in Singapore by the end of this year to facilitate engagement with private sponsors and financiers. 

Seventh, ADB’s new corporate results framework will be submitted to the Board for approval in September 2019. The new framework includes all the quantitative targets of Strategy 2030. It measures achievement of thematic outcomes in each of the seven operational priorities. And it provides new indicators for One-ADB sovereign-nonsovereign collaboration and alignment of our operations to both poverty reduction and disability-inclusion.  

And finally, the knowledge management action plan will go to the Board for endorsement in early 2020. The action plan will support proactive delivery of knowledge products and services that contribute to development outcomes in the DMCs. And it will ensure knowledge is actively shared and applied by staff to more effectively respond to DMCs’ knowledge needs. 

Effective delivery of Strategy 2030 

In order to deliver our Strategy 2030 effectively, I want to emphasize three points, taking this opportunity.  

First is the efficient use of existing resources. While our recent and forthcoming budgets address needs for additional human and budgetary resources, we should make utmost efforts to use existing resources as efficiently and effectively as possible. We should think about how we can change the way we work, including continued work on modernizing our business process and better use of ICT.  

We should redeploy and share staff across departments. We must continue to improve performance management to help staff meet expectations for quality output and adapt to new needs. We should employ consultants more effectively to bring in cutting-edge knowledge and to keep our workforce more flexible.  

Second is the emphasis on innovation. Every staff must try to innovate every day at work. Innovation is not just about new technologies, such as AI or satellites. Innovative ideas about better governance and stronger institutions in our client countries are very important elements of innovation. OAI’s and OGC’s proactive technical assistance regarding anti-money laundering and tax-information sharing is a significant innovation in ADB’s support for better governance.  

New ideas to modernize our processes and to develop new operational modalities for meeting the emerging needs of countries are also critical innovations. An example is the recently approved “contingent disaster financing” facility to provide quick post-disaster budget support based on prior policy actions related to disaster prevention and preparedness. 

Finally, ADB as an institution should always consider what is the real value addition we can attach to our operations. An increasing number of our developing member countries have access to the local-currency denominated bond market with reasonable pricing. The demand for ADB operations will decrease over time, unless we can bring in new ideas, advanced technologies, and experiences from our work in countries. I believe our strong procurement systems, safeguards for environmental and social protection, and support to national  climate change actions will constitute part of our valuable services to countries.  

Role of Country Directors in implementing Strategy 2030  

As Country Directors, you are the face of ADB in the field. You play a crucial role in building relationships with our clients and implementing our strategic priorities.  

First, it is important that you actively engage with client counterparts, knowledge partners and development partners. Country ownership is vital and the strategies of MDBs’ should align with countries’ strategies. Partnerships with key bilateral and multilateral development agencies, including emerging IFIs, are also important.   

Second, you should have a firm grip on the political and economic context in which you work. In engaging closely with DMC governments on economic issues, it is important to look closely at what kind of vulnerabilities are coming from external factors, how each element of balance of payments adds up, what kinds of efforts are needed to mobilize domestic resources, how we analyze the debt sustainability, and what are the long-term challenges such as demographic changes. 

Third, ADB’s increased focus on private sector operations requires you to understand these operations, engage with private sector partners, and identify ways to overcome barriers to private sector development. PSOD staff are integral members of the Resident Mission. Leveraging the full diversity of the expertise and perspectives of our sovereign and non-sovereign staff will lead to better and more comprehensive solutions.  

Fourth, I expect all CDs to establish a culture conducive to innovation, and to encourage staff to experiment and learn. As our country clients embark on their own digital transformations, they will look to us for support and we all need to be familiar with the rapidly changing digital landscape. You should harness the expert resources available in Headquarters and familiarize yourself with the trends and emerging technologies so that you can best support your clients.  

Fifth, I expect CDs to be more visible through active and confident engagement with the media, including social media. You don’t need to get the approval of the Department of Communications on every engagement with the media. At the same time, DOC is ready to assist you in formulating your communications strategy.  

Sixth, engagement with IED is important. As much of IED's evaluation work takes place at the country level it is critical that you and your RM staff facilitate IED’s work in your countries. Views and comments from CDs are vital to ensure that IED findings and conclusions reflect the realities on the ground. I am providing the same message to IED to ensure that they actively engage with you and RMs. 

Finally, I wish to underline the central leadership role of CDs for all staff in their RM.  You set the tone in the Resident Mission through your actions. I expect you to exemplify the positive, inclusive and respectful behaviors expected of all our staff.  This requires clear and frequent communication with all staff, and two-way communication that facilitates feedback from staff at all levels and all categories.  

Enabling the organization and staff to deliver Strategy 2030  

I wish to now talk about the measures we are taking to further strengthen our human resource management. 

First, mobility provides staff with career development opportunities and helps to strengthen One ADB approaches including through sharing knowledge. The first round of mobility for IS5-6 was completed in 2018 with 40 staff moving laterally into new roles.  A further round for IS4-5 staff is underway in 2019.  

Second, the short-term assignments program provides staff with opportunities for 3-12 month assignments to gain broader experience. In the last year a total of 32 staff have undertaken short-term assignments. This includes three HQ staff assigned to RMs, seven RM staff assigned to another RM or to HQ, and the rest circulated within HQ. This presents an opportunity for your RM staff to gain broader ADB experience by working for a limited time in HQ or another RM.  

Third, ADB’s first ever talent review was conducted for IS7 and IS8 earlier this year.  This provided a platform for lateral moves to place senior talent across ADB. This will help CDs and DCDs, like yourselves when you complete your assignment, transition into suitable roles and develop capacity and potential for more senior roles in the future. Later this year we will design the talent review exercise for IS6 staff.  

Fourth, we need to continue to strengthen the leadership capacity of our staff at all levels. In addition to our Executive Leadership Program for IS9 and IS10, this year we have 3 new leadership programs – “Transform” for IS7-8, “Engage” for IS5-6, and “Thrive” for IS3-4 and NS5-6. And I’d like to remind you that it is mandatory for staff at IS7-10 to participate in leadership development.  

Fifth, to further support leadership at ADB, we have launched a coaching program to provide executive coaching to IS7 to IS10 staff with an initial focus on those who are new to their roles. New Directors and Country Directors will be offered coaching upon appointment or transition to new CD roles, and all CDs can request coaching to support their development.  

Sixth, we will continue to implement the performance management reforms launched in 2018. These include improved links between individual work plans and ADB’s corporate goals, more frequent and constructive performance feedback, 360-degree assessments for managers, recognition for outstanding performance, and earlier identification of poor performance.  

Seventh, ADB will continue to promote diversity and inclusion, with dedicated efforts to further increase the proportion of women in senior roles and foster a workplace that values all forms of diversity. 

Lastly, the review of the Respectful Workplace Unit has reached its final stages.  The Working Group has recommended the creation of a new Office of Professional Conduct to handle education, training, advice and constructive resolution of workplace concerns. It also recommended the recruitment of specialized investigators for OAI to handle investigations of bullying and harassment. 


As Country Directors, you must lead change, be a role model for adopting new practices and new ways of working and support your staff to do the same. You are critical to the success of Strategy 2030. 

I wish to thank you for your continued hard work and commitment.  

I am happy to hear your questions and comments. Thank you.