UNDP: A Rising 'South' the Big Story in Development Today

Experts point to educating women as major driver of progress

NEW YORK, May 8, 2013 — Fast-rising new powers of the developing world are rapidly shifting global dynamics. While economic gains are lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty, the increasing influence of the "Global South" extends beyond economic growth, with developing countries taking on leadership roles in innovation, social policy, and entrepreneurial creativity. A panel of experts discussed the future of the "Global South" and the implications for the world stage in an event here co-sponsored by the UNDP Human Development Report Office.

Khalid Malik, Director of the UNDP Human Development Report Office, delivered an opening presentation highlighting some of the key issues in the recently released UNDP Human Development Report, focusing on what he describes as "tectonic shifts" in development indicators. Human development gains over the last decades have not been confined to just a few countries making headlines. "The story has been very much about BRICs, about incomes. Actually the story is a much deeper one, a much more interesting one — about 40 countries are doing better than expected," said Malik. Still, the question remains, why have some countries done better than others? Malik suggests the importance of a proactive developmental state committed to job creation, health, and education.

The conversation shifted to gender equity as moderator Madhulika Sikka, Executive Editor for NPR News, asked panelists to address the pivotal role women play in development. All panelists agreed that the empowerment of women and girls was an essential component in the continued progress of developing countries. Ambassador Masood Khan, Permanent Representative of Pakistan to the U.N., saw the empowerment and education of women as a key factor in why countries such as China, India, and Brazil have made tremendous progress in a short time.

Still, Khan noted that though progress has been made, more must be done, saying "we have to have women empowered at all levels, from the upper echelons of society to the grassroots." Malik underscored the importance of the issue in saying that in tackling poverty and underdevelopment, "the closest thing you can get to a silver bullet is women's education."

While all seemed to be in consensus on gender empowerment, there was no easy answer on finding the appropriate balance between the roles of the public and private sector in development. Sasha Dichter, Chief Innovation Officer at Acumen Fund, saw the private sector as a source of research and development that can lead to public-private partnerships, but public institutions must be receptive. "Once these things grow, they inevitably interact with the public sector, so the environment has to be right," said Dichter. (For Malik, the government's role in development is central — "in the end, national leaders, national institutions have to drive development."

While many questions remain as to the best strategies and policies for maintaining the progress made in human development over the past decades, the importance of the "Global South" in an increasingly interdependent world is undeniable. "In a more connected world, the south continues to need the north and the north now needs the south as well," said Malik.

Reported by Bart Orr

Video: Highlights from the discussion (2 min., 48 sec.)

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Watch the complete program