Cover of International Development: Ideas, Experience, & Prospects (Oxford University Press, 2014).
Cover of International Development: Ideas, Experience, & Prospects (Oxford University Press, 2014).

CIGI President Rohinton Medhora is the co-editor of a new volume entitled International Development: Ideas, Experience, & Prospects (Oxford University Press, 2014). This week, we speak with him to learn more about the aims and approach of this publication, which includes over 80 contributors from around the world.

CIGI: How has the development framework evolved since World War II? And how might it develop in the next 20 years?

Rohinton Medhora: Development has changed in two ways, both of which this book covers: first, development thinking, which is the academic and theoretical side; and second, development practice, which is how countries go about becoming richer and fuller.

If I consider both of these aspects from World War II to the present day, the main developments are 60+ years of experience and, with almost no exception, every part of the world is richer than it used to be. Some parts of the world have become so rich that they are now powers unto themselves. South Korea, Taiwan (Province of China) and Singapore, for example, are now very much part of the developed world. The second way that the development framework has changed is — and this I suspect is the more operative one — we have a fuller sense of what development means.

One of the motivations of this new book was that economists, political scientists, sociologists and so forth have their own views of development. In the real world, we need a more integrated view of what it means. That is why we are so proud to have Amartya Sen write the foreword because he has been preeminent in creating a very broad spectrum view of development — which is not “just” about getting richer or becoming freer or healthier; it is about how all of those things connect with each other. This is an understanding that we have always known, but it is much more pronounced today than it was 60 years ago.

The third way that our field has changed — and one that I would suggest the West finds most troubling — is that the current success stories in development did not achieve success by following classic Western, liberal nostrums. One example is the “Washington Consensus” from the late 1980s: if only a country followed this guide, it would grow and develop. And yet, as we cite in our book, it is very hard to relate the success of South Korea, China and Chile, for example, to such advice.

In other words, there are different paths to success and what we now need to do is be humble, accept this reality, and understand which paths work when and why. Our book is an attempt to distill our thoughts about all of this.

CIGI: What impact has the broadening of the international development paradigm had on the field — has it benefited or suffered from the introduction, inclusion or exclusion of new concepts, actors and goals?

Medhora: Even if I thought that such-and-such an actor was not a good thing, I do not think anyone can pick and choose, because your list would not equal mine. Our point is not to take sides.

But what two or three concepts have really decentralized development? I would say the most obvious one is Internet technology, social media, and the rapid dissemination of news and information. The almost zero cost of accessing the worldwide web has dealt more people into the process of development.

The other concept connected to this is globalization more broadly: what happens in your part of the world now affects me here, and vice versa. We argue in the book that there are more of those spillover effects now than before, whether it is in climate change, information technology, health, or financial and trade issues. And so, global governance is a much bigger feature of development today than it might have been previously. That is a funny thing to say about a book that starts with the Bretton Woods Conference and the creation of the modern United Nations System, but we are willing to state that, at the very least, the organizations we have today dating back several decades are not necessarily the ones we want to address tomorrow’s problems.

CIGI: What impact do you and your colleagues hope this volume will have on scholars and practitioners of international development?

Medhora: The main thing, purely from the point of view of the book, is that we hope many people enjoy bits and pieces of it — and that a very few number of people enjoy all 940 pages of it. It would be masochistic to expect that.

The second impact would be that this is a good reference book for graduate-level courses in development, international relations and economics. It is a very good book for any organization working internationally, whether it is a bank, government agency or Internet service provider — there is something in it for everyone.

But the question of impact goes beyond these points. What is the real likely impact? We are reflecting on what we think the state of the field is and likely to be, and we are forecasting six issues, which can be found in a working paper that laid the foundation for the new book. I paraphrase these six points below:

  • Continued globalization in finance and production and the rise of the middle class the world over will work to largely unify the development agenda. The middle class of all countries will have an important part to play in development as a whole, by cooperating or hindering opportunities with elites and disadvantaged citizens.
  • It will not be just national policy, but also events — such as climate change and migration — with regional and global implications that will affect the development discourse.
  • National inequality — as well as horizontal inequality across gender, ethnicity, religion and region — will have great importance on development policy, political stability and national cohesion.
  • Neither autocracies nor technocracies will prevail, as global forces and advancements in social networking technology will put pressure on the nature of the state and the traditional consolidation of power. Citizens will look to play a more engaged role in the policy process, through new communications platforms that are fostering new collective identities.
  • International cooperation will see a fundamental shift, as developing countries seek greater agency in outdated post-World War II institutions traditionally dominated by industrialized countries. New institutions and approaches, through social technology for example, will be created to address contemporary issues, such as climate change.
  • Analysis and insight on international development theory and practice will come from a variety of disciplines and regions, which will reframe the traditional North-South dialogue and have much broader relevance to all countries with development and inequality issues.

The broader issue is that we believe that the era of big-think — the Washington Consensus, Dependency Theory — is over. There was a period in the 1950s, 60s and 70s when we felt that we needed an all-encompassing theory or framework to explain development the way you could explain gravity. Our view is that with so many varied experiences, there is no single theory.

People will use the tools at their disposal to create their own societies, and they may look quite different even though their values might all be the same at the end. This is not the same as saying the field of development does not exist anymore. If anything, we argue it is stronger than ever and has moved to different levels.

For additional information on International Development: Ideas, Experience, & Prospects, please visit:

The broader issue is that we believe that the era of big-think — the Washington Consensus, Dependency Theory — is over.
The opinions expressed in this article/multimedia are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of CIGI or its Board of Directors.
  • Rohinton P. Medhora is president of the Centre for International Governance Innovation.