Last week, leaders of the five most powerful emerging economies reached agreement on the $50 billion New Development Bank headquartered in China. The so-called BRICS—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—wanted a bank that would rival the U.S.- and European-dominated World Bank and International Monetary Fund in scale and purpose. And they made it happen.
In what is being called a defection from the World Bank and IMF, the New Development Bank will finance infrastructure and sustainable development projects. Initially these projects will be located in BRICS countries only, but they will eventually expand membership to other countries. Nobel Economist Joseph Stiglitz is excited about the New Development Bank, because it will add much-needed funding for development. This funding will come without the historical strings attached to World Bank loans such as policy changes, opening markets, and privatization. The New Development Bank will also not require governments to adopt the same level of social, labor and environmental safeguards that civil society groups have fought hard to strengthen at the World Bank.
The BRICS also set aside another $100 billion Contingency Reserve Arrangement, a separate pot of money to provide emergency help to member countries during financial crises. If done right, the Arrangement could be an alternative to the dreaded IMF for member countries. Skeptics like the Financial Times argue that it will be a complement to the IMF, not a substitute.
But despite the new global economic order, traditional donors like the U.S. and UK will likely remain the most critical sources of funding for reproductive health in aid-dependent countries. Any “additive value” of the new bank will remain within BRICS countries for the near future. Once it expands to more countries, the New Development Bank is likely to shy away from directly supporting sectors where traditional donors are focused—like reproductive health. The New Development Bank will build its own niche, which is likely to be around infrastructure.
However, there is a glimmer of hope in that the bank’s founders see the critical role of reproductive health in sustainable development. The Fortaleza Declaration launching the New Development Bank recognizes the importance of population factors in development, and confirms the member’s commitment to gender equality and sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights:
In March 2014 we agreed to collaborate through dialogue, cooperation, sharing of experiences and capacity building on population related matters of mutual concern to member states. We recognize the vital importance of the demographic dividend that many of us possess to advance our sustainable development as well as the need to integrate population factors into national development plans, and to promote a long-term balanced population and development. The demographic transition and post-transition challenges, including population ageing and mortality reduction are amongst the most important challenges facing the world today. We confirm our strong commitment to address social issues in general and in particular gender inequality, women’s rights and issues facing young people and we reaffirm our determination to ensure sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights for all. (Emphasis mine)
It is too soon to say exactly how the New Development Bank will work, what principles will guide its operations, and whether the Board will put their money where their mouth is and fund reproductive health projects. But country ownership will be key. Any request for BRICS funds for reproductive health will have to come from governments themselves, so I encourage colleagues to keep engaging national level policymakers to prioritize reproductive health in development policies, budgets, and dialogue with donors. Who knows, one day your government could be hosting a delegation from the New Development Bank.