IFC Addresses Development Challenges in South Asia

December 7, 2011 -- “The most acute needs for food, energy, water, healthcare, access to finance and other basic services are among the underserved in this part of the world,” said EVP and CEO Lars Thunell on his recently concluded visit to Bhutan and India. He was addressing an all-staff meeting with South Asia on his return from the region.

One billion of the world’s 2.5 billion poor are in South Asia.And the IFC team in South Asia has to continue to drive the inclusive and sustainable growth agenda in South Asia even as the global economy continues to face an uncertain future.

In India, Thunell met with the minister of renewable energy, who welcomed IFC’s interventions in clean energy, including IFC’s pioneering role in solar, wind, biomass, small hydro, and off-grid generation, especially in India’s low-income states. The water resources minister was pleased to learn of IFC’s work with Jain Irrigation on water footprinting and conservation and with Vishwa on clean water supply for 200,000 people, and wastewater treatment. The minister acknowledged the need to address water scarcity, a major issue for India, promote water usage efficiency, tackle water quality issues, and develop infrastructure for conservation and augmentation of water. The minister welcomed IFC's initiatives in the sector. Thunell highlighted IFC’s commitment to do more in education with the necessary regulatory support in a meeting with India’s education minister, who envisions that every child and adult should have Internet access to education, health, and e-government services online.

In a subsequent interview with
The Economic Times, Thunell spoke on the global economic situation, IFC's counter-cyclical role, IFC's work in renewable energy, and his thoughts on the microfinance sector in India.

Innovative, Inclusive and Green Business Models at Work

As part of the visit, Thunell chaired an IFC and Indian Department of Economic Affairs jointly-led roundtable on inclusive and innovative business models with participation from clients, venture capital funds, India’s National Innovation Council, and IBRD Country Director Roberto Zagha. Indian government officials spoke very positively of IFC's work in supporting innovation by entrepreneurs at the base of the pyramid. IFC plans to create a virtual hub for sharing best practices on innovation and inclusive business models.

An excellent example combining the priorities of innovation and inclusive growth is IFC’s recent project with SEWA, a grassroots women member-based organization. Thunell signed a memorandum of understanding to signal IFC's commitment to the project during this visit. Through this project, IFC is financing energy-efficient and smokeless cookstoves and solar lanterns for 200,000 rural women in India. The project will generate carbon credits, the benefits of which will help generate income for SEWA members. Thunell shared the important impacts of this unique project of helping low-income households increase savings and cut expenses for firewood, kerosene, and electricity in remarks with
The Hindu.

Thunell also signed an IFC equity investment in Tata Cleantech Capital Ltd., a project that will involve setting up a new non-banking finance company focused solely on environmental finance, including funding early-stage renewable energy, energy efficiency, cleaner production, and water management projects.

Most people in the low-income, fragile and conflict-affected parts of South Asia have been deprived of the benefits of growth and many are vulnerable to climate change impacts. “IFC can be instrumental in leveraging synergies and making possible greater cooperation in evolving solutions to the pressing needs of emerging economies of Asia,” said Asia VP Karin Finkelston, who joined Thunell on both the Bhutan and India legs of the visit.

In South Asia, IFC’s priorities of inclusive growth, clean growth, and global integration, including mobilization and South-South have resulted in strategic and selected interventions in building infrastructure, assisting public-private partnerships, facilitating renewable energy generation, supporting agriculture and agri-business, making affordable healthcare accessible, creating opportunities for small businesses, and reforming investment climate. A
film on IFC's projects along these strategic priorities was screened at a get-together with clients and senior government leaders in New Delhi that Thunell joined.