Project Syndicate | Wed, Apr 24, 2019
by Dr. Abdulhamid Alkhalifa
Dr. Abdulhamid Alkhalifa, a Saudi Arabian national, is the Director-General and Chief Executive Officer of OFID - the OPEC Fund for International Development. Prior to his appointment at OFID, Dr. Alkhalifa was Deputy Secretary General of the Saudi Arabian Public Investment Fund from 2014 to 2018 and advisor to the Secretary General from 2010 to 2014. He has also held a number of leadership positions at the World Bank Group and served the government of Saudi Arabia in various capacities. This blog post is a submission to the Bretton [email protected] initiative: a global dialogue to honor 75 years of economic progress and to revitalize the spirit of Bretton Woods now and for the future.
I write this less than a year into my term as Director-General of OFID (the OPEC Fund for International Development) and at a time of organizational change. OFID is currently working on a new strategic vision that is set to transform the way we work.
By way of a short introduction, OFID was set up in 1976 by OPEC member countries to support the socioeconomic progress of non-OPEC developing nations. We are unique in supporting all developing countries apart from our own. That we remain together more than 40 years on, despite the changing politics and priorities of our members, is, we believe, worthy of quiet celebration. As are the figures: OFID has committed a cumulative total of more than $23bn to development operations since its inception.
But we must balance our commitment to supporting developing economies with OFID’s need for financial strength and sustainability. The work we have done so far to define our new vision has stimulated debate about how best to address this balance and about exactly what we want to achieve.
Like many organizations, OFID aims to become more efficient and to grow. And we will continue to support the United Nations 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals. But what does this mean in practice? Recent development-related debate has questioned whether the SDGs can sometimes be used merely for promotion purposes, to justify what is already being done.
OFID’s strategic vision calls for better transparency – we want to be clear about who we are and what we are. We are a relatively small organization, but our ambitions are big. The SDGs represent a global agreement and serve to focus our development efforts. We finance essential infrastructure and aim to strengthen social services and promote productivity, competitiveness and trade in developing regions. But do we measure the impact of our work well enough? And how do we ensure our finance gets to where it’s needed most? Just as importantly, how best to communicate our results?
OFID aims to remain true to its aim of being led by the demands of developing countries – all support provided by the organization should reflect the needs and priorities of partner countries in their quest for progress. But how do we square this with focusing on ‘priority’ areas, such as the energy-water-food nexus, or home-grown programs focusing on development directives deemed important by OFID? Just two more questions we are putting some hard work into addressing.
The development to-do list remains long. Much of the finance provided by OFID is directed toward LICs (economies with a gross national income per capita of $995 or less in 2017*). Cumulatively, more than half of OFID’s public sector funding (over $8bn) has been directed to LICs. During 2018 alone, the organization approved $392.02m for initiatives in 26** of the 34 countries classified as LICs by the World Bank. But despite global progress in reducing extreme poverty, rates remain persistently high in LICs.
No one individual or organization has all the answers. We are encouraging other development actors to open up and talk about the challenges we face. Perhaps we all need to be a little more self-reflective and candid. We certainly aim to play a bigger role in moving the development debate forward.
OFID works closely with organizations such as the World Bank, specialized agencies of the United Nations, regional development banks and the bilateral and multilateral agencies of OFID member countries. We are determined, as an organization, to continue to shine a light onto the innovative approaches and successes of our partners. This, ultimately, helps share best practice across the global development arena and is in line with SDG 17, which calls for us all to revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development.
OFID will support the global struggle to overcome development challenges, by: extending concessionary financial assistance; participating in the financing of private sector activities in developing countries; providing grants; and contributing to the resources of other development institutions. This will not change going forward. What may change is how we do it and how we talk about doing it. See www.ofid.org for more.
*Definition for the 2019 fiscal year calculated using the World Bank Atlas method.
**Amount includes approvals relating to operations covering more than one country.