During the 1940s and 1950s, low-income developing countries began to realize that they could no longer afford to borrow capital and needed more-favorable lending terms than offered by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD). At the onset of his inaugural term in 1949, then-President of the United States Harry S. Truman assembled an advisory group to suggest ways to accomplish his Point Four Program, of which a significant component was an effort to strengthen developing countries, especially those nearest to the Eastern Bloc, to dissuade them from aligning with other communist states. The advisory group recommended an international mechanism that would function somewhere in between providing strictly-loaned and strictly-granted funds. The UN and United States government published reports expressing support for the creation of a multilateral, concessional lending program for the poorest developing countries. However, the United States was largely unresponsive and ultimately distracted by its involvement in the Korean War and unconvinced that development needed greater financial stimulation.
Developing countries grew increasingly frustrated with not being able to afford IBRD lending and perceived the Marshall Plan as a comparatively generous gift to European nations. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, developing countries began calling for the United Nations (UN) to create a development agency that would offer technical support and concessional financing, with a particular desire that the agency adhere to other UN bodies' convention of each country having one vote as opposed to a weighted vote. However, the United States ultimately opposed proposals of that nature. As the United States grew more concerned over the growth of the Cold War, it made a concession in 1954 at the behest of its Department of State by backing the conception of the International Finance Corporation (IFC). Despite the launch of the IFC in 1956, developing countries persisted in demanding the creation of a new concessional financing mechanism and the idea gained traction within the IBRD. Then-President of the IBRD Eugene R. Black, Sr. began circulating the notion of an International Development Association, as opposed to an idea of a concessional named the Special United Nations Fund for Economic Development (SUNFED) governed by the United Nations. Paul Hoffman, the Marshall Plan's former Administrator, proposed the idea of a soft-loan facility within the World Bank, where the US would have a preponderant voice in the allocation of such loans. Democratic Senator Mike Monroney of Oklahoma supported this idea. As Chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on International Finance, Monroney proposed a resolution recommending a study of the potential establishment of an International Development Association to be affiliated with the IBRD. Monroney's proposal was more preferred received within the United States than the SUNFED. The resolution passed the senate in 1958, and then-U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert B. Anderson encouraged other countries to conduct similar studies. In 1959, the World Bank's Board of Governors approved a U.S.-born resolution calling for the drafting of the articles of agreement. SUNFED later became the Special Fund and merged with the Expanded Programme of Technical Assistance to form the United Nations Development Programme.
By the end of January 1960, fifteen countries signed the articles of agreement which established the International Development Association. The association launched in September of that same year with an initial budget of $913 million ($7.1 billion in 2012 dollars). Over the next eight months following its launch, the IDA grew to 51 member states and loaned $101 million ($784.2 million in 2012 dollars) to four developing countries.