From the desk of Adriaan Grobler

The impact and effectiveness of Development Finance Institutions

Development Finance Institutions (DFIs) aim to bridge the investment gap between commercial investments and state development aid in developing countries. Given their public funding and developmental mission, DFIs tolerate more risk with their longer view on investments. They’re also not constrained the way private investors are. This allows them to make long-term investments at more competitive rates than private capital. It also helps that they don’t pay corporate taxes or dividends.  

A critical role

As intermediaries between the public and private sectors, DFIs facilitate the regular flow of stable international capital. Their profitable investments and development operations stimulate economic growth, sustainable development and strongly focus on alleviating poverty.

  • They finance public infrastructure projects through several financial services. 
  • They develop and initiate projects in countries where commercial banks are hesitant to invest. 
  • They’re well positioned to consider investments in more risky small and medium enterprises (through microloans).
  • They depend on the profits from their investments, guaranteeing resources for further engagement – an approach that has proven successful. 

There are two types of DFIs: Global Finance Organisations and Regional Finance Organisations. 

Global Finance Organisations

The two most recognised Global Finance Organisations are the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Both organisations include 189 member countries and have operations around the world. 

The World Bank was created in 1944 in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire with the aim of addressing global capital market imperfections and poor sources of funding. It later evolved into a channel for longer-term development finance and remains the world’s largest development institution and one of the most impactful development finance organisations. The World Bank is funded through bonds issued to global investors. 

The IMF was created at the same time as the World Bank to manage the imbalances of payments and avoid destabilising currency devaluations. It is funded by quotas from member countries.

Regional Finance Organisations

These finance institutions are majority-owned and backed by national governments, but remain operationally independent of them. Government funds and guarantees provide DFIs with creditworthiness for raising capital in international markets. Although their shareholders are typically governments, they also include international or private institutions that offer greater financing capacity. 

Regional Finance Organisations are divided into multilateral and bilateral finance institutions. Multilateral international finance institutions are organised according to their geographical scope in the different regions, for example Africa and Europe, and are subject to international law. While multilateral development institutions focus on providing funding to the public sector, bilateral DFIs tend to focus on partnerships with the private sector in developing countries. 

The Sustainable Development Goals

The introduction of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by the United Nations in 2015 solidified a global approach towards economic, social, and environmental development. To achieve this, the private and public sectors must play complementary roles to support inclusive and sustainable development.

A vibrant private sector is required to stimulate economic growth, create jobs, reduce poverty, and enhance people’s lives, but it needs financial and technical support to truly establish its impact. DFIs have supported this by providing capital, knowledge, and standards to create sustainable development programs and projects. They’ve achieved notable success in supporting the private sector. However, in order to maximise development impact, DFIs broader impact and effectiveness in policy making need to be better understood.

DFIs play an important and catalytic role in stimulating economic growth and sustainable development in developed and developing countries. There is robust, and growing evidence that they have a positive impact globally and are making a valuable contribution to achieving the SDGs. This is supported by increasing investments in DFIs by their shareholders and investors. However, there is room for improvement through better governance, potential structural changes, and a more harmonised global approach to impact measurement and reporting.

DFIs could be even more effective if they focused on strong collaboration with their stakeholders and the private sector, sharing financial risk and promoting investment best practices. This must also be accompanied by increased transparency, ensuring that impacts are achieved efficiently and with measurable outcomes.

While DFIs have done much in Africa towards achieving development goals, there are still some problem areas. These include the handling of environmental issues, managing proper stakeholder engagement, and the lack of experience and training. By addressing these areas of concern, it is said that these institutions could improve their effectiveness and efficiency and ultimately increase their impact.


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