The Challenge of Developing Countries from the Bottom-up
International Conference, McGill University, Montreal
21-22 March 2013. Centre Mont-Royal, 2200 Mansfield.
Arguably, the biggest change in development policy in the past 25 years has been a greater commitment to promoting community participation in the design and implementation of development programs. This remarkable degree of consensus within the development community is unprecedented in many respects and has contributed to the emergence of a myriad of development alternatives that offer great promise for improving the quality of peoples’ lives in the communities in which they live. Many of these alternatives were originally developed in the global South and later adopted by the international development community as part of its repertoire of “best practices.” They include, among others, micro-finance, fair trade and conditional cash transfer social policies, as well as new institutions of local governance such as participatory budgeting and associated mechanisms designed to ensure local government accountability to the citizenry.
This undeniable positive change in development thinking, however, has often not led to concomitant improvements in development trends at the national level. Available evidence suggests that under appropriate circumstances, these policy innovations can enhance the quality of participants’ lives, but are limited in terms of their sustainability and their ability to raise entire populations’ standard of living sufficiently above the poverty line so as to offer long term economic security. At the same time, opinion polls from around the world indicate a growing distancing between citizens and their national governments, underscoring how participation, at best, remains localized and, at worst, is low and even decreasing at all levels of governance. Perhaps the best evidence of this need is the rising dissatisfaction with national development policies and the national governments responsible for them, beginning most dramatically with the Arab Spring, but it is hardly limited to the Middle East. This suggests that there is an urgent need to devise policies for national development that build on the promise of these local alternatives while overcoming their limits.
Such policies need to be national in scope and cannot be developed exclusively in the North or South, but will require new forms of genuine collaboration that reflect the necessary role for the South in addressing issues of international development. Solutions will inevitably need to address economic sustainability and resource generation (profitability), institutional design, social structure, prevailing cultural norms, particularly relating to gender, and environmental sustainability, among others. They will require a more holistic approach to development that seeks to balance the role of the state and market, local, regional and national governments, as well as individual and collective initiative. They cannot be reduced to “scaling up” given that the constraints lay on a variety of inter-related dimensions, which will also entail setting priorities and longer term perspectives on development that go beyond the Western budgetary and electoral cycles that condition international development assistance. Ultimately, such development policies will raise fundamental questions of governance.
To begin to address these needs and challenges, the conference is intended to start laying out a framework for new approaches to achieving sustainable national development that build on local successes in a coordinated fashion in order to contribute to higher standards of living for entire societies. Through the participation of experts from the non-profit, private and public sectors, local and transnational civil society actors, and the international development community, the conference will bring together a myriad of experiences intended to generate a rich but critical discussion of more effective strategies for generating national development in sustainable ways. More specifically, the conference and workshop will focus on three questions:
- What is the most effective balance between the state and the private sector in achieving sustainable national development;
- While “one size fits all” strategies must be avoided, are there general lessons to be learned and that can serve as a basis for more effective coordination among the various stakeholders in achieving sustainable national development; and
- What are the most effective policies for assisting particularly vulnerable groups (youth, women, indigenous populations) to better integrate into national economic, social and political processes in order to ensure that they benefit from national development in sustainable ways.
Conference participants will be asked to address these questions from the perspective of their own particular expertise and experiences. People making formal presentations will also be requested to prepare short policy briefs (2500-5000 words) based on their presentations in order to better inform current policy debates. These policy briefs will be widely distributed and made available free of charge to the general public on the ISID website.