What does economic inclusion mean for infrastructure investments?

We are well-acquainted with the many challenges surrounding the implementation of inclusive infrastructure; but the industry is less aware of how success can be practically achieved at the project level. Our recent Infrastructure Futures Report and webinar identifies inclusive infrastructure as one of the four key trends that will shape our future. Our Inclusive Infrastructure and Social Equity guidance sets out six strategic elements for the development of infrastructure to ensure no-one is left behind.

To show how these strategic elements can be converted into practical actions, we caught up with Sue Barrett, Director and Head of Infrastructure for Turkey, Middle East & Africa at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) to learn more about EBRD’s experience in making economic inclusion work for infrastructure.

Figure 1: GI Hub’s six action areas for inclusive infrastructure

What does economic inclusion in infrastructure look and feel like in practice?

Sue Barrett: Economic inclusion in infrastructure can involve aspects around the infrastructure invested in by our clients that are accessible and affordable to as many people as possible. We may focus on creating job and training opportunities for young people, women or other under-served social groups. This can be achieved through inclusive procurement or enhancing the business skills of women to become entrepreneurs, helping them take advantage of commercial opportunities. 

How do you measure impact and success for inclusion in infrastructure projects?

Sue Barrett: This depends on the project and the impacts we are looking for. For example, our Saïss Water Conservation Project in Morocco is an irrigation project for farmers in the region which aims to develop a sustainable water source as an alternative to the Saïss aquifer and to conserve water through an enhanced irrigation method.

We will measure the impact in Saïss by assessing the number of people who will benefit from water security and water savings, the area of land which can be irrigated sustainably and, following further EBRD-financed investment in Saïss, the increase in capacity for and uptake of drip irrigation which increases crop yields and employment. These are good indicators of value and inclusion in practice.

 EBRD’s water conservation project in Saiss, Morocco

Inclusive practices can benefit many groups that have historically been excluded from infrastructure and economic development. Which group is the priority in the Saïss project?

Sue Barrett: We focus on gender for the Saïss project and EBRD is supporting training to increase the skills of farmers in the region. This training is open to all farmers, but with a focus on women – women who could potentially become entrepreneurs and take advantage of the commercial opportunities that this new irrigation system could offer. The success of the training program will be measured by the number of individuals taking part and the proportion of these individuals that are women. Other gender success measures include the development of a gender strategy and broader gender policy at the Ministry level.

Do all EBRD projects have economic inclusion targets?

Sue Barrett: No, not all projects have inclusion targets even though many of them will have inclusion impacts. This is due to the way we address impact through our transition impact qualities framework which includes six transition qualities namely: competitive, well-governed, green, inclusive, resilient and integrated.

When we look at a project, we select two qualities out of the six that will have the biggest impact and we set targets related to these two qualities. Increasingly, however, we are seeing the ‘green’ and ‘inclusive’ impact qualities as the ones that feature strongly in many of the projects we are financing.

What are the lessons learned thus far and what’s next for EBRD with respect to inclusive infrastructure?  

Sue Barrett: We have recently introduced new sector strategies, which increase our focus on inclusive infrastructure.  We are also in the process of developing a new gender strategy. While we have done well in terms of mainstreaming gender into our infrastructure projects, we have more to do to support our clients on this journey.  

Our aim is to improve the ability of women and other under-served social groups to access vital infrastructure and to increase their participation in the workplace. This goes beyond just making sure that they have the opportunity; we also need to improve protection and safety in the workplace and take into account the caring responsibilities of women in particular – for example childcare or elderly care.


If you want to know more about the Global Infrastructure Hub and our work around Infrastructure Futures and Inclusive Infrastructure, please get in touch with our Director, Though Leadership, Monica Bennett.

About EBRD

The EBRD is a multilateral bank that promotes the development of the private sector and entrepreneurial initiative in 38 economies across three continents. The Bank is owned by 69 countries as well as the EU and the EIB. EBRD investments are aimed at making the economies in its regions competitive, inclusive, well-governed, green, resilient and integrated. 

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