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How to Work in Projects via Multi-lateral Development Banks’ Funding

September 22, 2021
by Healthcare World

Emma Williams discovers valuable insight into the workings and practices of the major aid development banks

For many companies, the idea of taking part in aid funded projects may seem daunting, especially as the funding would come from some of the world’s largest international financial institutions (IFIs), such as the World Bank.

Cristina Pirela, Vice Consul and International Trade & Investment Officer, and Rebecca Nowlan, Trade and Investment Executive, joined Healthcare World from the Aid Funded Business Team at the British Embassy in Washington DC for a breakout session on how to carry out international healthcare projects using funding from these IFIs. As part of the UK Department for International Trade, Cristina and Rebecca focused the session on how the process works, and how both small and large UK companies can get involved.

International financial institutions and health projects

The Aid Funded Business Team in Washington DC works with four IFIs who are headquartered there. These are the World Bank Group, the Inter-American Development Bank, the US Agency for International Development, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and these institutions provide financial, technical and advisory services to client countries.

Moreover, these banks fund a multitude of projects in various sectors worldwide through low-cost loans, credits and grants. These projects provide UK companies with the chance to bid for ventures that support developing countries in underfunded areas such as healthcare.

The Aid Funded Business Team works with UK companies by providing contacts and information within and surrounding these banks, identifying specific projects that companies may be suited to, resolving any issues that may arise, and offering support throughout the process.

Why the World Bank?

The World Bank is not only the world’s largest multilateral institution, but offers a wealth of choice and opportunities for companies looking to work on World Bank funded projects. With the opportunity to work globally and in developing markets, the World Bank offers billions of dollars’ worth of business.

“In 2020, there were $262 billion worth of total commitments from the World Bank, and over 1700 projects in 144 countries,” Rebecca said. With a demand for a variety of specialisations, companies can rest assured that there will most likely be a project or contract that is well suited to their expertise, ranging from small to large contracts, and from SMEs to large multinational corporations.

Healthcare is one of the World Bank’s priorities, and current projects focus on Covid Preparedness, Universal Healthcare, Nutrition, Infectious Diseases and Vaccinations, Mental Health and Reproductive, Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health. In the past year, there has been the largest focus in Western Africa, Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cambodia and Pakistan, as well as a $200 million Emergency Health and Nutrition Project in Yemen which aims to strengthen basic health and essential nutrition, water and sanitation services. On large projects like these, companies can expect to work with organisations such as UNICEF as well as the WHO.

The World Bank isn’t the only institution offering projects like these. The Inter-American Development Bank (IADB), focused solely in the Caribbean and in Latin America, offers projects on strengthening health systems, with this being the top priority area out of the $4bn already spent. A current example is a $600m project in Peru which aims to improve protection of vulnerable people in areas such as public healthcare, violence against women, and social policies.

How to get started

“The first thing we always say is reach out to us! Come speak to us, tell us what you’re working on, what services you provide and goods you’re creating and we’ll help you get started,” said Christina.

Perhaps the most important step is to identify which sector and which countries to enter out of the 180 plus countries that these institutions support. This strategy requires filtering countries where UK companies’ expertise are best suited, along with any involving previous experience and in depth knowledge. Signing up to email alerts and understanding both the procurement guidance and the bidding process are imperative, along with when to engage with those institutions.

Similarly, it’s wise to have a general awareness of the competition, and also to note who could become a potential partner, as this may increase the chances of winning a project bid. Various projects of interest can last for a couple of years or longer, therefore getting involved as early as possible will create the best chances to gain a deeper understanding of the project and its processes. Finally, it is also worth reviewing current projects or future projects by assessing the partnership frameworks within the chosen country.

“We really support British businesses who are looking to export abroad, who are looking to invest into the UK and negotiate market access and trade deals, and champion free trade,” said Rebecca. “Where we come in is really helping you understand what these projects are that they’re looking at. How can you get involved? How do you find the key links?”

Benefits vs challenges

Naturally, working with the Aid Funded Business team in DC provides companies with great advantages that will often last on a long-term basis. While they are able to establish local presence and successful growth, they are also benefiting populations of developing countries. Not only this, but the international trade experience becomes invaluable within company history and references, particularly if a company decides to bid for future projects. This collaboration is a secure way to operate in new markets, which will also produce advantageous long term opportunities.

While these benefits do exist, there are also multiple challenges that companies may face if they choose to go down this route. Projects can often have long lead times ranging from five to six years, so a company must have the longevity and consistency to take part. Although payment is guaranteed, it may be slow, and in order to win a bid, companies should be aware that the projects are extremely competitive, as companies from all around the world will be bidding for them.

Moreover, there are occasions where projects appear and close within the space of a week. Therefore, companies must take the first step to understand any information that is released as soon as possible by contacting their local embassy which will help to navigate and use the data as efficiently as possible. Finally, some companies in developing countries often have preferences or a very narrow criteria for the companies they choose to work with.

“Banks often go with companies who understand the environment that they’re doing a project in, and understand what the challenges are on the ground. So being able to have a holistic understanding of what’s happening is very important,” Cristina explained.

The key message is that although working with aid funding may seem daunting, the procedures ensure that companies are guided through the process and, if successful, will be rewarding and open up further opportunities as a result.

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