IDLO was preceded by the International Development Law Institute (IDLI) which was established in 1983 as a non-governmental organization (NGO) to provide training and technical assistance to lawyers and other legal professionals from developing countries.
It was set up at the initiative of two American lawyers, L. Michael Hager and William T. Loris. French lawyer, Gilles Blanchi, joined Hager and Loris shortly afterwards to become the third co-founder of IDLI.
The well-known Egyptian jurist and then Head of the OPEC Fund for International Development, Dr. Ibrahim F.I. Shihata was among the few people at that time to recognize the nexus between law and development. He helped garner international support and seed funding to get IDLI off the ground and became the first Chairman of its Board of Directors, occupying the position until his untimely death in 2001.
Michael Hager served as the Institute’s first Director. During Hager’s tenure, IDLI’s reputation grew as a legal training institute, delivering a range of courses on skills training and specialized topics to thousands of legal professionals from across the developing world.
In 1988, IDLI’s status was transformed from a NGO to that of an intergovernmental organization when eight governments came together to sign the Agreement for the Establishment of the International Development Law Institute. The founding Member Parties were France, Italy, the Netherlands, Philippines, Senegal, Sudan, Tunisia and the United States of America.
In 2000, Michael Hager stepped down and the Board of Directors appointed William Loris to lead the Organization for the next five years, renewing his mandate in 2005 for a second five-year term.
In 2001, IDLI was granted permanent Observer Status at the United Nations General Assembly. The following year, the Member Parties revised the Establishment Agreement, broadening the mandate to include promoting the rule of law and sustainable development and renaming the Institute as the International Development Law Organization (IDLO).
"A complement to economic reform is judicial reform and legal reform. Without effective laws, without effective structures, there may not be investment, there may not be growth." - Dr. Ibrahim F.I. Shihata, The World Bank in a Changing World, 1995