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Five South-East Asian countries highlighted in new global report on development

Five South-East Asian nations have been singled out as leading examples of progress in development in a newly published global research report. The UK based Overseas Development Institute highlights progress in Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos across four different areas of development.

Mapping progress: evidence for a new development outlook
identifies the crucial role of effective leadership, smart policies, proper institutional foundations and international partnerships in driving development and calls for a new outlook on development. The report highlights star performers, surprise performers and potential performers across the world.

ODI Director Alison Evans said:

'This report gives reason to be optimistic about the future. It's time the world woke up to the change that is happening across the developing world and we believe this report provides the evidence needed to begin altering perceptions.

'We have identified four key drivers of progress but there is no one-size-fits-all solution to the conundrum of progress. What we can now say with clarity is that progress in development is not only possible, it is happening.

'Looking at the strongest examples across Asia we can see that the most transformative and sustainable developments have occurred when the commitment to change has come from within countries and communities.'

The drivers of development

Smart leadership - This can manifest itself in expected and unexpected ways - embodied by leaders at the top or bottom of the political spectrum. For example, bureaucratic leadership to rural water reform in Laos and civil society leadership to social security improvements in India.

Smart policies - Progress has involved a changing role for government away from controlling (markets and prices) to facilitating and enabling (investment and production), and, in the best cases, empowering citizens. Progress stories in Vietnam and Thailand illustrate how different approaches can be effective in different national contexts.

Smart institutions - In many countries progress has been achieved through governance reforms that have decentralised and strengthened local institutions. Reforms have not only led to improved service delivery but also enabled more effective revenue collection and management of public finances. In Cambodia NGOs were instrumental in piloting scholarship programmes and the Child-Friendly School System, which was later scaled up through government and donor funds.

Smart friends - Effective international partnerships can be important catalysts for progress.  These partnerships can take various forms beyond aid, including the transfer of knowledge and technology, international trading relations and diplomatic interventions.

Development Progress Stories include:
(Star performer)
Vietnam reduced the proportion of its population living in poverty from 60% to 15% in just 15 years. This was achieved alongside GDP growth rates that averaged over 7% per year between 1990 and 2008.

Star performers, such as Vietnam, have shown sustained progress for more than two decades. By diversifying products and services these countries have added considerable value to national performance.  Star countries display a more mature level of development and are now beginning to face challenges more common to developed countries such as environmental degradation, aging populations and non-communicable diseases.

(Surprise performer)
Following years of instability and war Cambodia has made significant progress in improving access to education for its population. The country is now on track to achieve universal completion of primary school education within the next decade, with equal access for boys and girls. An effective partnership between donors, civil society and the government has been instrumental in triggering this progress.

Surprise performers such as Cambodia have delivered progress against the odds, often recovering from crisis and war or dealing with ongoing conflict, challenging political situations and highly inaccessible topography.  The surprise elements of progress in these countries often lie in the speed of recovery, sometimes allowing them to eclipse previous levels of development.

(Potential performer)
Indonesia's progress in governance has seen it transformed from a highly militarised and centralised authoritarian state into a relatively open, stable and democratic one. While corruption and lack of accountability remain challenges, electoral reform and decentralisation have incentivised the state to act in ways that benefit the general population.

Potential performers such as Indonesia have shown recent examples of progress, often achieved over a short period of time and limited to individual sectors or regions. Whilst these countries have already produced impressive results they now need to sustain them into the future.


Mapping Progress
report full PDF version here

Development Progress Stories
Country case studies are free to download from:

ODI - Jonathan Tanner: +44 (0)20 79220431 or
ODI - Ryan Flynn: +44 (0)20 7922 0421 or
Interviews with ODI authors can be arranged on request.

Notes to Editors:

1.     Development Progress Stories targets national-level progress that is equitable and sustainable, and where beneficiaries are a significant share of the population. Each case study details a specific country's achievements in one of eight major areas of development: economic conditions, health, water and sanitation, education, governance, environmental conditions, agriculture and rural development, and social protection.

2.     Methodology: To develop the stories, ODI research teams spent several months on qualitative and quantitative research, assessing more than 250 examples of countries across the eight sectors. Stories were selected based on an extensive analysis of development indicators, and more than 100 experts, drawn from academia, donor agencies and civil society organisations in both the North and the South, were consulted. Stories identified were passed between quantitative and qualitative research teams for cross-checking, and vetted by the project's external review panel.

3.     ODI is the UK's leading independent think-tank on international development and humanitarian issues.  Its mission is to inspire and inform policy and practice which lead to the reduction of poverty, the alleviation of suffering and the achievement of sustainable livelihoods in developing countries.  Locking together high-quality applied research, practical policy advice and policy-focused dissemination and debate, ODI works with partners in the public and private sectors, in both developing and developed countries.  Further details can be found on the ODI website (

This research is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

13 June 2011


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