• Objectives
  • Activities of North South Roundtable, 1978-1997
  • Impact of NSRT
  • Pioneering ideas
  • Influencing global agenda


    North South Roundtable was founded in 1978 as an initiative of Barbara Ward, under the auspices of the Society for International Development. The original purpose of the North South Roundtable was to bridge a gap in the North South dialogue process by bringing together key policy makers, academics and research analysts in their personal capacities in an independent intellectual forum where they could discuss global issues free of the constraints and formalities of the official for a and where they could forge com men approaches to major world issues, particularly those affecting North South relations.

    For the last two decades(1978-97), North South Roundtable has played a major role in global discussions in its capacity as:

  • a forum for clarification of global development issues;

  • a sounding board for new policy initiatives in the mutual interest of the North and the South;

  • a private channel for unencumbered exploration of possibilities for consensus by key policy makers;

  • a contributor to and monitor of North South negotiations underway in official fora;

  • a public educator on global development issues through direct briefings and through the dissemination of Roundtable publications.
  • During last two decades, North South Roundtable has held over 10 Roundtable sessions and has published 12 books, 8 Roundtable Papers and 25 Roundtable Reports (see box). It will be no exaggeration to say that the activities of the Roundtable have engaged the thinking and energies of the most prominent intellectuals and policy makers in the world on issues of development and North-South cooperation.

    Activities of North South Roundtable, 1978-1997

  • Special sessions: Belmont (1979), Sussex (1980), Cancun (1981)

  • Full NSRT sessions: Rome (1978), Colombo (1979), Ottawa (1980), Baltimore (1981), Oiso (1982), Rome (1985), New Delhi (1988), Amsterdam (1991), Mexico (1994)

  • Energy Roundtable: Castel Gandolfo (1981), Energy Dialogue Missions to 12 developing countries during 1981-84.

  • Food' Roundtable: Five Roundtable meetings held in Washington D C., New York and Rome during. 1981-85.

  • Roundtable on Africa: Khartoum (1986), Nairobi (1986), Bommersvick (1986), Juliasdale (1998), Ottawa (1991), Johannesburg (1995).

  • Roundtable on Money and Finance: Istanbul (1983), Santiago (1984), Vienna (1984), New York (1986).

  • Roundtable on Human Development: Istanbul (1985), Salzberg (1986), Budapest (1987), Amman (1988).

  • Roundtable on Informatics Revolution The Hague (1986), Tokyo (1987).

  • Trade Roundtable: Geneva (1987), London (1987), Geneva (1987).

  • Roundtable on UN Reform: Uppsala (1989), Tarrytown (1991),Bretton Woods (1993).

  • Roundtable on Economics of Peace: San Jose (1990).

  • Roundtable on Migration Evian-les Bans (1991).

  • Impact of NSRT

    It is always difficult to assess the full impact of an intellectual movement. To disseminate information, to clarify issues, to articulate policy choices these are the prime goals of an organization which is part public educator, part individual debating forum and part think tank. The North South Roundtable tried to play its role as an unofficial bridge between the leading thinkers and policy makers of the world by providing an intellectual forum where, irrespective of the fluctuations in the fortunes of the official North South dialogue, development issues could still be discussed in a thoroughly professional, disciplined and yet open fashion.

    The North South Roundtable generally chose its topics for discussion by reviewing carefully the main development issues agitating the minds of national and international policy makers. It then provided a forum for courageous and independent thinking on many sensitive issues on the global agenda. many of the NSRT ideas, which originally appeared to be rather unconventional, have become a part of the conventional wisdom by now. For instance:

    Pioneering ideas

    • When there was a general hysteria in the mid 1970s that the "energy crisis" had been caused by the manipulations of the OPEC cartel, the energy roundtables of NSRT had the courage to point out that the rise in energy prices was largely the natural result of long-term forces of demand and supply and that the world should get used to seeing the energy price fluctuate in future in response to these economic forces.

    • When there was a famine in several African countries in the 1980s, and global pre-occupation was with the supply of emergency food assistance, the NSRT roundtables on food attempted to attract the attention of the policy makers towards a longer-term reordering of domestic development priorities in Africa, from cash crops to food crops, and suggested that no viable solution could be found without accelerated food production within Africa. This is conventional wisdom by now, though there were powerful institutional voices during the 1980s that Africa must continue to focus on the production of export crops.

    • When a serious debt problem hit the developing world in the 1980s and when the World Bank/IMP and other financial institutions insisted on treating it on a case-by-case basis, the NSRT roundtables on money and finance kept reminding the world that it was a generalized problem and must be dealt with on a global basis. This view is finally accepted now.

    • When the world community was still fascinated with economic growth models and when the human costs of structural adjustment were being ignored by the international financial institutions during the 1980s, the NSRT organised four major roundtables on human development, arguing that people must be placed at the centre of development, that there is no automatic link between economic growth and human development, and that financial budgets can be balanced without unbalancing human lives. The heresies of that time have become an integral part of development thinking by now.

    • When the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations was dominating the global scene in the 1980s and when the developing countries were still reluctant to include issues of trade in services and intellectual property within these talks, the NSRT roundtables on trade took the courageous position that a freer world trade order, including trade in services, was in the long term interest of the poor nations and these trade roundtables played a key role in forging a consensus among influential policy makers in trade negotiations.

    • Before there was a wide-spread recognition of the increasing marginalisation of the African continent and before the current concern emerged about the slow disintegration of several African countries, the NSRT organized several roundtables on Africa which focused global attention on the neglected domestic and international development effort in Africa and offered many concrete proposals for accelerating its economic and human progress.

    • More recently, when the global community was wrestling with new issues of global governance, the NSRT organized several roundtables on the restructuring of the UN system, including the Bretton Woods institutions, and advanced many concrete proposals - from the idea of an Economic Security Council to a second Bretton Woods Conference.

    Influencing global agenda

    The North South Roundtable has sought to influence the climate of ideas through its deliberations. At times, it has made specific proposals, some of which have already materialized on the global agenda. For instance:

    • The NSRT in 1980 initiated the idea of holding North-South summits to resolve some of the key issues at the highest political level. The first such summit was held in Cancun in 1981, and the NSRT played a major role in the preparatory process, but the actual results of the summit fell far short of expectations.

    • The NSRT proposed the setting up of a South-South Commission which would review the future direction of development in the South from its own vantage point. The proposal materialized in the form of the South Commission, headed by President Nyerere, leading to the publication of a highly-influential report: The Challenge from the South.

    • The NSRT in 1979 suggested a World Summit on Human Development. The proposal finally culminated in the Social Summit held in Copenhagen in March 1995.

    • The NSRT in 1985 proposed that annual reports should be prepared on the state of the human condition. UNDP took up this idea in the form of annual Human Development Reports (HDRs) in 1990. In fact, this proposal of the NSRT has had a world-wide impact far beyond any original expectations.

    • There are several other concrete proposals launched by the NSRT which are still being debated in various global fora: such as, a debt refinancing facility, a new SDR issue, a second Bretton Woods Conference, an Economic Security Council, several global levies.

    In summary, the North South Roundtable has proved to be an influential intellectual forum for launching new global initiatives as well as forging a consensus on key development issues on the global agenda. Its smaller, thematic roundtables have focused on specific topics in a highly professional manner and the ideas generated by these roundtables have spread widely, both because of their inherent strength as well as through the influence of the roundtable members and NSRT publications.

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