Louise Stoddard: Defining a moment and calling for change

Development Policy02 Sep 2009Louise Stoddard

As the first plenary started in yet another Octagon building and the DSA delegates assembled, we were warmly welcomed to Ulster University and Lawrence Haddad, President of the DSA and director of the Institute of Development Studies opens the conference. ‘Is this a defining moment?’ asked Haddad as he encouraged delegates to revaluate their basic underlying assumptions about the way the world works and the role of development within this. In one minute the floor buzzed with conversation as we participated in what felt like mass group therapy, reassessing our core beliefs. One delegate said he felt that the crisis has questioned the very idea of development, and a massive change was needed. Haddad listed three reassesments including that the current system of global governance was no longer a sufficient to enable us to just ‘muddle through’ until something better comes along.

Charles Gore from UNCTAD then took the stand for the main presentation and argued that the current crisis was having a major economic impact on developing countries. A statistic generally unreported in the media shows that the World Bank estimates that GDP per capita will fall 2.9% in developing countries if China and India are excluded. He argued that this will have significant social ramifications such as increased unemployment. The impact of this fall will be large and prolonged and mark the end of a global development cycle and the start of a period of uncertainty for some years. His key point is that a paradigm shift is needed, one of global sustainable development.

This shift should include and consider the root causes of crisis, not just financial systems but ideology and inequality within institutions. Gore highlighted that market fundamentalism has led to the deregulation of financial markets which is increasing inequality within institutions. This in turn has caused global outlet demand and low levels of investment resulting in the eventual savings collapse. He called for global interdependence of institutions. The voice of developing counties and new knowledge architecture has resulted in a technology transformation, room must be made within a new paradigm for this technological growth. Finally he argued that there is a significant challenge in mitigating climate change and also reducing global income inequalities.

There was a very brief period for questions, which was a shame after such a comprehensive presentation. Perhaps for me the most important issue raised was about the voice of the development community. Would any one listen to us if we were to put forward a new paradigm when they haven’t always listened to us before? Gore recognised from the questioning that within the conference there was a general sense that change should occur. He asked if he was correct in this assumption and no one disagreed. This recognition of the need for change wasn’t an ‘Obama moment’ but it was a rare event at such a gathering. If change doesn’t happen, Gore said, then it will be very hard for us to enter into the next upstream and move out of the current crisis. Gore finished with a series of cartoon which defined the crisis through his eyes. Perhaps for me the most striking of these was a cartoon which read ‘which way for development practise?’ Below was a picture of a seemingly out of control roller coaster where each slump became deeper.