International Perspectives: Asia’s Development Challenges

By Ashley Clark

This week, the International Policy, Development and Practice Speaker Series welcomed David B. Arnold, the President of The Asia Foundation.

Seen through the lens of his work at The Asia Foundation, Mr. Arnold delivered a talk on “Asia’s Development Challenges.” He identified three major challenges for Asia and the Asia-Pacific area. First, he described the weakness of governance and governance indicators impeding economic growth and progress. However, interesting experiments to fight corruption have also begun. In Mongolia, for example, The Asia Foundation is helping to develop special courts to try corruption cases, as well as developing a website in India where people text information about bribes they paid to a server and a map of bribes is drawn from these texts. Secondly, he disaggregated the positive growth at the macro-level of Asian economies from the negative growth in income gaps and increasing inequality.

Finally, the third major development challenge he identified was an increasing prevalence of sub-national conflicts. He stated that if you look at the duration of these sub-national conflicts, the average duration is 32 years. The ongoing conflicts are taking their toll on development in Asia; conflict is estimated to retard growth and progress towards the Millennium Development Goals 1-3% per year.

When asked about the role of private institutions, Mr. Arnold emphasized that the value-added of foundations and NGOs is not monetary. Instead, private institutions can forge meaningful partnerships with civil society organizations within the countries they operate in, creating what he calls the “software” of development through which the hardware development (such as dams, etc.) can both take place and fit within. Secondly, private institutions have a strong value-driven approach. These two things combine to help private institutions play a catalytic and innovative role in development.

Mr. Arnold was also asked about the rise of “indigenous non-profits,” or the creation of foundations and NGOs funded by donors within Asia. He explained that most of these private institutions are doing singular, project-driven work, such as building schools or providing books, and are not oriented towards social justice and broader change. However, he predicts this will slowly change over the next two decades.

Mr. Arnold, in addition to his substantive comments on Asia, gave the crowd good professional advice. “Learn when to say yes,” he encouraged the room. He explained that learning when to say yes takes you to more interesting places and more fascinating jobs. He also explained that one who works in development needs to be a “cock-eyed optimist;” there are success stories and progress, and it is important to see and highlight them to encourage future good work.


Ashley Clark is a MPP/MA-IAS student at UC Berkeley.