Identifying Business Opportunities for NGOs

ADB has been partnering with civil society organizations to enhance implementation of its projects. Photo credit: ADB.

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This piece answers how civil society organizations can collaborate with ADB in its efforts to effectively and sustainably reduce poverty.


The Asian Development Bank (ADB) recognizes civil society contributions to its development efforts thus it regularly seeks to increase the participation of civil society organizations including nongovernment organizations (NGOs) in its projects.

Generally, ADB does not fund NGOs directly but instead lends money to its client governments. However, NGOs are involved in a very high proportion of ADB-financed projects, usually at the design phase, and typically through consultations. In addition, NGOs bid for contracts to implement components of ADB-financed projects in some countries and sectors. ADB does not request proposals designed by NGOs for such contacts. Instead, it defines the work that needs to be done and treats NGOs who win contracts to implement ADB projects the same as commercial firms, as service providers under a contractual relationship with standard conditions for compliance.

How do NGOs fit in each of the ADB financial products?

ADB offers three main financial products to governments: loans (given to a government for development projects; with low interest rates), grants (given to a government for development projects in ADB’s poorest member countries; not repaid), and technical assistance (managed by ADB and used to pay for expert advice; not repaid). 

Since technical assistance projects (TAs) are managed by ADB, and grants and loans by the government, NGOs engaged under a grant or loan would enter into a contract with the government. On the other hand, NGOs hired to work on a TA would be engaged directly by ADB. ADB also has products for the private sector but typically they do not include business opportunities for civil society.

There are generally two types of technical assistance.

Transaction Technical Assistance (TRTA)

One of the two types is the Transaction Technical Assistance (TRTA), which is money that ADB spends to design a loan for a development project that a government has requested ADB to finance. ADB staff prepare proposals for TRTA funding. A TRTA budget usually ranges from about $500,000 to $2M and usually lasts about a year. ADB manages the TRTA funds and hires all of the consultants. The TRTA activities are related to loan design and preparation, such as commissioning reports, convening workshops, and hiring experts to provide inputs for the project design. NGOs can be involved in loan preparation activities, like mobilizing communities and raising awareness.

To design a loan, ADB must address social issues, including environmental impact, resettlement (and livelihood restoration in some cases), and impact on indigenous peoples. ADB must conduct an assessment of the poverty, social, and gender situation, to identify relevant social issues and determine measures to address these issues within the scope of the project. ADB should also consult with communities and collect data for poverty analysis, among other requirements. As a result, there may be opportunities for NGOs to contribute to TRTA work.

Knowledge Service Technical Assistance (KSTA)

The other type of TA is the Knowledge Service Technical Assistance (KSTA). The type of work supported under KSTA varies widely, and includes, for example, general institutional capacity building, policy advice, and research. Depending on the nature of the project, NGOs may be competitive bidders for contracts to deliver these services.

Check out ADB’s Technical Assistance Disbursement Handbook to learn more.

Some activities in a grant could be carried out by an NGO. Because governments are not repaying a grant, grant projects often have more innovative features and “soft” components, such as pilot initiatives, communications, or community mobilization work, which may include opportunities for NGOs. The government issues the call for proposals and selects the firms, which could be an NGO, to implement those activities in line with ADB procurement procedures.

Check out ADB’s Loan Disbursement Handbook to learn more.

Although it is less common, part of a loan (which is most often for infrastructure) may have a component that could be contracted to an NGO. For example, in a road project, the government may decide to use an NGO to lead a road safety campaign or to train affected communities about HIV and AIDS or human trafficking. A government may hire NGOs to deliver health services in remote areas where it does not have a presence. But the bulk of the loan activities are typically large-scale construction contracts, for which international firms bid and implement.

Check out ADB’s Loan Disbursement Handbook to learn more.

How can NGOs bid for ADB-financed contracts?

Register and view current business opportunities

  • Register in the ADB Consultant Management System (CMS) to become eligible to bid for any of the opportunities. TIPS: 1) Ensure that the CMS registration is complete and comprehensive. 2) Update the profile at least once a year to keep it active. 3) Use a generic organizational email address rather than an individual staff email address as the main contact.
  • Visit the ADB Business Center to see a range of resources.
  • View the current business opportunities in ADB-financed projects at the Consulting Services Recruitment Notices (CSRN).
  • Sign up for the e-Alerts email notification system, which provides updates while enabling customization of notifications based on preference, including business opportunities, publications, and other types of information.
  • Respond as an NGO to an opportunity for an individual (by proposing a candidate) or for a firm (by proposing several candidates). All proposed candidates must be from ADB member countries. ADB will pay the NGO who proposes a candidate, not the candidate.

Identify future business opportunities

In addition to responding to currently advertised opportunities that are posted on the CSRN, some background research can identify what opportunities may be coming up.

  1. Find projects at the TRTA phase in the Country Operations Business Plan.

The best time to get involved in a project is not when it is already underway, but when it is being designed. The first phase of a loan or grant design is the TRTA, or transaction technical assistance. To find out what projects are at the TRTA phase, look at the Country Operations Business Plan (COBP), which lists all loan and grant projects under design and all planned TAs. Typically, TRTA takes place the year before a project is approved.

  1. Go to > Countries > Strategy > COBP

To find the COBP, select the country on the ADB website. Then look at the Strategy link on the menu on the left. On the strategy page, choose the most recent Country Operations Business Plan (COBP). The COBP has a table of projects, usually in Appendix 3 planned each year. All projects that ADB will finance are in the COBP, so it is an excellent reference to identify projects where there may be future business opportunities.

  1. Review the COBP for the list of projects that will have TRTA funding.

Review the COBP for the list of projects that will have TRTA funding in the current year to design the project and see if there are similarities in the projects ADB will finance and your organization’s expertise. The next step is to learn more about these projects.

  1. Go to > Projects & Tenders to learn more about the specific project you identified from COBP.

Once you have identified a specific project listed in the COBP that is in the pipeline that might be of interest to your organization, go to the ADB project database. Once a project’s concept paper has been approved, it will have a page on the ADB website. Select the country and then filter for Proposed Projects. Click on a project to learn more about it.

  1. Contact the Project Officer who is indicated in the PDS to learn more about potential opportunities for collaboration.

Project Data Sheets (PDS) provide details about each project, including those that are not yet approved. To learn more about the project and potential opportunities for collaboration, contact the project officer whose name is indicated in the PDS.

  1. Check to see if there are business opportunities during the TRTA.

The TA paper, which is posted online, details the expertise the project officer will hire during the TRTA.

  1. Register in the CMS well before you plan to submit a bid.
  2. Click on the Express Interest button and follow the CSRN instructions for the CSRN advertised opportunity. For technical problems, email
  3. Consider the fact that in general, ADB assesses applications from NGOs using the Quality Cost Based Selection Method. Chapter 9, Recruiting Other Types of Consultants and Consulting Services on page 113 of the Consulting Services Operations Manual offers advice to staff about how to evaluate a proposal from an NGO. This guide also explains other selection methods ADB allows, including Consultant Quality Selection, Single Source Selection, and Quality-Based Selection.

  1. Participate in the ADB Business Opportunities Fair (BOF) each year in March. A one-stop forum for consultants, contractors, manufacturers, and suppliers looking to provide goods and services for ADB projects, the BOF is an excellent opportunity to network not only with peers in the industry but also with ADB specialists in different sectors. The annual program also includes a dedicated session on opportunities for civil society.
  2. ADB posts information on shortlisted firms for those who may wish to deal directly with a shortlisted firm. NGOs can get experience on ADB-financed projects as sub-contractors to experienced firms. Check the list of shortlisted firms.
  3. Search the project database for what will be approved in the next year and review projects to see what skills the project will recruit for. Also, review the procurement plans for new projects to see what is coming up in the future.
  4. NGOs may want to consider partnering with these successful firms to get experience in ADB-financed projects.
  5. Read the ADB Country Fact Sheet, as on the last page is a table showing who has won the biggest and most ADB contracts in the country. Some NGOs new to ADB will partner with a consultant or contractor who has a lot of experience with ADB before applying directly themselves. The fact sheet is a good starting place to see who has been successful in winning ADB contracts in the country. 
What are the essentials to managing an ADB contract?

NGOs can successfully implement ADB-financed contracts. But NGOs bidding for ADB contracts need to think like a consulting firm. Here are some other tips:

  1. NGOs are expected to cover all of their costs and overheads from an ADB contract. The contract budget does not have to be prepared on an at-cost basis.
  2. ADB’s budget template does not include a line for administrative or indirect costs such as NICRA. Therefore, prepare a budget that breaks down and covers all indirect costs. ADB allows a multiplier for monthly salaries of between 2.0 and 3.0 for full-time employees. See page 3, paragraph F of ADB’s Standard Forms for proposal submissions.
  3. Engage a dedicated administrator with strong finance skills to manage your ADB contract and include the administrator in your proposal.
  4. If possible, reach out to the ADB Headquarters in Manila and meet the staff there working across the Asia and Pacific region.
  5. Maximize the information, education and communication resources of the ADB website, including signing up for the ADB Alerts to get timely updates.
  6. Remember not to treat an ADB contract as funding for organizational activities; instead, play the role of a service provider that ADB requires.
  7. Be familiar with ADB’s requirements, and consider your NGO’s own institutional requirements, which may not support this type of contract.
  8. Read the ADB contract and become familiar with it. ADB does not provide training on its own procedures but expects those it engages to learn them.
  9. Keep good records and be prepared to provide clear statements of consulting inputs and actual inputs.
  10. Realize that ADB’s standard conditions of contract are non-negotiable.
How else does ADB engage with civil society?

Reach out to the ADB in five other ways: through the NGO Anchor, during Country Partnership Strategy preparations, and when ADB reviews its policies and strategies, and through knowledge events.

Participate in strategy and policy reviews. ADB holds consultations on all of its major policy review, typically hosting several dedicated to seeking civil society views. Thus, NGOs interested in the strategy or policy that is being reviewed may want to share their perspectives while representing people’s interest and their rights. This ensures dialogue and consultation with all stakeholders and potential beneficiaries of ADB projects in communities which often access information on development initiatives in their countries through civil society.

ADB updates its Country Partnership Strategies (CPS) in line with the government national poverty reduction strategy. They are ADB’s primary platform for designing operations to deliver development results at the country level. Find out when the ADB will be updating its next CPS by seeing when the current CPS will run out. Participating in the consultations for the CPS is an excellent way to stay informed about what ADB is planning in each country.

NGOs and their networks participate in consultations throughout ADB’s project cycle in various ways. The majority of ADB-NGO collaboration takes place on a voluntary basis, such as during consultations. Some NGOs monitor ADB projects without compensation to ensure they maintain independence. Most NGOs who participate in consultations and monitoring are local organizations who bring their local knowledge to a project.

Introduce yourself to the NGO Anchor in each country where you have an office. The NGO Anchor is a person who is appointed as the focal point for civil society relations in each ADB field office. Check the full list of NGO Anchors and their contact details.

ADB’s Strategy 2030 states that ADB will work with CSOs to tap their unique strengths, such as their specialized knowledge. View ADB’s planned events for details. ADB’s Annual Meeting includes a dedicated CSO program, where CSOs actively participate and share knowledge.

Lainie C. Thomas
Unit Head, Climate Change and Sustainable Development Department, Asian Development Bank

Lainie Thomas heads the Fragile and Conflict-Affected Situations (FCAS) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS) unit. Prior to her current assignment, she supported civil society participation in ADB’s operations through its NGO and Civil Society Center and led health and education projects in Southeast Asia. Before joining ADB, she worked for a range of international and local nongovernment organizations. With more than 25 years of development experience, she has also worked in the field in Kenya, South Sudan, Azerbaijan, Somalia, Cambodia, and The Gambia.

Asian Development Bank (ADB)

The Asian Development Bank is committed to achieving a prosperous, inclusive, resilient, and sustainable Asia and the Pacific, while sustaining its efforts to eradicate extreme poverty. Established in 1966, it is owned by 68 members—49 from the region. Its main instruments for helping its developing member countries are policy dialogue, loans, equity investments, guarantees, grants, and technical assistance.

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