Three major forces have been at work since the 90’s:
First, the end of the cold war, the demise of communism, and the collapse of the Soviet Union dramatically improved the global environment for sustained and peaceful development. The United States and the Soviet Union stopped propping up some of the world’s nastiest dictators. Proxy wars and political violence associated with the cold war came to an end in Central America, Southeast Asia, Southern Africa, and elsewhere. Perhaps most powerfully, economic and political ideologies shifted substantially. Communism and strong state control lost credibility and a new consensus began to form around more market-based economic systems and –at least in many countries– more accountable and democratic governance, along with greater respect for basic freedoms and rights. Developing countries around the world introduced major economic and political reforms and began to build institutions more conducive to growth and social progress.
Second, globalization and international access to new technologies brought more trade and finance and a far greater exchange of ideas and information. Exports from developing countries are five times as large today as they were just 20 years ago, and financial flows are 12 times as large, creating many more economic opportunities. With deeper global integration came technologies that spurred progress: vaccines, medicines, new seed varieties, mobile phones, the Internet, and faster and cheaper air travel. To be sure, globalization has brought challenges, risks, and volatility, not least the 2007 food and 2008 financial crises. But it has also brought investment, jobs, ideas, and markets, all of which stimulated progress.
Third, while global changes mattered, the countries that began to move forward did so primarily because of strong leadership and courageous actions by the people in those countries themselves.
In addition, foreign aid played a supporting role in bolstering progress. Aid has been particularly helpful in improving health, fighting disease, mitigating the impacts of natural disasters and humanitarian crises, and helping to jump-start turnarounds from war. Aid programs have helped save millions of lives by fighting malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, and diarrhea, and by immunizing children around the world. Aid is not the most important driver of development, but it has played an important secondary role in the development surge over the past two decades.
[Christian Science Monitor]