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Mapping progress: evidence for a new development outlook

Research report

Research report

​The past two decades have delivered unprecedented progress and improvements in quality of life across the developing world. Poverty has fallen in most developing countries, and the number of low-income countries fell from 60 in 2003 to just 39 in 2009. Countries such as India and (particularly) China have managed to lift very large numbers of people out of extreme poverty. Progress has not been restricted to increases in income; many developing countries have also dramatically improved their access to vital services, such as education and health.

This report grew out of a conviction that it is important to highlight progress made, in particular at a time where global issues such as the economic crisis, the food crisis and the threat of climate change present challenges to what has been accomplished. The stories defy the narrative of pessimism that often shapes popular perceptions of development, and provide a basis for cross-country learning and benchmarking.

The report summarises evidence of progress and how it was achieved in 24 developing countries. The cases, or 'stories,' showcase progress across a range of sectors, representing broad dimensions of wellbeing. They were selected from an initial long list of more than 100 progress cases. Criteria for selection included the scale of achievement, how widely benefits were shared, how sustainable the results were and how difficult the context was. The stories focus on progress rather than success, in recognition of development as a journey. Particular attention is given to countries that have emerged from a low base and may not be considered 'successes' in a conventional sense, as well as those that have not yet achieved wide recognition and may be surprising to some audiences.

Drivers of progress:

  • Smart Leadership: Leaders at all levels of society can use their position of power and influence to enable and accelerate progress when they are working within and supported by a conducive institutional environment.
  • Smart Policies: At the heart of most progress stories lies a turnaround in government policies, particularly in relation to managing the economy, providing critical public services and protecting the vulnerable and the environment.
  • Smart Institutions: Experiences in many developing countries have demonstrated that the quality and capacity of domestic institutions have marked impacts on development trajectories.
  • Smart Friends: Relationships between donors and developing countries have changed dramatically in recent years. In the process, genuine partnerships have emerged between national governments and donors.
Liesbet Steer, Jakob Engel, Alasdair McWilliam and Milo Vandemoortele