According to World Bank figures, Middle Income Countries (MICs) (defined as countries with a per capita gross national income of $1,046 to $12,735) are home to five of the world seven billion people and 73% of the world poor people. Since 2000, 28 countries, including India, Nigeria and Pakistan, have graduated into Middle Income status. Over 57% ($56bn) of official development assistance and aid was spent in MICs in 2012.
MICs are a vitally important part of the development landscape and some are talking about working with MICs as "the new normal". However, the development community still has work to do in understanding and addressing the commonalities and differences between them. Where there are commonalities, the development community can work more effectively. A consensus has already been formed that in addressing the priorities and challenges of MICs within the framework of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement, development actors must move towards upstream engagement and policy advice. A more profound understanding about what this means in practice is urgently needed for development partners to facilitate adaptation in their own institutions and in MICs themselves.
On the one hand, discussions often centre on issues of dwindling resources, such as ODA, for development assistance in MICs, which is of course a genuine issue for debate. On the other hand, there is a more important and substantive issue to focus on, which is the quality and nature of support delivered in MICs by external partners and how this interacts with governments’ own capacities, systems and accountabilities.
The UN Reflection Series will emphasize this question in the course of 2 1/2 days. It goes beyond the size of the resource envelope into the particular requirements groups of MICs may have in areas where partners are typically not providing policy advisory services. The World Bank refers to some of the challenges to be tackled as “second generation development challenges”, and it includes a focus on ageing populations, pension reform, tertiary education, social inequality, competitiveness, trade and tax policy, financial literacy, green growth and urbanisation. These challenges are neither universal in MICs, nor do they represent the only challenges in these countries. Nonetheless, they highlight critical areas of required support that are new to some of the development partners, including the field-oriented UN Agencies. With this in mind, the UN Reflection Series provides a space where all participants can reflect on the following question: are development partners able to switch from what one could call “bricks and mortar” approaches to development to sophisticated catalytic support that will help countries escape the “middle income trap”?