Article / Communications / Knowledge and Information

Development as everyone’s problem—World Bank eliminates ‘developing country’ from its data vocabulary


Illustration by Annie Lane via Etsy.

‘In the 2016 edition of its World Development Indicators, the World Bank has made a big choice: It’s no longer distinguishing between “developed” countries and “developing” ones in the presentation of its data.

‘The change marks an evolution in thinking about the geographic distribution of poverty and prosperity. But it sounds less radical when you consider that nobody has ever agreed on a definition for these terms in the first place.

‘The International Monetary Fund says its own distinction between advanced and emerging market economies “is not based on strict criteria, economic or otherwise.” The United Nations doesn’t have an official definition of a developing country, despite slapping the label on 159 nations. And the World Bank itself had previously simply lumped countries in the bottom two-thirds of gross national income (GNI) into the category, but even that comparatively strict cut-off wasn’t very useful. . . .

Part of the story is the success of development efforts in the last several decades. . . .

‘Besides reflecting a desire for more analytically useful data, the move also reflects the changing stakes of the development as the world shifts from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), created by the UN in 1990 as a road map for fighting global poverty, to the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), set last year by the global community.

“MDGs were meant to be for the developing countries. … There were the helpers, and the ones that needed help,” Serajuddin says. “The SDG views every country as needing development, and it’s universal.”

In other words, at a time when everyone is seeing their income grow but the middle class in so-called developed economies . . . development is everyone’s problem.

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