UNDP Report: Korea’s development offers lessons for the rising South

Apr 4, 2013

Key factors for development progress point to jobs, education and the role of the Korean state, says the UN Development Programme’s flagship report.

With some of the fastest rising rates of human development in recent years, Korea’s experience in supplementing rapid economic growth with social policies that benefit society more broadly, especially the poor, offers lessons for the rising developing world.

Job creation, the role of the state in development and quality education results offer useful insights for developing nations that are helping drive a historic shift, with hundreds of millions of people lifted from poverty and billions poised to join the South’s fast-growing middle class, according to the 2013 Human Development Report, which was launched by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Seoul today, following a global launch in Mexico city in March.

The 2013 Human Development Report—The Rise of the South: Human Progress in a Diverse World—analyses more than 40 developing countries that have made striking human development gains in recent years. The Report attributes their achievements to strong national commitments to better public health and education services, innovative poverty eradication programs and strategic engagement with the world economy.

“Emerging powers in the developing world are already sources of innovative social and economic policies and are major trade, investment and increasingly development cooperation partners for other developing countries,” said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark.

The Report shows that while these countries differed greatly in their histories, political systems and economic profiles, they share common factors. Most had assertive governments that sought to take strategic advantage of the opportunities offered by global trade, while reducing poverty and inequality through pioneering home-grown social programs.

The Report states that Korea’s success holds lessons for less developed economies, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, as the country created jobs twice as fast whilst at a comparable state of development.

It cites the active role of the Korean state in increasing institutional coherence and avoiding state capture of polices on subsidies that allowed for a shift from import substitution to export promotion.

The report cites Korea’s achievements in boosting quality education to help people fulfill their potential. ‘In the 1950’s a large proportion of school-age children received no formal education. Today, young Korean women are among the best educated women in the world: more than half have completed college’.

Success in education has also helped improve health through the positive correlation between between the two.

“The UNDP Seoul Policy Centre is here to help share the relevant aspects of Korea’s success with developing countries. Through our presence in over 170 countries and territories, we can reach out worldwide” said Anne-Isabelle Degryse-Blateau, Director of the UNDP Seoul Policy Centre.

The Report highlights challenges and opportunities for the years to come if Korea wishes to maintain momentum. For the second year running the country ranked 12th in the global Human Development Index, yet drops to 28th when adjusted for inequalities in society.

Countries in East-Asia face many of the same challenges of developing countries in other regions—ageing populations, environmental risks, political pressures and inequality—and countries will need to stay smart to maintain their momentum, the Report cautions.

The Asia-Pacific region will see a striking increase in the share of the elderly in the near future. This will drive up the dependency ratio, which is the ratio of younger and older people to the working-age population. The productive-age population (ages 35–50), currently the largest population share, will reach retirement in 15–25 years.

The Report states that 80% of the global middle class will live in developing countries by 2030, with most of the growth set to take place in Asia. Millions of newly empowered, better educated and better connected people will be more socially engaged could be powerful agents of change.

East Asian states can—and should—be a powerful force in development, the Report argues, as they become important in other developing regions. China is already influential in Africa, through trade and investment as well as through assistance and cooperation. Korea provides development co-operation around the world.

Expanding South-South trade and investment can lay the basis for shifting manufacturing capacity to other less developed regions and countries. International production networks provide opportunities to speed development by allowing countries to leap-frog to more sophisticated production modes. New institutions can facilitate regional integration and South-South relationships. In this regard, the report recommends the establishment of a new South Commission to share knowledge, experiences and technology as well as to promote trade and investment across the South.

The Report recommends that East Asia’s dynamic economies—including Korea, Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Viet Nam—could use their foreign reserve holdings and other resources for creative new approaches to development assistance within the region and beyond.

The Report warns, however, that short-sighted austerity policies, persistent inequalities and unresponsive political systems could threaten global and national progress.

“Economic growth alone does not automatically translate into human development progress,” the Report says. “Pro-poor policies and significant investments in people’s capabilities—through a focus on education, nutrition and health and employment skills—can expand access to decent work and provide for sustained progress.”

ABOUT THIS REPORT: The Human Development Report is an editorially independent publication of the United Nations Development Programme. For free downloads of the 2013 Human Development Report in ten languages, plus additional reference materials on its indices and specific regional implications, please visit: http://hdr.undp.org.

UNDP partners with people at all levels of society to help build nations that can withstand crisis, and drive and sustain the kind of growth that improves the quality of life for everyone. On the ground in 177 countries and territories, we offer global perspective and local insight to help empower lives and build resilient nations.

Contact Information:

For more information or interviews: matthew.taylor@undp.org in Seoul, +82 (0)10 2754 2814