In March 1971, in his inaugural speech as president of the IDB, Antonio Ortiz Mena wisely pointed out that the decade of the 1970s, to which his incipient management was pointing, would imply new challenges that would be added to those not completely resolved during the years. first ten years of the IDB’s existence. More than half a century later, Don Antonio’s logic prevails overwhelmingly: in terms of development, the new challenges accumulate, while the old ones are not fully resolved.
It is no longer just about combating poverty and inequality or finding mechanisms that guarantee sustained growth in the region. Today, the IDB cannot renounce its founding objectives, but neither can it forget to include the challenge of climate change and the necessary promotion of racial and gender inclusion in the equation. The bank has to contribute to the reduction of regional disparities at the same time that we reduce the digital divide. The idea of development today implies a much broader and more complex agenda than in 1960.
It is necessary to transform this institution into a flexible and innovative development bank. The diversity of needs in the region requires an institution capable of adapting to them. It is clear that small and island countries require different treatment than medium-sized and large countries. The forms of trade integration in the southern part of the continent differ from those found in the center or the north. Climate change is a challenge that concerns the entire region, but the effects are different in the pampas, in the Caribbean, and in the Amazon. The bank must be capable of responding to the needs of the region despite the complications that this diversity demands.
The covid-19 pandemic, with all the pain it caused, should serve as a warning sign, since it not only exposed the precariousness in which a significant percentage of the population of this hemisphere lives, but also exacerbated inequalities throughout Type. The most evident consequence was observed in access to health, since the pandemic affected the poorest the most, who suffered higher hospitalization and death rates.
Unfortunately, this tragic effect was not the only one. The confinement resulted in learning losses that also had a regressive bias: children in homes without access to electricity, the Internet, or who did not have the appropriate electronic instruments were the most affected. Here the digital divide manifested itself in all its harshness and its impact can only be quantified in the long term. If we should have learned anything from this ordeal, it is that we cannot continue doing the same thing and expect other results.
And we have to go further: the IDB must see itself as more than just a financial institution. The institutional and technical capabilities of the IDB allow it to become an institution capable of providing the necessary leadership to conduct agreements, find new development strategies, lead efforts in long-term processes, and provide solutions to current problems. The IDB must lead the intellectual leadership that makes it possible to face the changes that are already taking place in the world, always with the founding mandate of reducing disparities and combating poverty as the guiding axis of all these actions.
What is at stake is the future. Originally, the IDB set an agenda that continues to be valid despite the profound transformations that we have experienced in recent decades. Part of the challenge for whoever leads the IDB in the coming years is to emulate those who originally gave the institution a long-term mandate, because as Antonio Ortiz Mena once said: “institutions like ours that expect to function for a long indefinitely they must try to look to the future if they want to continue being useful”.
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