Infrastructure for a small planet

OPIC’s David Bohigian explains how Blue Dot Network, a multilateral initiative backed by the US, Australia and Japan, will establish best practices that will serve ‘as a seal of approval on project excellence’.

David Bohigian, Executive Vice President, OPIC

When Carl Sagan, the celebrated astronomer and scientist, turned his sights from the cosmos back to the earth, he famously saw a “pale blue dot.” To see the earth from space, Sagan wrote, was to understand “our responsibility to … preserve and cherish the only home we’ve ever known.”

One of the best ways to achieve this vision is to promote widespread economic empowerment, which in turn fosters opportunity, progress, and stability.

In a world increasingly connected through technology, travel, and trade, one of the most effective ways to create economic opportunity is by building the critical infrastructure that supports greater connections: roads, bridges and mass transit to connect modern communities and ports and airports to connect nations. This need for critical infrastructure is particularly urgent in the world’s developing countries.

Building the infrastructure needed to transform these emerging economies is an ambitious endeavour. It requires collaboration and leadership to promote the highest standards in development, as well as the agility of the private sector to marshal the resources these large projects require and execute with quality.

“As Blue Dot Network takes root, it will give countries in need of more modern infrastructure essential information to make smart decisions.”

Blue Dot Network is a new, multilateral approach that brings together the US and other like-minded countries around a set of international best practices to promote project excellence in infrastructure development.

Earlier this month, at the Indo-Pacific Business Forum, a group of countries including the US, Japan, and Australia formed a working group to advance Blue Dot Network. We will establish a set of standards that will serve as a seal of approval on project excellence, providing countries pursuing major infrastructure enhancements the information they need to assess the quality of projects they undertake.

This unprecedented collaboration is essential to address an urgent dilemma: haphazard, dangerous, and bank-breaking construction projects that do more harm than good. From bridges that have collapsed shortly after being built, to projects so costly they have left some of the world’s poorest countries in deep debt, we’re seeing too many examples of development that fails to deliver progress.

Blue Dot Network will harness this commitment to quality by calling on governments, civil society, and the private sector to invest in development that empowers societies. Underlying the Blue Dot standards is the need for market-driven, private-sector led investment. Building critical infrastructure requires monumental investments, and the resources and innovation of the private sector are essential to building quality projects in a responsible manner.

Many of the infrastructure projects that in recent years have resulted in unsustainable debt, damaging resource extraction, and shoddy quality have been authoritarian state-led initiatives. By contrast, private sector-led development comes with a commitment to quality, transparency, and fiscal sustainability.

As Blue Dot Network takes root, it will give countries in need of more modern infrastructure essential information to make smart decisions that empower their people and strengthen their economies. State-led regimes may offer projects that can be built cheaper or faster. In contrast, a Blue Dot seal will be affixed only to projects that will be better, safer, cleaner, and more fiscally responsible for developing nations.

Ultimately, the benefits of these elevated standards flow to all of us. You need only to recall the image of earth from space to understand how closely connected all of us are.

“Look again at that dot,” Sagan observed. “That’s here. That’s home. That’s us.”

What we build today must enhance lives for generations to follow.

David Bohigian is executive vice-president of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a US government agency that helps US businesses invest in emerging markets.