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Paraedigms : Navigating the Shift: A Dialogue on the Global Paradigm Shift in International Cooperation with Professor Patrick Develtere

Summary Article

International development cooperation is currently undergoing a major evolution, shifting from a North-centric aid approach to a more balanced and horizontal approach, according to Professor Patrick Develtere, interviewed by Nina Volles of Paeradigms. The professor highlights the increased role of global South countries as active architects of their development. The conversation explores the impact of new donors, such as China, and highlights the emergence of a “fourth pillar” composed of non-traditional actors.

Date: 10 Jan 2024 I Author: Nina Volles, Paraedigms

The landscape of international ‘development’ (see note of author in the end of text) cooperation is experiencing a paradigm shift, a reality brought into sharp focus during a conversation between Paeradigms and Professor Patrick Develtere. As an academic at KU Leuven and seasoned practitioner, Develtere’s insights delve into the heart of development cooperation’s evolution, which he has extensively covered in his latest collaborative publication.

From vertical to reciprocal: This graph illustrates the shift from the traditional, donor-driven approach to a new, to a new, collaborative paradigm

Develtere’s conversation with Paeradigms reveals the transformation from a vertical, aid-centric approach dominated by the Global North to a more horizontal and reciprocal framework of global cooperation. This paradigm shift is pivotal and comes to life in the book International Development Cooperation Today: A Radical Shift Towards a Global Paradigm. Here, Develtere, alongside Huib Huyse and Jan Van Ongevalle, chronicles the journey of development aid through the past six decades, scrutinising its complexities, successes, and failures.

Central to this shift is the assertion of agency by countries in the Global South, a move away from being mere recipients to becoming active architects of their development narratives. This transition is characterised by increased risk-taking, the pursuit of mutual interests, and a holistic societal approach that includes a diverse range of actors from civil society, cooperative movements, and beyond.

The conversation critically examined the emergence of new donors and private entities, such as China, India, and philanthropic foundations, which are reshaping the mechanisms and strategies of aid delivery. These actors bring to the table a mix of investments, trade, and exchange that challenge the traditional paradigms of aid and philanthropy This diversity, while a potential strength, often leads to duplication of efforts and a lack of coherent strategy. The dialogue also touches on the irony of the development sector; although it champions innovation and adaptation, it frequently falls back on conservative, risk-averse approaches due to entrenched bureaucratic systems.


Develtere also highlighted the growing significance of ‘fourth pillar’ initiatives in this evolving landscape. It refers to a diverse array of non-traditional actors who contribute to international development efforts beyond the conventional trio of governmental or public organisations (usually providing official development assistance), the private sectors and NGOs. The fourth pillar includes diaspora and migrant communities, local community initiatives, educational and academic institutions, social enterprises and cooperatives, individual volunteers and philanthropists, as well as other non-traditional entities like media and cultural organisations. These actors usually are not constrained by the traditions of the aid sector and often interact globally, a trend facilitated by globalisation. However, Develtere clarifies that recognising this trend does not mean uncritical support. He advocates for leadership by development agencies like Enabel to navigate these complex interactions and promotes a ‘principled approach’, i.e., a set of core principles and values that help to navigate complex ethical dilemmas, ensure consistency in decision-making, and build trust among stakeholders.

Current practices in international cooperation need to be reimagined to embrace the fast-evolving global scene. This includes re-evaluating the roles of established development agencies, and fostering more synergistic and risk-tolerant partnerships. The book and conversation with Develtere also underscore the need for a nuanced understanding of the shifting landscape of international cooperationdevelopment. It is a landscape where the balance of power is more distributed, the roles of donors and recipients are increasingly interchanged, and the very definition of aid is being questioned.

A heartfelt thanks to Professor Patrick Develtere for taking the time to explain these issues and for contributing a critical voice to the ongoing discourse on the future of international development cooperation. His scholarly and experiential perspectives offer valuable insights into the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead as we navigate this evolving paradigm.

Note by author: In the article, the term “development” is used in the traditional sense of international cooperation. However, the author recommends transitioning away from this term to better capture the nuances of global partnerships. Alternative terminology like “international cooperation”, “global partnership” or “sustainable development” is suggested, reflecting a more equitable, diverse, and sustainable approach to global collaboration.


Book: Develtere, P., Huyse, H., & Van Ongevalle, J. (2021). International Development Cooperation Today: A Radical Shift Towards a Global Paradigm. Leuven University Press.

The book available in paperback and as an eBook and can be ordered at

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