At the conclusion of the 2014 Brookings Blum Roundtable, Kemal Derviş, vice president and director of the Global Economy and Development program, sat down to offer his reflections on this year’s discussion. For an in-depth look at the topics discussed at the roundtable, see our related policy briefs.
Q: The theme for this year’s Brookings Blum Roundtable was “Jump-starting Growth in the Most Difficult Environments.” Why is that such an important issue to development?
We have seen massive progress over the last two decades or so in terms of lifting people out of poverty in both low income and middle income countries. But where poverty is most persistent and where progress has been very slow or entirely absent, is in the most difficult governance circumstances, conflict areas, or state failure scenarios. So, fighting extreme poverty is a major priority for all of us, and doing that in the most difficult environments is probably the most important thing in terms of that priority.
Q: What do you think were the key takeaways to emerge from this year’s roundtable?
It was a very rich discussion, and particularly impressive were the many very concrete examples of technological advances and products that could help fight poverty in difficult environments in a very practical and fairly low cost way. At the same time, however, there was a consensus that while these technological products were hugely important and have great potential, in order for them to have their full impact the overall environment—the marketing, the payments system—complementary things have to happen. Now, sometimes these complementary things involve other technological progress, such as the use of the mobile phone system for payments is facilitating the spread of mini-solar technology. So while these products are very important, it is also important to have an ecosystem where they can actually show their effect.
Q: If there is one issue that participants should consider in greater detail following the roundtable, what would it be?
I think developing the network between each other and knowing what’s happening so that the various advances, ideas, products, approaches can be leveraged and can become complementary, I think that was probably one of the biggest intuitions we all had around the table.
Q: You have presided over a number of Brookings Blum Roundtable gatherings. For you, what is the most important contribution the roundtable makes to the development discourse?
It brings together groups that don’t necessarily meet in a relaxed, focused environment. At the Brookings Blum Roundtable we have senior policymakers from government, we have social and private entrepreneurs from both small-scale and from big firms. We have NGO communities represented, and we have some serious academic input, particularly evident in this year’s policy briefs. So bringing all of that together in a way which makes people focus on solutions and breaks down barriers that often exist between these various groups, I think, is what makes the Brookings Blum Roundtable unique.