Urban Futures Salford Manchester. Research in the City

'What comes next?': Manchester tackles global inequality

What is the most pressing challenge of our age? Is it medical or scientific? The cure for cancer or the quest for renewable energy? What about the very planet we live on and the gulf of inequality that separates us from the 7 billion people we share the globe with?

Global inequality is increasing rapidly. It does not always grab the headlines and it does not have a single cure but it exists and widens all around us and it is no longer a straightforward notion of the rich West trickling down aid to Third World neighbours.

In the 21st century, inequality exists within and between countries: in wealth, in access to clean water and healthcare, in age, education, knowledge and pay, sustainability in production chains and in the way we are affected by climate change.

We inhabit a planet where the distribution of wealth is so dramatically disproportionate that one per cent of the world’s population is estimated to have the same economic wealth as the remaining 99 per cent and the effects of climate change hit the poorest nations hardest, despite being caused by the richest.

Tackling humanity’s massive predicament requires radical thinking, now and for decades - even centuries - to come.

This month, The University of Manchester announced a major new centre for study - the Global Development Institute - Europe’s largest, dedicated research and teaching institute for the study of global poverty and inequality.

More than 45 academics and up to 100 PhD students will become part of the new Institute over the next few years, driving progress towards addressing global inequalities, one of The University’s five flagship research beacons.

Their work will put into practice a real will by University leadership to spearhead international efforts to improve the lives of more than one billion people living on less than $1.25 a day and increase the sustainability of our planet for its inhabitants by creating and sharing knowledge which critically and rigorously advances development theory and practice and informs and influences policy makers and organisations.

The GDI will be headed up by leading thinkers in the field - Professor David Hulme, as executive director, and Professor Uma Kothari, as managing director - and will combine more than 60 years of expertise in international development studies at The University of Manchester.

The timing of its inception is crucial. The GDI comes into existence against the backdrop of a renewed commitment by the United Nations to tackling the very problems that Manchester academics are shaping solutions to.

Last weekend, the UN General Assembly agreed a new set of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs): 17 goals to bring the world onto more equal and sustainable footing. They are a replacement for the eight Millennium Development Goals agreed in 2000 and, while not mandatory, it would be a far from credible position for any country to ignore their responsibility to adopt the targets.

By way of a snapshot, number one of the SDGs provides a commitment to ending poverty in all its forms and number 17 cements the need for global partnerships to achieve the goals. Number 10 is to reduce inequality within and among countries and number 13 is to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

In a recent blog, Professors Hulme and Kothari explained the international development landscape that both the new Institute and the global goals are created against:

“The study of international development is undergoing a transformation. Its ideas, institutions, financing and political relations are being transformed by the rise of Asia, climate change and, even more importantly, by the evidence that global inequality is increasing in unprecedented ways.”

They continued: “Global inequality, global poverty and climate injustice have to be more effectively tackled if humanity is to move towards a more socially just world that is sustainable.

“The traditional idea that developing countries would ‘catch up’ or converge economically with Western Europe and North America, is being swept away. The binary concepts that underpinned this narrative – developed/developing, rich/poor, Global South/Global North, donors/recipients – are increasingly dysfunctional in analytical terms.”

Gone is the idea of First World/ Third World countries. The goals - and therefore our response to them - are now, more than ever, a universal ‘one-world’ approach. 

“While poorer countries and poor people need to increase their use of global resources, richer nations and better-off people need to dramatically reduce their resource use and material levels of consumption,” the pair explain.

All of us, wherever we live in the world, must change our lifestyles, dramatically and collectively, to contribute to a more sustainable global equilibrium. Put simply, Hulme and Kothari, warn: “Business as usual is not an option.”

The new Global Development Institute intends to make sure that policy-makers and influencers will turn to Manchester to understand how the global norm must change.

The University already occupies a strong position for public engagement and policy influence. The GDI - which will officially launch with a series of public events in February - builds on a reputation, relationships and methods developed over almost 60 years, merging the strengths of its current Institute for Development and Policy Management and Brooks World Poverty Institute.

Manchester’s credentials in the field of international development began in the 1950s when overseas students were offered public administration courses, followed by a move to formal diplomas and masters courses in the 1980s when staff began taking up roles as consultants for government and non-government organisations.

The Institute for Development and Policy Management formed in 1987 and has earned a reputation as a global leader while the Brooks World Poverty Institute came into being in 2006 with the stated aim of creating and sharing knowledge to combat poverty throughout the world.

Today, their successor, the GDI, has an ambition to shape the next generation of development scholars and deliver world-leading, interdisciplinary research on social justice that extends knowledge frontiers; to focus its strengths across four core areas: poverty and inequality; governance and management; globalisation and political economy; and, environmental, urban and agrarian change.

The global inequality gap must shrink if the world is to find a sustainable footing for the future. Rich nations and poor alike must shift their social norms.

The scale of Manchester’s ambition to play a role in that change is best described by the Professors that drive it:

“Manchester was the crucible for the industrial revolution that transformed human well-being but now threatens human survival. We believe that Manchester should also be the crucible for creating the ideas that shape ‘what comes next’.”

Take a look at this video to find out more about The University of Manchester's Sustainable Development Goals.

Main image credit: Global Development Institute, The University of Manchester.

Visit the main Platform site