Global Development Institute Blog

By Professor Uma Kothari and Professor David Hulme

The study of international development is undergoing a transformation. Its ideas, institutions, financing and political relations are being transformed by the rise of Asia, climate change and, even more importantly, by the evidence that global inequality is increasing in unprecedented ways.

Rising inequality has two main dimensions. A contemporary dimension, exemplified by estimates that the top 1% of the world’s population have the same economic wealth as the remaining 99%. This situation maintains chronic levels of poverty in an affluent world. It reduces the prospects for growth and damages social cohesion, enabling the elite to capture public institutions and policies.

With climate change, spiralling inequality also contains an inter-generational dimension. Climate change has been created by the world’s rich nations but is disproportionately hitting the poorest. On current trends it will dramatically reduce the well-being and life opportunities of future generations.

Global inequality, global poverty and climate injustice have to be more effectively tackled if humanity is to move towards a more socially just world that is sustainable.

The traditional idea that developing countries would ‘catch up’ or converge economically with Western Europe and North America, is being swept away. The binary concepts that underpinned this narrative – developed/developing, rich/poor, Global South/Global North, donors/recipients – are increasingly dysfunctional in analytical terms.

While poorer countries and poor people need to increase their use of global resources, richer nations and better-off people need to dramatically reduce their resource use and material levels of consumption. These changes will be formally recognised at the United Nations in September 2015 when the UN Millennium Development Goals of 2000 will be replaced with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These new goals will be universal: demanding that all countries change so that lifestyles, patterns of growth and aspirations become more sustainable and more equitable.

While the value of the Goals is as much symbolic as operational, they will identify an image of the future in which all of humanity experiences a decent life without reducing the well-being and life opportunities of future generations. This is not about developing countries catching up – but about all countries rethinking what they are trying to achieve on a small planet with a human population of 7 billion (and climbing).

If the Goals are to be successful, the societies of advanced industrial countries will have to undergo change as much as that of the emerging and poor countries, as the world shifts to green growth, technology-sharing, sustainable lifestyles and reduced inequality. Radical changes in personal social norms will be needed to underpin such shifts – perhaps even from contemporary capitalism’s ‘buying more’ consumerism to an alternative… ‘being more’? In this scenario, ‘development’ becomes a truly global project.

Manchester was the crucible for the industrial revolution that transformed human well-being but now threatens human survival. We believe that Manchester should also be the crucible for creating the ideas that shape ‘what comes next’ – how do we achieve sustainable development and social justice for all of humanity?

Development Studies at the University of Manchester is changing to better address these challenges. In early 2016, we’ll unite the strengths of the Institute for Development Policy and Management and the Brooks World Poverty Institute to create the Global Development Institute.

The Global Development Institute will focus on promoting social justice by conducting world-class, interdisciplinary, research that critically and rigorously advances development theory and practice.

With over 45 academics and around 100 PhD candidates, we will become the largest provider of Development Studies research and post-graduate education in Europe. The Global Development Institute will build on our world-leading reputation for Development Studies research, which has seen The University of Manchester ranked 1st for impact and 2nd for quality in the UK Research Excellence Framework, and third in the QS World University Rankings. Within the Institute, the Rory and Elizabeth Brooks Doctoral College will develop future leaders in development by building the capacity of the next generation of practitioners, policy actors and researchers.

Business as usual is not an option. While we’ve seen huge reductions in poverty over the last twenty years, finishing the job, let alone making the gains sustainable will require seismic changes right around the world. The University of Manchester has been at the forefront of Development Studies for over 60 years. With the creation of the Global Development Institute, we’re aiming to lead critical thinking, teaching and research over the next 60 years too.