Prior to 1993, the multilateral development banks (MDBs) could be held to account for their actions only by their shareholders - governments in all cases that provided working capital for the banks for their lending and development purposes. It was thus a fundamental change in the system of international governance for citizens adversely affected by poorly-designed and/or implemented projects supported by these banks to be able to file claims through a formal accountability mechanism or forum to redress their grievances.

The term "accountability mechanism" in this article means an avenue for private individuals and groups to file claims against the institution for redress of their grievances on poorly-designed and/or implemented projects. Clearly the MDBs had always been "accountable" to their shareholders; the term is introduced here in the sense that public institutions have become increasingly directly accountable to publics in recent decades, and part of that trend has been the inclusion of international financial institutions (IFIs) with a development mandate. This article focuses on six MDB accountability mechanisms, that is, the World Bank Inspection Panel (WBIP), Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) Independent Investigation Mechanism (IIM), Asian Development Bank's (ADB) Accountability Mechanism of 2003 which replaced its Inspection Function of 1995, the Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO) Office of International Financial Corporation (IFC) and Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA), European Bank for Reconstruction and Development's (EBRD) Independent Recourse Mechanism (IRM) and African Development Bank's (AfDB) Independent Review Mechanism (IRM).

Outside MDBs, accountability mechanisms at several national fi nancial institutions with international activities have also been set up such as Japan Bank for International Corporation (JBIC), Nippon Export and Investment Insurance, Japan (NEXI), Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), and Overseas Private Investment Corporation, USA (OPIC). Over the past 15 years, there has been a proliferation of MDB accountability mechanisms, each having its own unique system in attempting to fix problem projects. Grievance claims filed with accountability mechanisms have been increasing over the years, and citizens are still clamoring for MDBs to adopt new approaches or ways to hear their voices and handle their grievances.