The IDEV Practicum Blog is a six part series that chronicles the adventures of second-year IDEV students who take on client projects over winter break as a capstone to their graduate studies.
BY JASMIN YU, ALEXANDER MOURANT, DOUGLAS EMEOTT & JAG NINGTHOUJAM
As anyone who has ever ventured to Beijing knows, the pollution is as necessary a pre-departure consideration as what sites you plan to see. I hope you’ve packed a mask!
With this concern on all of our minds, our practicum group traveled to Beijing as part of a research trip to explore safeguard policies and how they are formulated by international financial institutions (IFIs) and implemented across the projects that they finance. For every seemingly beneficial development project—like a hydroelectric dam that provides electricity to rural areas—there are potentially harmful consequences, such as increased pollution, damaged ecosystems, or displaced persons that need to be considered and abated. Safeguard policies aim to tackle these environmental and social concerns from the very inception of projects, ensuring a planned level of sustainability throughout implementation and completion. However, what happens when safeguards are poorly planned or ignored entirely? Engulfed by the polluted haze of Beijing, the importance of this question seemed urgently relevant.
With the recent announcements of two new IFIs in the region—the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) and the New Development Bank (NDB, colloquially referred to as the BRICS Bank)—there is a heightened focus on this concern. Will these new institutions purposefully undercut safeguard policies, often perceived to be costly and time-consuming, in order to unlock otherwise unachievable development objectives? Together with World Resources Institute, a global non-governmental research organization focused on the environment and sustainability, our group sought to figure out what professionals in the field think about these nascent IFIs, safeguards, and how all of the actors in this arena might, or might not, come together.
Undeterred by our knowledge that public information on these new institutions is limited, our group met with professionals from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and various civil society groups in Beijing and Manila to discuss. For every too-early-to-tell-so-don’t-quote-me response that we heard, we uncovered just as many valuable insights into the biggest challenges of safeguard implementation and design, as well as recommendations for and opinions about the future of the new IFIs.
As an analysis of our findings is ongoing, conclusions at this stage are preliminary; however, optimism was palpable, particularly because Jin Liqun, a former ADB Vice President known for a keen commitment to sustainable development and strong safeguards, is set to head the AIIB. While not all concerns have been assuaged, many believe that were the new IFIs to shirk safeguards, they would quickly dissolve given the much stronger international pressures and domestic voices that exist today compared to years past. Also, given the wide gap in funding needs and available credit, experts widely recognized the great need for new actors in this sphere, highlighting their hope for collaboration on and co-financing of projects with the AIIB and NDB should they institute responsible safeguards.
It may be too early to tell what safeguard policies these institutions may (or may not) adopt; however, as the masked faces dart through the polluted haze on the streets of Beijing, one can’t help but feel that serious environmental change is close by. As a local friend said one afternoon as we casually discussed the pollution, “It won’t be long before the people start demanding a change. How long will they accept wearing a mask every day as normal? Not long, I think.”
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Douglas Emeott graduated from the University of Michigan with a double major in economics and political science and has spent the last seven years working in development throughout Latin America. Doug’s experiences span USAID contractor management in Washington DC and various roles in the field with NGOs, the US State Department, and travel agencies in Latin America. Upon completion of his international development focus at SAIS, Doug hopes to continue working in the field developing small business and enterprises through microfinance.
Alex Mourant graduated summa cum laude from the University of Florida in 2011 with a double major in economics and political science and a minor in sustainability studies. Prior to SAIS, he served in the Peace Corps in Fiji, working on agribusiness development in rural communities. At SAIS, Alex is pursuing the finance and development track of the international development concentration.
Jagabanta ‘Jag’ Ningthoujam is a graduate in mechanical engineering from the National University of Singapore. He was formerly an energy consultant with IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates at its Singapore office, where he was the Asian analyst for gas power and renewables. He also worked with the World Resources Institute over the summer as a consultant to the Green Power Market Development Group at the Bangalore office.
Jasmin Yu graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles in 2010 and is currently a master’s candidate in the international development program at SAIS focusing on management and development. Previously, she worked as a Program Development Officer for an INGO where she designed project proposals for institutional donors, such as USAID, the European Commission, and the UN, and managed strategic partnerships with public and private-sector actors. Additionally, she helped a Ghanaian social enterprise to market and distribute more than 100,000 fuel-efficient cookstoves annually to low-income households and hopes to continue her career working on sustainable development programs upon graduating from SAIS.