The multilateral development system has been defined by key moments in history since its start in 1944, and the COVID-19 crisis marks a crossroads. The pandemic has brought into stark relief our interconnectedness and interdependence. It has also proven the need for greater solidarity and co-operation to solve challenges that are increasingly global in nature. Yet, in a context of growing needs and strained resources, the multilateral system is under mounting pressure to demonstrate impact.

Against the backdrop of a global crisis threatening health, food, social and economic security in every country, the multilateral system has been essential in addressing COVID-related shocks in the world’s most vulnerable contexts, supported by its members. In the weeks following the declaration of the pandemic, multilateral organisations made available nearly USD 250 billion to developing countries. This helped address the direct impacts of the public health emergency through the delivery of emergency supplies, funding of medical staff and equipment, and providing training. In addition, multilateral organisations are also supporting governments and the private sector to address the indirect economic and social consequences.

However, the pandemic has also shone light on the limitations of the multilateral development system. The reforms put forward in this report aim to support investments in multilateral organisations that are fit for today and for the future, ensuring that they remain a space to advance and build consensus around collective priorities.

The members of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) – who remain the largest funders of the multilateral system – have a unique responsibility and opportunity to strengthen their strategic support to, and engagement with, multilateral organisations. The emergence of new multilateral stakeholders and funders creates both opportunities and risks for multilateral development finance. Private sector and non-governmental organisations rank as the sixth biggest contributor to the United Nations, and one single private philanthropic foundation is the second- largest funder of the World Health Organisation (WHO) after the United States. Overall, the share of non-DAC funding to the United Nations system increased from 22% to 29% between 2008 and 2017. While the diversification of multilateral organisations’ funding has many positive aspects, DAC members also have a role in safeguarding the independence and flexibility required to deliver on their mandates.

The good news is that, in recent years, multilateral development finance from official providers has been increasing. Between 2000 and 2018, contributions to the multilateral development system more than doubled from USD 33 billion to USD 71.9 billion, and the share of official development assistance (ODA) channelled through the multilateral system continues to grow. However, multilateral impact and effectiveness go beyond finance flows, and organisations are forced to demonstrate concrete progress. This involves clarifying the unique value of each organisation, leveraging comparative advantages. It also requires learning the lessons from the multilateral response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Balancing these goals is a complex task, and one that will require careful decisions from stakeholders to ensure that multilateral development finance can contribute its best to the COVID-19 recovery. The years ahead are crucial. We need to prove how investing in multilateral development finance is worth every penny. Ultimately, our ability to support the multilateral development system will have a huge impact on our chances to achieve the 2030 Agenda, preserving the health of our planet and people.


Jorge Moreira da Silva,


Development Co-operation Directorate

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