Video: First #DevtIDEAS Debate online.

Launching Development Ideas with our first #DevtIDEAS Debate!


International Development: how experience changes our ideas

Over the past 50 years, thinking about “international development” evolved with the practical experience of developing countries. This dynamic continues today as facts on-the-ground transform the ideas and politics of development. The speakers highlight three current examples: the debate on aid to middle-income countries; the shift in concern from absolute poverty to relative inequality; and, the changing sets of actors and problems in international development.

Watch the video of the online debate above.


  • Ravi Kanbur, T.H. Lee Professor of World Affairs, Cornell University
  • Rohinton Medhora, President, Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI)
  • Bruce Currie-Alder, Regional Director, Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC)

June 6, 2014 (13H00 UTC — 16H00 Amman, 14H00 London, 9H00 New York)

The session introduced the book “International Development: Ideas, Experience, and Prospects.” Ravi Kanbur began by exploring some of the key changes in development thinking since 1990 and the “Washington Consensus.” He notes that the traditional model of the ‘conventional nation-state” or the “Westphalian state” is breaking down and large state entities discover that there are populations within them that have been left behind by development. We need a new way to think about development assistance; 25 years ago, almost 90% of world’s poor lived in low-income countries, today 3/4 of the poor live in middle-income countries. He uses the example of India, which, despite its progress, still has 400 million poor people. So what is the global moral responsibility to the poor in a country which is no longer considered poor according to official definitions?

Rohinton Medhora followed up by asking what might the international development field of study look like in the next 50 years? He notes that poverty alleviation is not where it’s at anymore – its now about managing wealth and growth. He predicts that relative inequality will come to dominate the discussion both within and between countries with four key points:
1. The success of lower income countries – everyone around the world is becoming richer, but some faster than others. That’s what we mean when we say inequality has worsened; the context is different now.
2. The tradeoff between inequality & growth isn’t fatalistic. The Latin American example demonstrates that inequality isn’t necessarily a given; but we have a richer toolbox to address this than we used to have.
3. It’s not just about income, wealth and money metric measures. Fractures tend to be regional, ethnic and religious; growth on average might be a necessary factor but not the only factor needed for social stability and progress.
4. Trends in inequality across social groups across countries matter.

Bruce Currie-Alder describes current thinking on international development as “pulling apart” rather than pulling together. Even with increasing consensus, there is divergence in terms of what is the nature of the problems we’re talking about. He outlines three sets of problems/dialogues: sovereign – how do we use the national wealth; common – the collective response to trouble abroad; and, foreign-tensions between those that are speaking about one set of problems with those speaking about others. There are big opportunities for mutual learning between countries, not only to address issues right now but how societies might face these challenges in the near future.

Some of the key Q&As asked by the audience:

  • Foreign aid was based on helping poor countries. Now that the majority of poor people live in ‘middle income’ countries, does this mean individual giving (by rich in India or abroad) is or should supplant bilateral aid?
  • Inequity arises from entrenched political and financial interests deeply vested in the global status quo. What are the underlying political determinants of development generally and what forms of global governance can move the world towards equity?
  • Development is increasingly concerned with ‘relative inequality’ rather than ‘absolute poverty’. To what extent are development organizations fit for this purpose? What (re)arrangements of existing institutions or global governance might need to occur?


#DevtIDEAS Debates are a series of live chats organized by Development Ideas — a space for thinkers and practitioners to learn, share and debate about international development. The site is facilitated by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), in collaboration with the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and the United Nations University (UNU).