International development on the eve of the third millennium
First of all, thank you for having invited me to be with you today. Costa Rica is one of my favourite countries and I have long admired the work of PAHO. And these factors make being here as your guest a special honour and a great personal pleasure.
The title of your Congress is "Information Networking: Bridge to the Third Millennium". Now this is a very tantalising title. It speaks to the future - the third millennium -- these words sound both hopeful and inspirational. It refers to a bridge, a solid physical metaphor suggesting continuity between where we are and where we are going. And it tells us that information networking is the vehicle or means that will provide continuity and transport us from the second thousand years of Christendom into the third. So this is a most tantalising title.
The question is: are we convinced that the title has it right? If we are, then surely the task of this Congress is to concentrate essentially on one question - the how to do question -- how best to do information networking. I would suspect, however, that there are many doubts and concerns in this room. Some of you may be like me in finding the prospect of the new millennium rather bewildering. Also, some of you may question whether there will be very much continuity at all in the world that is unfolding. You may think that, rather than go across a bridge, we are all being forced to leap across a chasm and into what is unfamiliar and undesirable. And some of you may be looking with deep suspicion and even resentment at the new information technologies on which information networking will depend. Indeed, deep in the heart of hearts of a few of you may lie the instincts of a Luddite, anxious to smash the machines and go back to where things were. If some of you feel this way, you would not be alone. The indications across our world are that there are a great many who have feelings of trepidation about the next millennium and about technology.
The organisers of this Congress have asked me to speak to these issues. Specifically, the terms of reference which were sent to me asked me to do the following:
Your organisers, in other words, stopped just short of asking me to provide the definitive account of the evolution of human civilisation and of the human prospect for the next one thousand years!
I do exaggerate to make the point, but not by much.
And the point, of course, is that this is far too ambitious and certainly cannot be dealt with any degree of seriousness in 40 minutes. What I will try to do within the time available is far more modest. I will try: first, to provide a background and context on international development; second, to outline what I believe to be the nature of the real challenge to international development organisations like PAHO in this transition to a new millennium; third, to comment briefly on the new technologies and technological change; and fourth, to offer a brief word about libraries. I will attempt to be provocative in the dictionary definition referring to controversial ideas leading to thinking and discussion about interesting or exciting things.
The Current State of the International Development Effort
Let me turn, then, to the international development effort in which all of us are engaged.
It strikes me that if you examine the public reports of most international development organisations covering the past 5-10 years - whether bilateral, multilateral or non governmental -- you are likely find four things in common. First, most will claim with increasing stridency that development faces a crisis. Second, many present the crisis as essentially financial and appeal for much greater levels of funding in order to bring about development. Third, most organisations have been announcing that they are "reinventing, reengineering or transforming themselves". Fourth, we are all building synergies and new partnerships through information networking.
A major and highly lucrative new industry of management consultants has developed around and guides these common factors and directions. They counsel development organisations on the secrets of future success which include the preparation of new mission statements, strategic orientations, fifth disciplines, business plans, improving both image and presentation, and transformation to reach the new horizons that are aglow with technological possibilities. Not surprisingly, a lot of the literature which international development organisations are producing to define and present themselves to the public and to political leaders is beginning to look a lot like the literature of Proctor and Gamble or Microsoft.
The appeals that are made with a view to obtaining increased support for international development efforts are, of course, numerous and varied. There are, in general, however, two defining characteristics. The first is a positive message involving an appeal to nobility, to our humanity. Essentially, this message rests on the proposition that we should all want to make the world a better place and that we can do so. The second simply turns the message around and attempts to appeal to our fears. This message tells us that if we do not act to eliminate poverty, misery and disease and to save our environment then the consequences on us and on our children will be grave. These two defining characteristics may remind one of words once spoken by the American gangster, Al Capone: "More is accomplished with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word".
Now with the reengineering, transformation and fresh presentation that has been occurring and with all of the expert and expensive advice that has been provided, we would all wish to see evidence that the efforts are succeeding. Alas, the evidence does not provide much encouragement.
Take, for example, the recent publication, The Reality of Aid, based on an independent review of development co-operation for 1997-1998 by ACTIONAID, a leading European NGO. A representative sample of what appears in that publication appears below. The publication concludes that the decline in support for international development has moved from decline and into free fall. The international development effort, it tells us, is in a deepening crisis.
FROM THE REALITY OF AID - 1997-98
AUSTRALIA: "The new government....kept its election promise to cut the aid program. The 10% real terms reduction ..... represents the greatest cut in a decade."
BELGIUM: "For Belgian development cooperation, 1996 has been another..... lost year."
CANADA: "Repeated and substantial cuts....have been leading many....... To question .......Canadian development assistance..."
FRANCE: "While not reaching the devastating scale of the decline in Italy (42% in real terms) or the USA (27%), the volume of French aid fell more than any other donor..."
GERMANY: "....budget cuts of up to DM500m for the next budget......development cooperation could well fall to a 'negligible quantity'." JAPAN: "1996 became the year that Japan's ODA was cut dramatically. In dollars, Japanese aid has fallen by 35%....But from FY 1998 there is going to be an (even larger) decrease."
SWEDEN: "For decades, development cooperation constituted an important part of Swedish foreign policy; it was even a central issue within the overall social democratic project.......All that is now history .....The 1997 cut (30% was done without major protests from within Swedish society." ".
It appears that neither appeals for public and political support nor the new face of reengineered and transformed institutions is succeeding, if success is measured by financial commitments. So what are we to make of this?
Certainly it is not the case that development has ceased to be necessary. Over a billion of humanity still lives in poverty and about half that number in "absolute poverty"; by most accounts the gap between rich and poor is widening; the media remind us with frightening regularity of the risk of new pandemics resulting from the conditions of poverty and environmental destruction; and opinion surveys confirm that the idea of an "interdependent" world has taken hold in the public consciousness. How then do we explain the decline in development?
In my view, we can only begin to explain this by understanding that the new post Cold War context in which we are living has transformed dramatically and permanently the very framework that gave rise to the international development effort.
That framework and the socio-political foundations for international development emerged at the close of the Second World War. Development was part of a new age in internationalism. The political and intellectual leaders which brought this about had been formed by the traumas of economic depressions and World Wars and had united in the common cause of "never again". It was the political and economic order that they established that gave rise to the idea of universal development as a socio-political force. This idea was truly revolutionary and produced a totally new international mindset. Before this occurred, the prevailing international view was that most societies were distinct, non-comparable and destined to remain so; to understand most of them was the stuff of cultural anthropology. The new mindset placed all societies in the world for the first time on a single continuum - the continuum from least to most developed (defined, of course, by the norms of the most developed). All of humanity became comparable and all of us were headed to the same place.
The result has been that, for most of the last fifty years, we have witnessed an inspiring, publicly-funded experiment in international development, arguably the most noble experiment in human history. Its accomplishments have been remarkable when measured by such indices as life expectancy, infant survival, nutrition levels or even poverty elimination. Its failures are also well known and have been recorded in social disruptions, biodiversity loss and environmental destruction.
Whatever its accomplishments and failings, however, this great, publicly-funded experiment was built from and depended on a post-war order that has now largely ceased to exist. In his well known book, The Development Dictionary, Wolfgang Sachs puts it in the following dramatic terms: "The inspiring vision of world development is in ruins. Overtaken by forces that it failed to anticipate, it lives on only by the forces of institutional inertia".
This formulation by Sachs is, in my view, overstated; it is too journalistic for my liking. The point that I am making is that we have entered a qualitatively new phase in the international system. The further point is that the institutions and the practices of international development are largely unprepared for this. Development has not failed and virtually all major indicators show that this is the case. The development effort, however, has been overtaken by and risks being swept aside by a tidal force of new events.
If this assessment is correct, what is called for is nothing less than a fundamental re-appraisal of the very meanings of development and progress at a time of unprecedented turmoil in practically all aspects of human activity. This will not be easy, for the fact of today is that, inside or outside governments, there are no dramatic new ideas that command anything like the intellectual consensus or enthusiastic public support on issues of money, trade or development that existed following WWII.
The appropriate starting point for any re-appraisal is to place development issues in their new context of which some of the key elements are the following:
It seems to me, therefore, that the international development effort is today in very serious trouble. I have noted that a great deal of institutional effort has been and is being expended in the application of practices borrowed from business and industry, principally reengineering, repackaging or dressing up public relations with the help of expensive consultants. This may be good and necessary, but it is far from sufficient.
The reality is, as I have mentioned, that we are in a qualitatively new phase in the international order. Surely, the institutions founded expressly to bring about development should now be at the forefront of working through and providing guidance on the meaning of this for future development efforts. They have, after all, much success and a rich experience on which to draw. For the most part, we are not doing this. In his hopeful account of our times entitled "Birth of a New World", (subtitled 'An Open Moment for International Leadership'), the distinguished American scholar and internationalist Harland Cleveland provides convincing evidence that ours is indeed a world crying out for renewed social guidance. His is also a reminder to the international development community that we cannot hope to contribute to this unless we begin first by thinking clearly and by understanding the new context which confronts all of us. It is time for all of us to begin this and to do so together. The old Chinese proverb bears repeating: "If we don't change direction, we'll get to where we're going".
Globalisation: Order and Disorder
I would like to turn for a few minutes to globalisation. This is a word that did not even exist 15 years ago. It is a portentous and wonderful word that means precisely what the user says it means and it has become the most fashionable word of the 1990s. Just as poets and songwriters in an earlier age celebrated the rise of modern nationalism, so in our day governments, businesses, journalists, environmentalists, academics and international organisations write and sing hymns of praise to the global village. Globalisation is the new mantra and, barring a return to protectionism which is improbable at least in the short term, it is not going to go away.
Now what have international development organisations been saying about globalisation? Well, frankly, not much that we can be proud of. Most bilateral and multilateral institutions of international development have placed themselves at the forefront of sweeping claims of the benefits of globalisation. Other development agencies, mainly non-governmental, have situated themselves in resolute opposition to all aspects of globalisation. These opposing positions do not seem to have led to very much of the serious and patient study that is called for, to an open-minded search to understand what is happening, although the recent, dramatic and tragic events in East Asia may be exerting a positive influence in this regard.
Globalisation is most often portrayed by its advocates as an integrating and homogenising force, but the truth is much more complex in terms of its dynamics and impact. First, it is an ambiguous amalgam of potentially contradictory processes which promise both integration and disintegration, inclusion and exclusion, opportunities and problems, equalisation and unequalisation, creation and destruction, mobility and entrapment, order and instability. It is a deeply uneven process which operates at different levels through parallel processes of regionalisation; affects different regions and countries differentially and, within countries, different areas and social groups; and advances at different speeds across economic terrains (for example, more rapidly in financial than in labor flows). It is an unsettling process which imbues economic transactions, particularly in the realm of finance, with greater volatility and threatens to bring more uncertainty and insecurity into people's lives. It is a disempowering process in that it reduces the autonomous power of national governments, undermines the accountability which is the lifeblood of democratic politics and breaks up established social relationships in the realms of kinship and civil society. Significantly, these four characteristics of globalisation are evidenced in developing and industrially advanced economies alike.
What this says to me is that the presentation of globalisation as if it were a single phenomenon is a big part of the problem. There is not and is unlikely to be a single globalisation and the forces behind this phenomenon will almost certainly not lead inexorably to homogenisation. What we have and what we are likely to continue to see are many globalisations.
Does this not seem so logical when we pause to think about it? The phenomenon from which the globalisation metaphor derives is based on different and distinct happenings in countless separate places. Thus, we will continue to see multiple outcomes, different responses, new institutional arrangements, a complex variety of coping strategies, winners and losers, and new configurations of the included and the excluded.
Paul Streeten has provided us with a helpful starting point to thinking more clearly about this.
Globalisation (From Paul Streeten
Japan, Europe, North America
East and South East Asia
People with assets
People with high skills
Professional, managerial and technical people
Those independent of public services
Sellers of technologically sophisticated products
Many developing countries
Most of Africa
People without assets
People with few skills
Those dependent on public services
Sellers of primary and standard manufactured products
As mentioned, the above framework may serve as a starting point. Paul Streeten would be the first to caution that some of his classifications may be wrong. He would underscore that what is important is to increase our understanding of the complex and subtle ways in which the global and the local interact, influence one another and establish both synergies and conflicts in a heterogeneous and fast-changing world. Again, this suggests strongly to me that we need to begin think in terms of globalisations and not of globalisation.
Now, what does all this imply for the institutions engaged in international cooperation? A great deal obviously, but I will limit myself to two major implications.
Globalisations, then, will define much of the context for international development efforts in the next millennium. The institutions involved in these efforts confront issues that are of a greater complexity and nuance than anything known previously. Included in globalisations are differing visions of the relationship between nature and humankind, the transformation of markets, new pandemics and the return of ancient scourges, spiritual/religious upheavals and rejections of "modernity", vast flows of international labour and refugees, the unprecedented production of wealth and at the same time increasing social exclusion and poverty.
In an earlier time of considerable turbulence, the Spanish philosopher, Jose Ortega y Gasset, remarked that: "We don't understand what is happening to us and that is what is happening to us." His assessment strikes me as especially pertinent today. On the eve of the next millennium, humanity is both witness and victim of the most sweeping process of change since the industrial revolution.
In the new century, development and progress will not mean the same things that they have meant over the past fifty years. New concepts will emerge and with them the understanding of a vast new complexity of multiple realities. For the institutions of international development that were founded and took their shape and definition in a different era, the question is whether they will be swept aside into irrelevance or exercise leadership in producing the new understandings and the redefinition that will take place with or without them. There is, of course, no choice, although producing that leadership and the innovation that it will need will clearly not be easy. For to quote from Keynes: "The difficulty lies not in new ideas, but in escaping from old ones". Perhaps more apt is the challenge once issued by Albert Einstein: "We cannot solve the problems we have created with the same thinking that created them".
What Do the New Technologies Mean For Development?
Enough then on the state of development. Let me now turn more specifically to information technologies. There is, of course, a great deal of "hype" about these and many international development organisations have joined in that hype. For the most part development statements on this subject are along the lines that the new information technologies will place people everywhere, from downtown Manhattan to the remotest village in Central Africa, on the same footing. The more romantic and poetic expressions use such words as: "The new technologies are placing all of humankind on the level playing field for the first time in history". Well, it is a nice thought, but as I have tried to make clear, the truth is that globalisation simply is not working that way. As South Africa's Vice-President Thabo Mbeke curtly observed on this subject: "One half of humanity has never used a telephone".
If we think about it for just a moment, this current hype about the new technologies is not at all surprising. In Western societies from the time of the Industrial Revolution new technology and its mastery have been taken as the main key to human progress. This is not to suggest that there have not been detractors. The Luddites from the textile craft guilds of early 19th century England smashed new machines that they believed -- quite rightly as it turned out -- would eliminate their jobs and take away their livelihoods. That attitude towards new technology has never completely disappeared. Over the years, many labour unions have fought against the introduction of new technology.
So there have been detractors, a few of them at least. But, by and large, these have been the exceptions. For the past 200 years, a foundation stone of liberal thought and of Western civilisation itself has been a profound belief in the inevitability of human progress through advances in technology coupled, of course, with appropriate education and learning systems.
The intellectual and political roots of the international development effort itself are found in this faith in technology. The popular wisdom following the Second World War, and especially in the 1960's as country after country became independent states, was that progress for all was inevitable. Development was essentially a matter of applying technology, again with the right mix of education and training. It all seemed so logical. After all, were these not the factors that separated economically developed countries from most of their underdeveloped neighbours?
It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the new information technologies that are allowing globalisations to occur should be held up as the new panacea, as the key to the elimination of poverty, misery and want. The conventional wisdom tells us that the horizon is glowing with the new technological possibilities that will solve our problems.
And the new technology is advancing at a breathtaking pace. Allow me to pluck a paragraph from the 150th anniversary issue of The Economist:
"Early in the next decade, the central processing units of 16 Cray YMP computers, now costing collectively some $320 million, will be manufacturable for under $100 on a single microchip. Such a silicone sliver will contain approximately one billion transistors, compared with some 20 million in current leading-edge devices. Meanwhile, the 4kHz telephone lines to America's homes and offices will explode into some 25 million possible hertz of fibre optics."
Now this is where I would like to end my speech, at the part where we know exactly what we need to do and where, thanks to new technology the Holy Grail is at last within our grasp and where everybody can live happily ever after. Unfortunately, what we would all like to end as a fairy tale has developed a few major complications. The fact is that some of the calmest, most measured, most logical thinkers that I have been lucky enough to meet in the course of my work are looking at both the new technologies and at the spectre of the 21st century with alarm.
Why? Well an obvious first factor involves world population. Even the most optimistic of demographic projections indicate the world population will reach 10-11 billion at some point during the next century. The biggest obstacle to building a better world in my lifetime - and in the lifetime of most of the people in this room - has been and remains a function of the explosion in population over the past half century.
Consider the following: In 1997, according to ILO statistics, there were throughout the world about 90 million new job seekers. The demographic structure that we currently have tells us that in less than 20 years that figure in one year alone will be approximately 700 million. Almost all of these will be in so-called developing countries. Let me put this another way: more people will soon be trying to find work in developing countries in a 2-3 year period than the entire global population at the end of the last century.
This is complication enough, but matters are, in fact, much more complicated. This explosion in people entering the workforce is happening at a time when we are not at all certain what the new technologies will mean for employment, jobs, income and security.
Now this is a hotly debated subject and an exceedingly complex one. Technological change is not new and history tells us how disruptive and painful such change can be. The fact is, however, that previous examples of technological change have always created new jobs to replace jobs lost to technology. The questions we need to ask are whether that is going to happen this time and what kinds of jobs or work are going to be created.
Robert White, President of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, is naturally a great admirer of technology. He points out that - and I quote - "technological advance has been the most powerful job creation mechanism [that] society has devised. "But he now asks: "Will the rate of creation of new industries be adequate to provide the jobs that are lost as a result of productivity increases?" And he answers his own question with chilling observations of a few big winners from new labour-saving technologies and of expanding armies of losers from those same technologies. And White concludes by stating that: "... we are witnessing the collision of philosophies and beliefs about economic growth, social equity and technology."
And Business Week magazine, a major voice of North America's private sector, used its 65th anniversary issue in late 1994 to focus on the new technologies and their meaning for all of us. The report echoes the anxiety of Robert White and at one point wonders if we are not headed toward a world in which half the population is permanently overworked, and the other half permanently unemployed.
These are frightening thoughts and this is very serious stuff.
The new technologies are certainly creating jobs. The software industry, for instance, didn't used to exist and is now a major employer. It does not appear, however, to be the major employer that the conventional wisdom would lead us to believe. Microsoft and Intel, for example, are the two giants of the computer industry, but in 1996 they reported a combined total of only 48,100 employees world-wide. This is small compared with Ford (323,300), General Motors (721,000) or Kodak (132,600). Indeed, all of the computer firms (hardware and software) listed on Wall Street have a combined world-wide grand total of 128,000 employees, less than half the number employed by Ford alone.
There are other data from the United States that might cause us to share the concerns of Robert White. As a general hypothesis, one would expect that the explosion in information technologies, especially in the United States, would create an especially high demand for engineers and that such demand would be reflected in higher average incomes. The data show the opposite: between 1968 and 1995 the median salary, including benefits, of engineers with ten years experience declined 13 percent in constant dollars.
As I mentioned, the relationship between technological change and employment is exceedingly complex. This is all the more so today in our world of shrinking national borders. We need much better information and to invest in learning a great deal more about this.
Whatever that additional and improved information may add to our understanding, however, one thing does seem quite apparent: our technical creativity is racing far ahead of our social creativity. We do not suffer from a shortage of talent when it comes to producing new technologies or in the organisation required to use and to innovate around technologies. In my view, what we do suffer from is a dangerous shortage of talent in understanding what it all means, what it will mean for our children, how to spread the gains and minimise the losses, what it will mean to society, to community, to our capacity to govern ourselves, to culture and to the human spirit. These are the issues on which global leadership is required and on which the very strongest of leadership should be forthcoming from international development organisations. In his recent study Has Globalisation Gone Too Far?, Dani Rodrik concludes that it is precisely these issues that must be urgently addressed and that continued failure to do so will produce social disintegration.
I must be very clear here. I am in no way arguing that international development organisations should reject the new technologies. Quite the contrary - to do so would be a breathtaking act of suicidal stupidity. The technology does offer a way forward. There is no shortage of information. The era in which we live creates mountains of information on daily basis. One estimate goes so far as to suggest that we now produce and transmit more information in a single week than in the entire 19th century (although I do not know for the life of me how one would arrive at such an estimate). The application of technology is urgently required to sift and search these mountains and to distribute the information more equitably. Libraries can and should be at the forefront of such an effort. At my institute, the Institute of Development Studies, we have the largest and most comprehensive development library in Europe. We are working hard and quickly to make it a global information service, fully interactive and responsive in real time to schools, researchers and policy makers throughout the world and principally in developing countries. We need to do this in Latin America and I would like to suggest that IDS and the 600 libraries and documentation centres of BIREME begin an immediate conversation on how we can join forces on this.
The point, then, is not whether development organisations should or should not embrace the new technologies. It is that the technologies can produce benefits only if they are accompanied by a wide and diversified range of social innovations. The forces that I have referred to in this talk - the forces of globalisations and technological change - are powerful and pervasive. They bring with them new promise and grave risk. The eve of the third millennium is a time for serious reflection and for the clearing of our heads before it is too late. It is a time which should call forth from us the same kind of innovative energies that we witnessed at the close of WW II when international development and its institutions were born. For much of humanity, a bridge to the next millennium will depend on whether those energies are found.
Whether international development organisations, including the one that I have the honour to head, survive and, indeed, deserve to survive should depend on our response to this challenge. We are doing a very poor job of it at the moment. I should like to close by returning to Jose Ortega y Gasset who was, I believe, one of the clearest thinkers and greatest visionaries of this rapidly fading 20th century. He wrote the following:
"The need to create sound synthesis and systematisations of knowledge .. will call out a kind of scientific genius which hitherto has existed only as an aberration: the genius of integration. Of necessity this means specialisation, as all creative effort inevitably does; but this time (the specialising will be) in the construction of the whole."
Jose Ortega y Gasset