The study of international organizations inevitably leads to consideration of the role of several that have been at the heart of international efforts to promote development after World War II, primarily but not exclusively in decolonized countries or countries soon to be decolonized.
These efforts were stimulated by shifts in political and socioeconomic outlooks both within industrialized countries as a result of turbulent global history, 1914–1945, and as a result of the energetic struggle for independence and greater autonomy in Africa, Asia and Latin America initiated in part by political shifts within China and India as early as the turn of the last century foreshadowing China’s tumultuous path through the 20th century and India’s independence in 1947.
This working paper chronicles international cooperation for development, starting with two prominent early drivers: the dawn of global communications; and profound shifts in thinking in both industrialized and developing worlds after the Second World War. This process was promoted in part by debates within the (then very new) United Nations.
The paper adopts a semi-chronological approach, tracing the early connectivity introduced in the late 1800s by the International Telegraph Union and the General Postal Union, to the pre- and post-Bretton Woods development landscape. It then tackles a shift in global development efforts from economic protection to material poverty alleviation, assessing the role and performance of the principal organizational actors, clients, approaches and institutional structures along the way.
The paper highlights regional economic advances and the emergence of successful economies in the global south (albeit some still hosting hundreds of millions of ultra-poor citizens) and looks at the role of diverse actors engaged in funding, organizing and promoting development globally.
Arguing that the “golden age” of international development organizations — a period of relative coherence of objectives (if often served by flawed strategies) — could be coming to a close, the paper touches also on today’s pressing issues of economic governance and climate change.