ADB was conceived amid the postwar rehabilitation and reconstruction of the early 1960s. The vision was of a financial institution that would be Asian in character and foster economic growth and cooperation in the region – then one of the poorest in the world.
A resolution passed at the first Ministerial Conference on Asian Economic Cooperation held by the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East in 1963 set that vision on the way to becoming reality.
The Philippines capital of Manila was chosen to host the new institution – the Asian Development Bank – which opened on 19 December 1966, with 31 members to serve a predominantly agricultural region. Takeshi Watanabe was the first President.
For the rest of the 1960s, ADB focused much of its assistance on food production and rural development. The next three years saw ADB''s first technical assistance, loans (including a first on concessional terms in 1969) and bond issue (in Germany).
Assistance expanded in the 1970s into education and health, and then to infrastructure and industry. The gradual emergence of Asian economies in the late 1970s spurred demand for better infrastructure to support economic growth. ADB focused on improving roads and providing electricity.
When the world suffered its first oil price shock, ADB shifted more of its assistance to support energy projects, especially those promoting the development of domestic energy sources in member countries.
Cofinancing operations began to provide additional resources for ADB projects and programs. 1970 saw ADB''s first bond issue in Asia — worth $16.7 million — in Japan.
A major landmark was the establishment in 1974 of the Asian Development Fund to provide concessional lending to ADB''s poorest members.
At the close of the decade, some Asian economies had improved considerably and graduated from ADB''s regular assistance.
It was also becoming clear that the private sector was an important ally in driving growth. ADB thus in the 1980s made its first direct equity investment. ADB also began to use its track record to mobilize additional resources for development from the private sector.
In the wake of the second oil crisis, ADB continued its support in the 1980s to infrastructure development, particularly energy projects. ADB also increased its support to social infrastructure, including gender, microfinance, environmental, education, urban planning, and health issues.
In 1982, ADB opened its first field office – a Resident Mission in Bangladesh – to bring operations closer to their intended beneficiaries. Later in the decade, ADB approved a policy supporting collaboration with nongovernment organizations to address the basic needs of disadvantaged groups in its developing member countries.
The start of the 1990s saw ADB begin promoting regional cooperation, forging close ties among neighboring countries through an economic cooperation program in the Greater Mekong Subregion.
In 1995, ADB became the first multilateral organization to have a Board-approved governance policy to ensure that development assistance fully benefits the poor. Policies on the inspection function, involuntary resettlement, and indigenous peoples — designed to protect the rights of people affected by a project — were also approved.
ADB''s membership, meanwhile, continued to expand, with the addition of several Central Asian countries following the end of the Cold War.
But in mid-1997, a severe financial crisis hit the region, setting back Asia''s spectacular economic gains. ADB responded with projects and programs to strengthen financial sectors and create social safety nets for the poor. ADB approved its largest single loan—a $4 billion emergency loan to the Republic of Korea—and established the Asian Currency Crisis Support Facility to accelerate assistance.
A milestone came in 1999 when, recognizing that development was still bypassing so many in the region, ADB adopted poverty reduction as its overarching goal.
Into the 21st Century
The new century brought both hope and tragedy, as well as a new focus on helping its developing members achieve the Millennium Development Goals and to enhance development effectiveness.
2003 saw severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) hit the region, making it clear that fighting infectious diseases was a public good that required regional cooperation. ADB began providing support at national and regional levels to help countries more effectively respond to HIV/AIDS and the growing threat of avian influenza.
ADB had to respond to other unprecedented natural disasters, committing more than $850 million for recovery in areas of India, Indonesia, Maldives, and Sri Lanka hit by the Asian tsunami disaster of December 2004 and a $1 billion line of assistance to help victims of the October 2005 earthquake in Pakistan.
As 2007 drew to a close, ADB celebrated 41 years of fruitful cooperation with the governments and peoples of the Asia and Pacific region, looking back on phenomenal economic growth in the region alongside abiding development challenges.
Now in 2008, it is looking to the future with its Strategy 2020 that will determine the organization''s future direction and vision for the next dozen years.