My admiration for hummingbirds began in my native Brazil. The hummingbird’s flight patterns may seem a mystery as they shift from one flower to the next. But hummingbirds are immensely purposeful, agile, and proficient pollinators – among the most hard-working members of many thriving ecosystems. And they can be found from Alaska to the southernmost regions of South America.
The Bank’s efforts to transfer knowledge, germinate ideas, and catalyze change sometimes put me in mind of the hard-working hummingbird. My visit to the World Bank’s Global Knowledge and Research Hub in Malaysia last year is a case in point. As I learned about the Bank’s partnership with Malaysia and the origins of the Hub, I was struck by the broader relevance for our work with upper middle-income countries, and our efforts to share global lessons and leverage knowledge to maximize financing for development. The visit sparked three main observations.
First, the Bank’s Hub in Malaysia shows the fruit of sustained partnership as countries move up the income spectrum. IBRD’s partnership with Malaysia has been longstanding, beginning with Malaysia’s first IBRD first loan in 1957, and continuing through the 1990s in support of the country’s institutional development and diversification-led growth. Malaysia’s graduation from IBRD lending marked an important milestone that became a platform for new phases in the partnership. After the country’s graduation from IBRD, Malaysia later re-engaged with the Bank under a multi-year Reimbursable Advisory Services (RAS) program that continues today. As a thriving upper-middle income economy, Malaysia has also participated as an IDA contributor since IDA17. The launch of the Global Knowledge and Research Hub in Kuala Lumpur in 2016 marks the further fruition of our long-term partnership. All costs of the Hub are financed by the Government of Malaysia over five years, and the office also brings together operations teams (five Global Practices) with the Development Economics (DEC) Research Group and Indicators Group.
Second, the Hub demonstrates that, as countries transition up the income spectrum, knowledge sharing is a two-way street. The Hub reflects the strengths of Malaysia’s development journey as well as the ongoing challenges of making the transition from Upper-Middle-Income Country with High-Income Country status. This is reflected in the Hub’s combination of “inbound knowledge” through RASs and policy advice to Malaysia along with “outbound knowledge” – i.e. bringing lessons from the Malaysian experience to countries. The RAS program ranges from engagement on labor market policy and public expenditure management to digital economy, ports and transport policy – all in support of Malaysia’s goal to achieve high-income country status, expected in the next 5 years. Importantly, the Bank is also leveraging the Malaysia Hub to share Malaysia’s development knowledge, know-how and experience. Demand for South-South exchanges has been high: since 2016, the Hub has hosted over 50 knowledge exchanges/learning activities from more than 40 IDA countries from Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe and Latin America. In the last six months alone, the Malaysia Hub and local government agencies have hosted study visits from countries like Cambodia, Lao PDR, Afghanistan and Zimbabwe.
Third, leveraging knowledge is directly relevant for maximizing financing for development. For example, the Malaysia Hub has supported the launch of the world’s first green sukuk (Islamic bond) – a game changer in the development finance architecture. The first two issuances amounted to USD58 million and USD 236 million respectively, and financed solar photovoltaic plants; a third issuance will provide US$473 million for a green office tower project. And the impact continues to widen. The Hub is currently supporting the Government of Indonesia to issue the world’s first ever Green Sovereign Sukuk.
Through sustained partnership, two-way exchange, and incubating transformational ideas and research, the Malaysia Hub sets a noteworthy example of the Bank’s “hummingbird” role in transferring and leveraging knowledge for development finance.
Otaviano Canuto is an Executive Director of the World Bank. The opinions expressed in this article are his own. Follow him @ocanuto