Development Paradoxes – the difficulties of marrying growth with local economic development and poverty reduction

In spite of economic growth and continuous knowledge development in many quarters of the Globe, including Africa, fundamental changes towards sustainable development are yet to materialize. In particular, the processes of progress seem to elude millions of poor people in developing countries. Paradoxically, the achievements and success stories to date whether political, economic, social or cultural from around the Globe co-exist with increasing inequality, environmental degradation and poverty. The conundrum is obviously why? The FAU-DDRN Conference 2014 seeks to address these development paradoxes and to shed some light on possible explanations.

Though not exclusive, the conference aims to address a set of core themes – with each their paradox – that each play a large role as to why the situation is as it is:

Politically, the experiences from e.g. the Asian Development States, including China and Vietnam show that development and large scale changes can happen. But do the same opportunities exist for other developing countries and if not – then why? The Global financial crises indicate that neo-liberal policies have limitations and flaws, and yet they appear to remain popular in many developing countries. Experience from e.g. the Nordic countries suggests  that emphasizing resource diversification and reallocation by active governments can decrease levels of inequality and poverty and reduce violence, and yet  many governments and aid donors seem to pursue a ‘laissez-fair’ and at most an ‘enabling role’ in developing countries. The question is what the alternative(s) is/are? What constitutes relevant and needed development policies anno 2014?

Technologically, major advances have taken place in numerous fields most pronounced in IT and mobile phones. Examples of ‘re-engineering’ where the innovations from developing countries are implemented in the developed countries are growing by the day. Still, many developing countries are in need of upgrading their technology base and the capabilities of their private sector. Technology transfer has been viewed as a core part of instigating more sustainable tracks of development and praised for the potential. However, examples of inappropriate, unsustainable technologies which do not become embedded in the business sectors in the developing countries continue to be found. Is the short coming due to the form, whether FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) or aid? Or is this due (lacking) absorptive capacity in many developing countries and insufficient national systems of innovation? And what is the role of local innovations and spread of technology, which have successfully been embedded in local context and are actively used by local firms?

Economically, the private sector has been called the 'panacea to development, being supposed to take the driver's seat', but the developments over the last +/- 15 years show that it is not. Is the answer to bring governments back in? Or does the answer lie with a different role of the private sector maybe in tandem with governments and civil society? Which roles for business to play in development, e.g. in terms of Bottom-of-the-Pyramid approaches and CSR initiatives? Experiences show that a strong local private sector and capitalist class is important for broad based local economic development, but in many developing countries the local private sector is weak. In overcoming this challenge, some argue to involve civil society e.g. in terms of promoting Markets for the Poor in order to address the growing level of inequality and poverty. In spite of critique, the natural resource boom drives a lot of the present growth, so a question is how to make best use of it? Simultaneously, manufacturing continues to be modest in many countries. While the ability to instigate such development seems limited in many developing countries, the question is whether it is necessary for long term sustainable development?

Socially and environmentally, though substantial experience of the benefits of social and environmental protection is found, few improvements apart for a minority of people in the developing countries seem to take place. Right based approaches, among civil society and in the private sector on safety and health as well as labor & human rights, are often promoted from the Global North, while voices from the Global South tend to be critical and promote economic development, job creation and income. Is the seemingly limited impact on social and environmental challenges because of western standards being imposed in developing countries, where the norms and values are different and there still is a lot to learn regarding how to build this from the local conditions? Or does it have more to do with resistance from local governments who pursue other agendas? Is the meagre outcome because the economic realities continue to dominate and little scope is found beyond the daily fight to keep the consequences of poverty at bay? Or is this due to e.g. inadequate educational systems found in many countries?

Educationally and culturally, continued praise goes to the role of knowledge in societies, but still the educational systems in many countries are conservative, highly under-resourced and not prioritized by developing country governments. Experiences tell that updated curricula providing relevant skills are appreciated in many countries; still, the situation in many developing countries is one of an outdated curriculum aimed at producing administrative capacities for urban job positions. What are the obstacles to change this situation? The need among growing number of children and youth is a revised, up-to-date curriculum with provision of practical skills which are applicable in the local peri-urban and rural areas both in primary, secondary and vocational training levels. And where are the relevant examples of new and innovative approaches to education and skills development in developing countries found?