Integrating conflict sensitivity and Do No Harm with the Islamic Development Bank

01/2023 | Cecilia Milesi

In early 2021, CDA partnered with the Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) to support the Bank’s efforts to integrate conflict sensitivity and Do No Harm (DNH) into investment decisions across all portfolios globally. In this blog, we summarize the historic opportunity for IsDB and CDA to explore the needs of people experiencing conflict and to design approaches to make a positive impact for millions of people in the IsDB’s 57 member countries. The partnership concluded in late 2022 and CDA and IsDB look forward to future learning about the adaptations and impact of these efforts.


In the midst of the pandemic – with humanity reflecting on how best to adapt to complex global challenges – the IsDB Fragility and Resilience Team reached out to CDA to partner on a bold idea: to integrate conflict sensitivity and DNH across the Bank’s operations, ensuring every staff member has a solid understanding and the capabilities to work effectively. Over the course of two years, an integrated approach, process, and practical toolkit were created by CDA Senior Associates Cecilia Milesi and Siad Diarwish, with major support from Hasangani Edema, Nanako Tamaru, and Ruth Rhoads Allen

The partners

IsDB is a multilateral development bank (MDB), working to improve lives by promoting social and economic development in member countries and Muslim communities worldwide, delivering impact at scale. IsDB brings together 57 member countries across four continents—touching the lives of one in five of the world’s population and fostering collaboration between people in a uniquely non-political environment. IsDB is one of the world’s most active MDBs and a global leader in Islamic Finance, with an AAA rating, operating assets of more than USD 16 billion, and subscribed capital of USD 70 billion. The Bank is headquartered in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with major hubs in Morocco, Malaysia, Kazakhstan, and Senegal, and gateway offices in Egypt, Turkey, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Nigeria.  In demonstrating its commitment to promote peace and development, the Bank’s teams are mandated and supported to enhance operations and align work among staff, governments, and civil society to conduct context analysis and make decisions that prevent violent conflict and the escalation of it where it already exists. This is an inspiring vision, considering that more than half of the Bank’s member countries are considered “fragile” (IsDB Fragility and Resilience Policy, page 03)

IsDB member countries

Partnering with a purpose

The CDA-IsDB collaboration had a clear objective: to support the process towards implementing the recently approved “Fragility and Resilience Policy”. The policy and the related Operational Strategy describe a principled and technical approach to working in fragility, as well as four key pillars guiding the Bank’s planning; conflict sensitivity and the intention “not to harm” communities is at the core. IsDB regards conflict sensitivity and Do No Harm as essential for all their country engagements, operations, and interventions to:

  1. Invest in prevention; 
  2. Transition from relief to development; and
  3. Support recovery and resilience, always striving to avoid the escalation of tensions, division, and suffering, and aiming at promoting social cohesion and stability. 

In this way, IsDB joins an increasing number of regional banks, such as the Asia Development Bank and the African Development Bank, that are developing policies and sound institutional practices to comprehend the context and conflict dynamics where they operate. This understanding is essential to reinforce connecting factors and decrease tensions and dividers that jeopardize the potential positive effects of investments. CDA is a proud partner of IsDB in this historic challenge.

Online learning across countries

Over the course of 18 months, the teams jumped into the challenge to engage online with more than 30 IsDB staff members working across HQ, regional hubs, and country offices as the pandemic did not allow for face-to-face gatherings.  With creativity and patience, we co-designed and conducted a cross-regional online listening process to understand and co-create a tailored series of training and reflective sessions to present and support the application of conflict sensitivity and DNH. From Saudi Arabia to Nigeria, Senegal to Cote D’Ivoire, Somalia to Mozambique, we joined online meetings and training sessions to learn about the challenges and to present and discuss step-by-step ways to work across conflict divides. 

During this participatory process, we also published a series of case studies relevant to IsDB operations and ways of working that were integrated in the soon-to-be-launched “IsDB Handbook on Conflict Sensitivity and Do No Harm”, adapted from CDA’s Do No Harm participant and trainer’s manual. The case studies were linked to the Bank’s recently established cross-country communities of practice focusing on priority themes such as education, infrastructure, energy, water, agriculture, and food security. The Handbook also includes practical recommendations for staff collected in the learning sessions. The Handbook is deeply aligned with the realities and challenges faced by the Bank’s representatives as they enter into negotiations, assessments, and efforts to monitor the effectiveness of investment decisions. Importantly, the Handbook is a repository for the specific IsDB policies that must be taken into consideration with the aim of developing a holistic and integrated approach to conflict prevention. For example, these policies include “climate change”, “civil society engagement”, and “disaster risk management and risk reduction”, among others, that are vital to be considered in conflict sensitivity good practice. The IsDB Conflict Sensitivity and Do No Harm Handbook is a useful tool to support staff and partners in promoting conflict- and context-sensitive investments, and in making decisions that are conducive to peace, security, development, and stability in all IsDB Member countries. 

Learning by doing 

Nearly two years of collaboration amidst a global pandemic has yielded a robust set of guidance and a golden opportunity for IsDB to take conflict sensitivity and Do No Harm to scale across the global portfolio of investment. CDA and IsDB look forward to continued engagement and future learning about the adaptations and impact of these efforts, and to equip our shared vision for peace and development. 


To learn more about IsDB’s Fragility and Resilience Strategy, please see the IsDB website.

For more information about this partnership and CDA’s other learning partnerships, contact Hasi Edema.

Cecilia Milesi

Islamic Development Bank

About this article

This blog was written for ‘CDA Perspectives‘, a series intended to share reflections, present information, and provoke debate and conversation. Our authors share personal experiences of working towards improving impacts of interventions in contexts of conflict and fragility, and findings from collaborative learning projects. In most cases, we discuss issues related to CDA’s practice areas: accountability and feedback loops, Do No Harm, peacebuilding effectiveness, and responsible business operations. In addition to our staff contributors, we invite colleagues and partners to share their experiences and host blog post series.

For recent blogs in this series check out:

If you are interested in contributing to the series please contact Hasangani Edema at [email protected] We would love to hear from you and include your perspective.

About the author

Cecilia Milesi is a Senior Associate, Conflict Sensitivity, Participation, and South-South Cooperation. A sociologist specialised in governance, conflict prevention, accountability, and inclusive development, Cecilia has over 25 years of experience leading and providing strategic advice to national, regional and global governmental, multilateral and non-governmental organizations and social movements in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Europe.