Address by Masatsugu Asakawa, President, Asian Development Bank, to the Board of Governors Business Session, at the 54th Annual Meeting, 5 May 2021

Introduction

Distinguished members of the Board of Governors, greetings.

Times of crisis are often marked by tremendous hardships; but they can also reveal the best in people.

As the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic brought great suffering and economic challenges, I witnessed many extraordinary examples of resilience and solidarity across our region. 

This spirit of dedication and perseverance—which burns so bright in the people you represent—has inspired ADB throughout our pandemic response. I join you here today to describe these efforts as I report on ADB’s activities in 2020.

I appreciate your presence at this virtual gathering, and the service of the Governor for the Republic of Georgia as chair of our Annual Meeting. I am also grateful for your support as I worked closely with governments and development partners to build momentum for ADB’s COVID-19 response. 

I. ADB’s response to the challenges of COVID-19 

Let me begin by providing an overview of our operations in 2020, which was a landmark year in ADB’s history.

ADB responded quickly and creatively to the rapidly escalating needs of our clients. Our grant assistance helped meet urgent needs for emergency supplies in the early days of the pandemic. We followed this with ADB’s $20 billion COVID-19 assistance package, of which $16.1 billion was committed in 2020, including over $10 billion for quick-disbursing budget support under our COVID-19 Pandemic Response Option, or CPRO. 

Our work across ADB—from large-scale countercyclical financing, to flagship events bringing together thousands of stakeholders, to tailored knowledge solutions—addressed head-on the region's many needs, and resulted in a record $31.6 billion in commitments, including $4.9 billion through private sector operations.  We also mobilized record cofinancing of $16.4 billion.

We embarked on an unprecedented borrowing program of over $35 billion to ensure ready resources to mount a robust pandemic response while remaining financially stable. And our donor members approved over $4 billion for replenishment of the Asian Development Fund for 2021 to 2024—affirming that our developing member countries most in need will not be left behind.

As 2020 drew to a close, vaccine developments offered new hope to turn the tide of the pandemic; but with severe supply constraints. We responded by announcing our $9 billion Asia Pacific Vaccine Access facility, or APVAX, to help our developing member countries procure and deliver safe and effective vaccines as swiftly and equitably as possible. 

Vaccines are a global public good, and international organizations can play a leading role in making them accessible to all. And so, we are collaborating closely with our partners, including multilateral development banks, COVAX, the World Health Organization, and UNICEF. 

II. ADB’s support for the long-term development needs of its members

Let me take a moment to point out that even as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold across the region, ADB did not lose sight of key long-term development agenda. In fact, roughly half of our record commitments in 2020 focused on operations outside our COVID-19 response. 

Allow me to highlight the progress we made in those areas last year.

  • Following the goals laid out in our Strategy 2030, we remained on track to achieve our target of promoting gender equality in at least 75% of the total number of ADB’s operations by 2030. 
  • We committed $4.3 billion in climate finance, showing progress during a very challenging year toward our overall target of $80 billion in cumulative climate finance by 2030. 
  • Our private sector support comprised 21% of the total number of ADB’s operations, marking progress toward our target of one-third of our total number of operations by 2024.

Our ADB staff made all of these advances possible: they worked tirelessly, as One ADB, to adopt new business processes and repurpose existing operations. All this under very difficult work settings such as prolonged work from home, in different time zones.

III. Rebuilding for the future

During the height of the pandemic, I reassured my staff that we will someday look back with pride at what we accomplished for the people of the region. I believe more than ever that this is true. 

Governors, it is with this optimism, and an unshakable belief in this organization, that I share with you today my intention to seek reelection this November as President of ADB.

I believe the path we have laid out will help lead our region out of these uncertain times, and I am determined to do my part to see it through. We will continue to deliver ADB’s unique synergy of finance, knowledge, and partnerships. And we will prioritize the quality of our assistance over quantity, meeting near-term needs with a clear vision for the future. If we stay on this course, I am confident the region will emerge from the current crisis even stronger than before.

I see five areas that are critical to achieving a lasting and equitable recovery for Asia and the Pacific.

  • First, we must place ambitious climate actions at the center of development, with increased focus on adaptation and resilience, and with full commitment to the goals of the Paris Agreement.
  • Second, we need to address inequality including the gender gap—which has worsened during the pandemic—by investing in health, education, and social protection.
  • Third, we should promote high-quality green and digital infrastructure, enabling economies to rebuild smartly while closing the digital gap and attracting substantial private investment.
  • Fourth, we should deepen regional cooperation and integration, so that our developing member countries can seize the opportunities of renewed globalization and strengthen regional health security.
  • And fifth, we need to strengthen domestic resource mobilization, to ensure that governments have the resources they need to finance sustainable growth and respond effectively to future crises.

IV. Ensuring ADB’s organizational resilience

ADB will need inspired and responsible internal management in order to support this challenging agenda and remain a model of innovation, inclusion, and stability in the years ahead. 

Let me describe my vision for achieving this.

  • First, I firmly believe that strong institutions are built on values that empower people and allow for constant growth and renewal.

    And so, I have launched a “Culture Transformation Initiative” to foster a culture that enables our management, Board, and staff, individually and collectively to thrive and direct our capacity and energy towards achieving Strategy 2030.

  • Second, we must continue to enhance ADB’s organizational resilience and sustainability.

    This includes building on the investments in our facilities and information technology—which have already paid off during the pandemic—so that ADB will remain prepared for natural hazards or other disasters that may strike. 

    Strengthened support for staff welfare and work-life balance is also needed, along with a robust financial base underpinned by prudent budget and risk management.

  • Lastly, we need to foster diversity within our ranks—not just to remain relevant and responsive, but also to reflect the populations we serve. Key to this effort will be meeting our institutional gender target, and acting decisively on the findings of the Board Working Group report on gender diversity within ADB’s Board of Directors. 

Closing

Let me close by emphasizing that, in spite of everything that has transpired during the current pandemic, my view of ADB has never changed—especially my unwavering belief in ADB’s most precious assets: our dedicated staff; the deep trust we have built with our members; and our steady and reliable country presence across the region. 

I will make every effort to nurture these indispensable assets as we continue to serve our members during this critical period in our history.

I thank you, Governors, for your continued support on this journey, as we work together to achieve a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific.

Speaker