Reverse Linkage: IsDB's Role in Deploying the Power of South-South Cooperation to Tackle COVID-19 Pandemic

The world is going through an unprecedented challenge with the sudden and unexpected outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic which has brought the world economy to a stand-still. Sadly, many lives have been lost so far. At the time of writing this article, over 800,000 people have died from COVID-19 globally according to Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center. The health systems of many countries, regardless of their level of development, are stretched to their limits. 

It is now certain that by the time the pandemic ends, the world would enter a new normal and things will never be the same. There would be changes at a global scale in all areas of life and all sectors of economy. The world will become more interdependent and no country will recover from this crisis alone. On the occasion of the United Nations South-South Cooperation Day, it is crucial to highlight that, more than ever, leveraging cooperation across the board, among governments, private companies, research institutions, academicians and civil society organisations, in order to build sustainable coalitions and partnerships necessary to overcome the pandemic, is even more vital.

Since its establishment, the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) has championed South-South Cooperation among its member countries as one of its key founding principles. For over four decades, the Bank has reflected this in its operations by bringing member countries together to help one another solve common development challenges through various programs that promoted trade, investment and technical cooperation among its fifty-seven member countries. 

Guided by the principles of South-South Cooperation, the Bank designed the Reverse Linkage as a technical cooperation mechanism whereby member countries exchange their knowledge, expertise, technology and resources to develop their capacities and devise solutions for their autonomous development. Through this mechanism, the Bank plays the role of a facilitator and connector to mobilise resources and identify development solutions from across the globe to meet the challenges of its member countries.

The Reverse Linkage mechanism is a unique modality which puts solidarity-based cooperation ahead of finance. It provides the opportunity to focus the spotlight where it actually matters: the expertise, technologies and resources of our member countries which they are willing to share with others for mutual benefits. This is a demand-driven process where member countries are on the driver’s seat, pursuing long-lasting partnerships that lead to enhanced economic cooperation in the long run. 

Over the past five years, IsDB-funded Reverse Linkage projects connected twenty-three member countries for the transfer of know-how, expertise and resources, covering a wide range of sectors such as renewable energy, health, ICT for development, disaster risk management, education, food security and water resources management.  

Until recently, the Bank used to focus on public sector institutions as the main providers of knowledge and expertise in these interventions. In line with its new business model of “making markets work for development”, the Bank is now engaging the private sector in Reverse Linkage interventions in order to benefit from their vast financial resources, higher quality technical expertise as well as more agile implementation mechanisms. This is also aligned with the spirit of the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development. To date, several funding agreements have been signed with private sector companies to collaborate in areas such as vocational training in the energy sector, fintech architecture development in the digital sector and other areas with potential business opportunities in member countries.

The Reverse Linkage mechanism is positioned as a major pillar in addressing development challenges. Its success is now recognised widely by the Bank’s partners, including United Nations agencies, such as the UN Office for South-South Cooperation, the South Centre and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, as well as bilateral cooperation agencies in the IsDB member countries. Our goal is to make these results-based exchanges ubiquitous across all our member countries with the overall aim to strengthen sustainable and meaningful partnerships. 

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Bank took bold and agile actions to support its member countries tackle the fallout from the pandemic. The Bank is using Reverse Linkage as one of the delivery mechanisms in its toolkit and Strategic Preparedness and Response Program, known as the “3Rs” package: Respond, Restore and Restart, and worth over USD2.1 billion.

In addition to helping member countries to access critical medical supplies and equipment through Reverse Linkage, the Bank has been facilitating the exchange of know-how and expertise on how best to deal with this pandemic. This entails coordinating with public and private sector entities as well as civil society organisations, in countries that succeeded in “flattening the COVID-19 curve” and sharing their experiences accordingly. We are also supporting centres of excellence in member countries that are on the frontlines to fight this pandemic in order to support their preparedness and enhance their capabilities.

It is important to highlight here that in addition to its efforts to strengthen cooperation through Reverse Linkage interventions, the Bank is also paying attention to developing the underlying capacity of member countries to engage in South-South Cooperation by formulating new frameworks, mechanisms and knowledge products. One of the Bank’s key contributions in this regard is the development of a framework called “National Ecosystems for South-South and Triangular Cooperation”. Based on field experience as well as consultation with the member countries, this framework identifies a set of seven pillars making up the institutional arrangements for effective engagement in South-South and Triangular Cooperation. The framework was developed in collaboration with the South Centre and the UNOSSC. Furthermore, the framework is also a direct contribution to achieving the recommendations of the Outcome Document adopted at the 2nd High-Level UN Conference on South-South Cooperation (BAPA+40).

In conclusion, the Islamic Development Bank believes South-South Cooperation constitutes one of the key pathways towards addressing the collective challenges: both with respect to the ongoing pandemic as well as with achieving the Sustainable Development Goals in this Decade of Action. The Bank will continue to play its part in this global struggle by using all the tools at its disposal, including Reverse Linkage, with the aim to return to a state of normalcy as soon as possible, and continue supporting its constituents to help them achieve their development objectives.