Opening remarks by Ahmed M. Saeed, ADB Vice-President, Operations 2, at the Asia Infrastructure Forum 2022, 3 August 2022, Singapore

Good morning, Your Excellencies, Minister Indranee Rajah, Secretary of State Pheng Sovicheano, and distinguished guests and leaders from across government and industry in Asia and the world.

I am honored to be at the Marketplace in celebration of the exciting and important collaboration between the Asian Development Bank and Infrastructure Asia.

Our formal partnership with Infrastructure Asia dates to 2019, although our work with the Government of Singapore—one of ADB’s founding shareholders over 50 years ago—on this important set of issues of course long precedes that date. I am delighted that we are formally renewing our commitment to collaborate today. The ADB–Infrastructure Asia partnership seeks to address one of the central problems of development and energy transition: how do we build a pipeline of investable projects that matches our ambitions for advancing the cause of human flourishing across Asia?

In order to achieve this goal, ADB’s ASEAN Catalytic Green Finance Facility (or ACGF) team will work with Infrastructure Asia to develop sector-specific Innovative Finance Clinics, starting with an Electric Mobility Clinic later this year.

The program focuses on mid- to senior-level government official and project sponsors. Our goal is to ensure that insights and ideas are shared broadly, and that innovative solutions to infrastructure bottlenecks can be rapidly replicated across Asia. To this end, the program will include both conceptual engagement and dialogue, as well as practical hands-on training, using pre-identified climate-positive investments as case studies.

If we are to achieve our collective development and energy transition ambitions, we will more than ever need innovative approaches for green infrastructure. We must identify, develop, and scale high-impact ways to leverage scarce public resources to accelerate the mobilization of private capital.

This challenge is of course a microcosm of a broader challenge, the effort to pursue collaborative engagement to address global public goods. I would like to share three high-level observations about what we have learned at ADB as we pursue this work in a range of important areas.

First, we cannot lose focus on outcomes. It is not enough to be a good actor or to say, “I am not the problem.” Minister Rajah and I are both, what is sometimes described as “recovering lawyers”—maybe there are some others also hiding out here in the room. There is a concept in common law called joint and several liability. If $100 is owed by five people, they all owe up to a hundred dollars not $20 each. Infrastructure development, climate change, pandemic response—these are all areas of collective success or collective failure. It is easy sometimes to lose sight of our ultimate aims but we can never allow ourselves or our institutions to forget why we are doing, what we do, and what we seek to achieve.

The second point I would like to make is that most complex problems in the world are interdisciplinary, but our institutions, and those of us within them, often specialize in one area or another. This is something we saw during the ongoing pandemic—where it was difficult to integrate insights from epidemiology, virology, and macroeconomics, amongst other areas. The world’s most challenging problems, and the solutions to them, including sustainable infrastructure, often sit at the intersection of discrete disciplines, more so than many others—finance, policy, and technology. I read a book recently where the author described us as living in a world of “parallel trenches,” in which “everyone is trying to solve their problems by digging deeper into their own trench and rarely standing up to look at the solution that resides in the trench next door.” We must institutionalize the means of looking over into other trenches.

My last point, and this is a hopeful one, is that all of our institutions will need to adapt. Everywhere I look I see this happening—in the organization of institutional investors into the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero, in the revisiting by major corporations of Milton Friedman’s now outdated understanding of corporate purpose, and in a nascent and evolving ESG movement. At ADB, we are working hard to pivot to being a more open architecture organization, one that can help reinforce the efforts of all of you in this chamber.

I am grateful to Minister Rajah for highlighting aspects of our work with regional partners across Asia. We are only at the start of this journey. To be successful, it will need to reflect these three lessons—a commitment to common purpose, a commitment to greater interdisciplinary thinking and work, and the effort to achieve impact through internal transformation. The partnership we are signing today represents, I believe, a step in these three directions, and for that and many other reasons, it is something that is of great importance to our institutions.

Thank you all. It is an honor to be with you today and I wish you all a very successful Marketplace session.