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Development Revolution: Resuscitating a Fruitless Model

September 5, 2017

It is true that history repeats itself. While the exact events vary, a specific theme is carried throughout. I believe that the key to drastically improving the efficacy of development practice lies in the analysis of historical context and identifying the details behind this theme.

Although these themes can be identified globally, I will mainly be using the United States and some of the changes it has experienced historically as points of reference for this article. Also, while we could delve into greater detail on some of the topics to be discussed, I will keep them brief only mentioning key points or data.

First, let me start by addressing the question of what this theme is that i have been mentioning. Present day society has arrived where it is due to a number of historical events that brought about changes so great that they reformed the fundamental mechanisms of our society. These changes are called revolutions and centuries were branded by these revolutions, reflecting the deep impact their changes imposed. These changes were like waves that washed ashore new practices and carried away old methods, refreshing the sphere in which society functioned. In general, these changes brought improvements that increased the efficiency and capacity of society, and put previous ways in its shadows. One of these pivotal changes was the industrial revolution. I will be using this period as a blueprint to not only show how it improved society, but more importantly, how it served as a catalyst to boost certain countries like the United States to economic prowess.The Industrial revolution brought about drastic changes in multiple sectors of our society including transportation, textile, and communication. The need for an improved system that was able to accommodate the needs of society served as the motive for these innovations. While the genesis of this transformation is credited to England, the success story ultimately was rendered elsewhere to countries like the United States that caught on early and seized the opportunity to catapult themselves to economic prowess. These countries reaped the benefits of this era and were able to become more independent and compete in the global market. These countries also flourished because of the goods and improved quality of life these innovations brought. A few points should be noted from the industrial revolution such as: the pivotal role innovations had in transforming not only the way societies functioned but also the socioeconomic sphere, the global economic hierarchy,  and the independence and self sustainability of countries. 

The beauty of a revolution is its potential to hit the refresh button on social constructs, tipping set practices on their heads and forcing industries to re-strategize and reform their mode of operation. This may not immediately sound like a favorable situation, but this "refreshing" readjusts the playing field and sets everyone closer to the start line once again. Well, I guess that didn't make it sound any better, but as a practitioner in the development field observing this phenomenon, it should spark your interest. The story gets more intriguing when we look at modern day industries and realize that another revolution has dawned upon us. We are currently in the early stages of what I will call the "clean revolution". The refresh button has been hit once again, repositioning everyone closer to the start line. This is exciting news for developing countries seeking economic independence and prowess and for development practitioners as well! Focus should be directed towards understanding how countries like the United States were able to seize and transform an idea developed elsewhere into a system that allowed them to become leaders in this field. This leads to my qualm with the current development dogma.

The problem with development practice today is that it is complacent and lacks a pioneering spirit. It is still the same sob story about poor countries unable to sustain themselves and having to rely heavily on foreign aid, in the form of billions of dollars, to achieve basic needs such as providing food and conflict mitigation (I will acknowledge that there have been instances where the focus on development has veered from these rudimentary topics to highlighting the presence of skilled individuals in engineering and other sectors and providing funds for them.) While these are very serious issues that have yet to be resolved, I think it is time for the dogma to expand and focus more on goals that extend beyond this rudimentary and pathos driven approach. Its goals should be focused on how developing countries can delve into the clean revolution early on and attain economic prowess through this venture. History has shown us foreign aid is not a solution for underdevelopment. True empowerment and independence requires a long term vision, one that is so ambitious it seems impossible. This was the mentality that drove countries to economic prowess and leadership during the industrial revolution. The tone of the discourse of development will have to at least match this for there to be a pivotal change in the field and in developing countries. As this new revolution slowly itemizes, not only will it be crucial for the vision and tone of this field to change, but calculated steps need to also be taken to implement and integrate the new set of standards into their socioeconomic sphere. 

The race is still fairly early and not only do developing countries benefit from this restart, they also have the benefit of starting with a relatively blank platform. Unlike developed countries which have well constructed systems, there are no set structures in place for most developing countries. It would be a very tedious and expensive process for a country like the United States to fully integrate some of the new green technologies and structures into its major cities . For developing countries, this process won't be as tasking or expensive because the infrastructure is not as organized as that of developed countries. Although these new structures will lead to savings in the future, the removal of old structures and installation of new ones will leave developed countries with a far greater cost than developing countries. This should not be a hindrance for developed countries who have the means to accommodate these costs, but once again, this difference only levels the playing field some more. Another advantage developing countries have is that they have had the luxury of observing current and soon to be outdated structures such as the energy/power industry.

Traditional methods of generating and supplying electricity is nowhere close to being as efficient as it truly can be. The current process produces far more electricity than we need, creates waste and pollution, and is not sustainable overall amongst other things. More energy is then wasted supplying this energy to homes, cars and other structures. These are some of the flaws that the clean revolution seeks to address. One way is by changing how we produce our energy. In 2012, it was reported that ~80% of America's energy came from non-renewable and polluting sources, while ~10% came from renewable sources. By tipping the scale to where renewable sources account for the majority of energy production, we can attain a much more sustainable system. While the details are uncertain on what the future of energy production will look like, we can definitely see a trend that can be followed. The energy industry is leaning towards a system that produces energy from renewable and sustainable sources that produce very minimal waste or pollution. How we consume energy (green technologies, higher efficiency appliances) and many other factors are already being adjusted to align with the clean revolution. Developing countries need to be making note of the deficiencies of the older system as well as this early stage system. Doing so will place them in a competitive position and could permit them to move to a position of pioneerism in this new era. This approach will give a refreshing and innovative face to development practice. Previous development models tried to mirror the practices of developed countries onto emerging economies without lending any kind of innovation or customization to those models, which history has shown yields minimal desirable results and even worsens some countries economic situation.

Taking into consideration all I have mentioned in this article, I believe a much more aggressive, innovative, and efficient approach towards development practice can be derived. Analyzing previous revolutions will be crucial in determining the next steps developing countries as well as development practitioners need to take to properly designate resources and time. This refocused target will allow developing countries to be in an advantageous position and allow for competitive growth, yielding results old models could not produce.

 

 

References/Graphs:

 

 

 

- 2010 energy usage

 

- Industrial revolution

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