Like baseball, the world of international development has always had a peculiar take on geography. Baseball has a World Series that includes only two countries, or maybe one country and Toronto. The almost equally myopic field of international development applies the word “global” only to middle- and low-income countries. The U.S., Canada, Old Europe and some Asian countries can routinely ignore various so-called global initiatives, like the Global Partnership for Education. Except, that is, insomuch as they are asked to pay for them.
Now the stars are realigning. The emerging drumbeat around the post-2015 development agenda has upped the ante, calling not for global but for universal goals. The High-Level Panel, Open Working Group and others are not reaching quite to Venus and Mars, but are laying out an agenda on the multiple dimensions of poverty that applies to all countries on the globe.
In doing so they are making a profound conceptual pivot. They are calling for goals that would apply as much to countries in the Global North as the Global South – albeit with country-specific targets – and they are breaking with the long-standing tradition of defining problems of social and economic development as those of “others.” (Just search on the word “universal” in the High-Level Panel Report and you’ll get a sense of what this means.)
This is a switch that has been too long in coming, and helps build a bridge to the future-that-is-already-upon-us. It’s pretty clear by this point that there is not one irreversible pathway from underdeveloped to developed, nor are high-income countries immune from the governance and social challenges that we used to think of as “Third World.” If we were not already stuck in a mindset of classifying countries by national income or declaring some parts of the world as “developing regions,” we would see more easily the common challenges faced by all countries: how to foster social solidarity with effective, credible governance; how to reach those who live on society’s margins; how to enrich our lives without impoverishing our environment.