Introduction to International Development
International development is a profession unlike any other. Although modern international development has more than half a century of history, the practice of development is constantly evolving and the industry is currently in the midst of major changes that have the potential to improve the lives of billions of people. Development professionals are working in every country in the world to address issues including human rights, health, economic growth, environment conservation and many others. As a profession, few career choices can match international development for the sheer range of the industry, challenge of the work or relevancy to the world’s population. In recent years the need for coordinated and comprehensive sustainable development has been center-stage in world politics due to increasing awareness of both the issues and the consequences. Development champions including academics such as Jeffrey Sachs, businesspeople like Bill Gates, politicians and celebrities have helped bring international development to the forefront of policy and economic discussion. At the same time, the world has become more globalized, with constant reminders that the problems of the developing world can and do affect the entire world.
Yet despite the rapid growth of funding for international development and the increasing understanding of the need for sustainable development, the industry and even the term “international development” remain poorly understood. There is no universally agreed-upon definition of international development. The term has evolved over time and there is no single industry group that holds responsibility for
determining what is and what isn’t development. Likewise, there are no certification or accreditation bodies that delegate organizations as practitioners of development. Although there is not a universal definition, there are a number of characteristics that are widely accepted to describe international development. In general, international development:
• Works in developing countries
International development generally utilizes resources from developed countries to fund projects in developing countries. This idea is being challenged, however, by the increasing amount of money for development being provided by developing countries.
• Contributes to the public good
International development has an underlying goal of improving living standards in developing countries. Development projects may work with the public, civil and private sectors, but the end goal is to foster development, not to make money.
• Builds sustainability
International development is not about giving money, supplies, and equipment, it is about building the capacity for people to provide these things for their own communities.
• Utilizes professional methods of project implementation and evaluation
As international development becomes a bigger and more professional industry, there is a greater expectation that development agencies adopt modern methods of management and evaluation. Most professional development practitioners now have full time staff focused exclusively on these issues.
• Depends on specialized organizations that focus on international development
Donors rarely have the capacity to actually implement and manage development projects, so they depend upon professional organizations that specialize in development. These organizations include non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, private voluntary organizations and some private companies.
Below are some key terms in international development.
• Developed countries are the world’s wealthier nations. There are many formal definitions used to determine which nations are developed,including measurements based on economic and social indicators. The World Bank uses the term “high income economy” to describe countries with a gross national income per capita of $11,456 or more. The United Nations uses the Human Development Index, which estimates how income is turned into education andhealth opportunities. Regardless of the definition, developed countries are the main funders of international development.
• Developing countries are, conversely, those nations that don’t meet the requirements of a developed country according to these various scales. Developing countries may also be known as low-income countries or emerging economies according to economic indicators. The United Nations uses the term “least developed countries” for nations with the lowest scores on the Human Development Index. Developing countries are the recipients of development assistance, although some developing countries give development assistance in addition to receiving it.
• Official development assistance (ODA) is the money that governments spend on international development. There is a very specificdefinition of ODA and strict rules about what spending can be counted as ODA.
• Donor community is a general term to describe the organizations that fund international development. These include government development agencies such as USAID and DFID, foundations, intergovernmental organizations and other funders of development work.