What Next for Development Thinking?
The future of development thinking needs to understand the intersections and parallels between ideas and policy, as well as the drivers and trends, that are shaping the development agenda.
One fundamental change concerns the direction ideas flow. In the past, development thinking and research was mainly driven from the West. This is less the case as emerging economies gave rise to a multipolar global economy. Their participation in global policy, and the differing nature of issues they bring to the table, is bringing welcome heterogeneity and experimentalism into thinking on development. The challenge for practitioners is to design research approaches and methodologies, and elaborate concepts and theories, that are relevant to emerging and developing country contexts.
Another factor contributing to this heterogeneity is the declining importance of International Financial Institutions (IFIs) and donors in shaping the development agenda. Development thinking is increasingly driven by internal driven change and domestic resources mobilization. While concepts such as impact investing and strategic philanthropy are still being elaborated, it is clear that the idea of tapping private resources already exercises an influence on the imagination of what is possible in development thought and practice.
The shifting geography of poverty and the vulnerability of divided societies strongly suggest that economic growth alone no longer drives the development agenda. Coping with climate change, demographic transitions, and ungoverned spaces, the emerging development agenda is quite different from what was in the past. Achieving equity, poverty reduction, resilience, social protection and environmental sustainability is beginning to take precedence over economic growth. In the developing world, the increasing levels of horizontal and vertical inequality are pushing a growing emphasis on achieving an inclusive economy. In India, policy thinking is shifting towards pro-equity and inclusiveness in order to solidify recent growth. In Europe, recent crises renewed interest in social protection in order to mitigate the negative repercussions of austerity and unemployment.
There is also renewed interest in the role of human development and the equal participation of women in advancing inclusive growth. Experiences like Japan and South Korea show how investment in education, health, and women’s rights are essential for economic expansion. Yet there is still a significant gap in our understanding of the interplay between culture, discrimination, and participation. Bangladesh’s impressive gains in life expectancy, school enrollment and immunization, attests to the importance of empowering women and girls. Yet more attention (and commitment) is needed to gender within future development thought.
In many ways, development thinking is metamorphosing due to a changing landscape, within shifting opportunities to pursue development and an increased porosity of the social sciences. More attention is now devoted to home-grown solutions and citizen-led efforts empowered in part by a continued expansion in technology. The future of development thought is undoubtedly becoming more open, rich, and diverse.