“The OPEC Fund can partner with us in

expanding the digital

infrastructure for more inclusive businesses, high-quality education [and] digital health.”

Woochong Um

OFQ: How far can ‘development work’ help in transforming economies in developing countries? What are the new challenges posed by COVID-19? WU: The COVID-19 pandemic is causing massive disruption in the labor market, with significant social and economic implications, affecting workers and enterprises. Development cooperation plays a critical role in enabling multi-dimensional growth with inclusion. ADB’s work in developing member countries seeks to address bottlenecks to developing economic and social spheres. Our policy-based loans encourage governments to undertake timely and effective policy reform and to develop key strategies for sector strengthening. Our results-based lending programs give governments an incentive to implement policy and to translate investments into concrete results for the target communities. We ensure high standards for social and environmental safeguards that seek to make development more inclusive and environment- friendly. ADB’s policy research helps to bring cutting-edge knowledge to our developing member countries to pursue evidence-based policy and program design. ADB’s growing portfolio in education and human capital development is strongly oriented to improving the skill and talent base in its developing member countries to enable economic transformation toward high-value sectors and to help disadvantaged communities to have better access to job markets. COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerabilities in economies and the need for adequate social protection measures. The job losses arising from COVID-19 have been widespread. Governments need to consider adequate short-term and long- term measures to help job markets revive and enable displaced workers to get back safely to the labor market.

OFQ: How optimistic are you that the economies of developing countries can weather the COVID-19 storm? What can development actors like the ADB and the OPEC Fund do to help? WU: This is an exceptional situation and nobody can predict what will happen next. It is certain that the longer the crisis lasts, the more severe the impacts will be. That said, ADB is cautiously optimistic that the region will bounce back. We see that our developing member countries are taking extraordinary measures to cope with the COVID-19 crisis, from health-related responses to measures to keep the economy going, to expand and roll out new social protection measures, and to balance lockdown with gradual opening up with social distancing. Governments have also set aside significant budget allocations to address COVID-19 even in the face of declining revenues. The next challenges will be to find a new balance in the spending, become more targeted in the support, and to get people back to work as quickly as possible.

A focus on green skills and green jobs can help to develop a more sustainable and inclusive path forward. Addressing human capital development and sustainable infrastructure investment will produce better development. The role of development partners such as ADB and OPEC Fund are critical to smooth the management of the crisis and the bounce back. ADB has been preparing a raft of guidance notes on how governments and stakeholders can use this crisis as an opportunity to transform old and archaic practices and move to a ‘new normal,’ a key feature of which is speeding up digital transformation.

There is a big need for ramping up information technology infrastructure so that digital innovations that are being developed can benefit people living in remote areas and in poor pockets

of the country and that they aspire to connect up with the productive sectors of the economy. The OPEC Fund can partner with us in expanding the digital infrastructure for more inclusive businesses, high-quality education, digital health, and so on. Our developing member countries are more interested in technical partnerships for knowledge rather than just development finance. Bringing global best practices will help to make development funding far more effective. We would be delighted to promote such a partnership where funding from organizations such as the OPEC Fund will help to drive transformation at scale. ADB has earmarked US$20 billion to fight COVID-19 and we welcome partnerships at regional and country levels.

OFQ: If there was just one message you could convey to all world leaders at this time, what would it be? WU: Although we are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis that has affected populations globally, it is also a moment of great opportunity to think of completely new directions for development and to refocus on the core goals in the Sustainable Development Goals of creating a more inclusive and sustainable world.

There has been a lot of discussion on the

‘new normal’ and this is the time for everyone to collaborate together in envisioning what it can be and bringing to bear the combined strength of different stakeholders. World leaders would do well to re-imagine and re-position development for a post-COVID world.


PHOTO: Anna Tamila/

PHOTO: Rahim Mirza/ADB

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