Seizing the opportunity, leveraging key strengths

50 years of improving lives for a better future for Asia and Pacific


In November 2015, a few select colleagues in ADB’s department of external relations began tossing around ideas about leading a campaign to mark the Bank’s 50th anniversary. Our thinking was straight forward: to enhance ADB’s brand value as a development partner and to position the bank as a thought leader on key development issues in the region. By January 2016, we had crystallised our thinking into a plan, designed our logo and pitched it to senior management. Our president Takehiko Nakao, liked the idea and with his blessings we launched the campaign in April 2016.

Right from the onset we realised the campaign had much to celebrate. Back in 1966 when ADB was established, the Asia-Pacific region was mired in poverty. It was then the poorest region in the world. Today however, it is the most dynamic region and accounts for one-third of global GDP and contributes to more than half the world’s economic growth. And since 1990, more than a billion people have risen from extreme poverty. Asia’s dramatic transformation has also been the story of ADB. We have been a part and parcel of the region’s growth and development, its upheavals throughout half a century and its triumphs during challenging times. For the campaign, this rich history translated into a celebration of our partnerships with developed and developing member countries for improving lives in the region.

Five actions

One of the key pillars of the campaign was to differentiate ADB from commercial or investment banks. ADB is an international development finance institution. Our goal is to reduce poverty and promote sustainable economic growth in Asia and the Pacific. We provide loans, grants, equity investments and guarantees to our developing member countries. We also supplement our financial support with development knowledge and policy advice.

But as a development institution, we realised we had limited campaign experience. We decided to stay strongly focused on achieving three key objectives: to increase our brand value and awareness, to leverage our partnerships with member governments and to promote staff pride.

To achieve these goals, we undertook the following:

1. We created a working group and task force to implement the campaign. From the first day ADB@50, as it became known, quickly became a bank-wide endeavour where all departments and regional offices were involved and engaged.

2. We brought on a seasoned international PR campaign strategist/consultant who provided strategic counsel, introduced PR/communications best practices, and helped us with our master narrative/message architecture among other things.

3. We developed a centralised machinery for producing content, key among this being a 500-page history book, photo exhibits, films and videos.

4. We encouraged all our country offices or resident missions to buy into the plan by inviting our external relations officers to Manila for face-to-face meetings. All 31 resident missions and representative offices thought our proposal had merit and quickly signed on by submitting plans that were quickly approved with supporting budgets. Within a matter of weeks after its launch, the campaign had created ownership and our resident missions became our “force multipliers.” Three months after launch, campaign activities were reverberating from Bangladesh, to India and Pakistan, to China and Southeast Asian countries, to Central and West Asia, the Pacific and finally our donor countries – U.S., Australia, Canada and Germany.

5. We leveraged our very large social media and web presence to launch short video snippets, project videos and other ADB products that told real stories about how ADB and its projects improve lives in Asia and the Pacific.

Results with impact

One of the most pleasing aspects of the campaign has been the hundreds of positive media articles it has generated. Estimates put forward by Meltwater suggest the campaign has already reached a potential global audience of 500 million people. Equally significant has been the buy in from our key development partners. Sri Lanka has issued a stamp in our honour and Pakistan is on the way. Senior government functionaries have donated their valuable time to attend country-based anniversary events, including here in the Philippines, where President Rodrigo Duterte himself attended a reception. Finally, the campaign has engendered much pride among staffers and senior management – who quickly embraced our colourful and very Asian logo, participated in complex drone video shoots and have clamoured for their own copies of ADB’s history book.

Post script

Fifty years ago, our founding president, Takeshi Watanabe had a vision for the bank. He described ADB as “a family doctor for Asian countries.” This same spirit still permeates the bank and was reflected in the campaign which stressed ADB “listens” very carefully to the needs of its member countries.

Going forward, we are confident the lessons learnt both at headquarters and at our resident missions will continue to enthuse and energise staff about sharing the success of their development work.

The ADB@50 campaign won the Public Affairs category in the 2016 Asia-Pacific Excellence Awards, which are hosted by Communication Director. You can find the full winners' list here