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Localizing Development Research

Despite growing awareness of the need for diverse perspectives, research on economic development in the Global South is produced almost exclusively by Western academics. By elevating and empowering scholars from the Global South, funders can promote higher-quality research and more effective development policies.

WASHINGTON, DC/NAIROBI – “Localization” has become a buzzword in international development circles, partly thanks to a push by the United States to shift more aid funding to local actors. But growing awareness of the importance of local expertise is not yet adequately reflected in most development research, which still regularly excludes researchers from low- and middle-income countries.

As matters stand, economic and development research in the Global South is led almost exclusively by academics who do not live there. A 2021 study found that just 16% of the articles published in top development journals between 1990 and 2019 were authored by researchers based in developing countries, and only 9% of presenters at major development conferences were affiliated with universities in developing countries.

Moreover, a recent report by the Center for Global Development shows that local researchers tend to be left out of rigorous impact evaluations of development programs in health, education, and other sectors. While the number of research experts in low- and middle-income countries has grown over the past decade, as have collaborations between academics across geographic regions, developing-country scholars remain underrepresented in academic fora.