Andy Sumner: A voice for the New Bottom Billion

Andy Sumner, research fellow, Institute of Development Studies. Photo by: personal collection

Andy Sumner has changed the way U.K. policymakers and the public think about global poverty.

Sumner’s research on the New Bottom Billion – the 960 million poor living in middle-income countries – has drawn international media attention and informed the British Parliament on its inquiry into aid to India.

Sumner, a research fellow in the Vulnerability and Poverty Reduction Team at the Institute of Development Studies, is one of today’s most influential development leaders under 40 in London. He and his peers have inspired change that transcends borders.

Devex is recognizing 40 of these young London-based trailblazers in international development. They are social entrepreneurs, government leaders, development consultants, business innovators, advocates, development researchers, nonprofit executives, philanthropists and investors.

We asked Sumner about the next frontier in development cooperation and what the international community should focus on now.

What has been your most surprising conclusion from your research on changes in global poverty?

There’s a “new bottom billion” – meaning three-quarters of the extreme poor, or up to a billion poor people, live not in the poorest countries but in middle-income countries. This raises all sorts of questions about which countries need aid, the link between aid and poverty and whether global poverty is shifting ever more so from an issue of international redistribution – meaning resource transfers or “traditional aid” – to national distribution, inequality and ultimately governance and domestic politics.

This all means the increasing irrelevance of “traditional aid” for most countries where the poor live and a new kind of international cooperation, or “aid 2.0”, not least because the number of low-income countries will fall to just 20 over the next decade or so.

You’ve talked about aid 2.0. What is that?

Aid 2.0 has two components of “aid and beyond”: First, “catalytic aid” for low-income countries, meaning “aid to end aid”. So, over the course of however many years, a country’s development strategy would be to aim to progressively reduce aid dependency indicators or switch gradually from grant aid to concessional loans and then finally non-concessional loans.

All of the above would require redirecting considerable amounts of foreign aid flows away from traditional programme aid (eg. schools, bednets, vaccines) to: building domestic tax systems, addressing capital flight, hiring corporate lawyers with aid money, to get better deals for low-income countries negotiating natural resource contracts with international companies and anything else that led to an increase in domestically available resources – which is potentially a whole range of things.

Second, for middle-income countries, a new kind of “international cooperation” is required, meaning different types of policy emphasis and relationships. Donors and philanthropies will need to continue work in the new middle-income countries, where most of the world’s poor live. But greater focus will be needed on issues of equity/inclusion, working with advocacy groups and civil society on issues such as public spending priorities, but with great sensitivity to the politics of doing so and recognize that development is very much beyond “traditional aid”.

Global public goods and innovative finance mechanisms will be areas where middle-income country governments, traditional donors and philanthropies can work together and the policy coherence, in areas such as in the trade policy of traditional donors will be more important to middle-income country governments that aid flows.

What will be the big story of 2012 in development?

Here’s two possibilities:

First, the new “inbetweeners” or “catalytic classes” – an emerging group in fast-growing new middle-income countries who are neither extreme poor nor secure, well-connected, middle-class and who are increasingly fed up and protesting as they start paying taxes and a shifting political economy results. This group is potentially 1 in 3 Africans and 1 in 2 people in developing Asia.

Second, a whole new kind of country. What do Pakistan, Yemen, Nigeria, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Sudan and perhaps Libya, Egypt and Tunisia have in common? They are the MIFS – middle-income fragile states. Home to 40% of the world’s conflict, and many poor people, the MIFS include a whole range of countries who are fragile and no longer so poor.

This isn’t supposed to happen though, is it? Countries are poor, then they stabilise and then they get rich don’t they?

Maybe not any more. Maybe being a poor and/or fragile state isn’t going to be the main international issue for peace and security in the future. Maybe instead it’s the fragile states who are not-so-poor?

Read more about the Devex 40 Under 40 International Development Leaders in London.

About the author

  • Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.