IsDB and Gates Foundation launch $2.5bn anti-poverty fund

New fund will blend grants and loans to support poverty alleviation in the Muslim world.

The Saudi Arabia-based Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) has partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to launch a $2.5bn sharia-compliant fund to disburse cheap loans to some of the world's poorest Muslim countries.

The $2.5bn fund will provide concessional loans to the IsDB's 30 poorest member nations to finance health and agriculture programmes, in addition to basic infrastructure.

Gates Foundation co-founder Bill Gates told delegates that the interest on the loans would be paid for by $500m of grant funding, which he said will come from a mixture of government aid agencies, philanthropists and the private sector. The Gates Foundation will guarantee 20 per cent of this pool, he added.

The tie-up was announced at an event in Jeddah to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the IsDB, a multilateral development bank.

“This facility will bring a huge amount of new, sharia-compliant financing with no mark-up to the people who need it most,” Gates said. “It is a historic innovation in development finance.”

Over the last four decades, the IsDB has funded nearly 8,000 programmes to a value of more than $100bn. In 2012, it partnered with the Gates Foundation to form a joint $227m fund to fight polio in Pakistan, and Gates used his anniversary address as an opportunity to urge delegates to ramp up vaccine coverage among the IsDB’s 56 member countries, particularly among children.

Polio is one of the foundation’s key concerns: the paralysing disease remains endemic in just three countries worldwide – Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria - all of which are IsDB members.

The disease has also reappeared in Iraq and Syria, where the bank approved a $1m grant to pay for polio campaigns in the north of the country. UN agencies are unable to fund such activities because the government is not in control in those areas.

“If I had to identify a single highest priority for the work of my foundation… it would be the eradication of this horrific disease,” said Gates. “By getting new vaccines out, and getting vaccine coverage up, we can help more children grow up to live healthy, productive lives.”

Last year, IsDB partnered with the GAVI Alliance – which was founded by the Gates Foundation – to accelerate the introduction of children’s vaccines, with an initial focus on diarrhoea and pneumonia. By 2020, GAVI plans to vaccinate more than 400 million children in at least 29 IsDB member states. – PA