International economic development conferences must be more accessible to Southern researchers

November | 2022

In a webinar hosted by PEP Research Fellows, distinguished economists discussed ways to increase the representation of Southern researchers at leading development conferences.

On November 7, PEP hosted a discussion with some of the most distinguished economists and researchers in the development field. More than 250 people from around the world—including researchers, international experts, stakeholders, donors, and policy advisors—joined us for our webinar titled “Southern representation in development economics conferences: A webinar-based dialogue with an expert panel.”

The number of Southern researchers attending leading international conferences on economic development remains low. The underrepresentation of researchers from the Global South in development can limit the dissemination of knowledge and ideas needed for practical solutions to issues facing developing countries in a rapidly changing world. This online event, part of a series hosted by PEP Research Fellows, was held to address this critical deficit.

The discussion was moderated by PEP Research Fellows Ronelle Burger, a professor in the Economics Department at Stellenbosch University, and Vaqar Ahmed, the Joint Executive Director at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI). The panelists included: 

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The importance of conference participation

International conferences offer researchers many advantages, including enhancing their career development. As part of her opening remarks, Ronelle Burger further detailed the importance of academic conferences.

"Conferences give us the opportunity to promote our new work and build our brand. They give those who attend an opportunity to receive expert peer feedback on early findings, which can improve research. Also, we learn about new developments in methods and theory. Conferences also help to shape ideas and priorities about development policy."

Ronelle Burger

Panelists discussed the barriers to participation experienced by researchers from countries in the Global South. Their insights led to several recommendations that would enable Southern researchers to engage more effectively in the field and bridge the chasm between marginalized researchers and global economic development fora.


Key takeaways...

Southern think tanks are underfunded, and capacity building is required. As a result, Northern researchers dominate global debates and shape policy decisions that impact Southern economies with little input from local researchers.

“African economic policy institutes struggle for financial sustainability, most competing for the same limited donor funding. As a consequence, for global discussions on issues affecting Africa, the agenda is largely driven by Northern policy institutes, think tanks, foundations, and bilateral and multilateral institutions with little or no input from African policy institutions or researchers.”

K.Y. Amoako

Researchers from the Global South can have difficulty attending conferences due to rigid visa requirements and restrictions.

“Visa issues in the UK have become an increasingly difficult problem. We now must have really early deadlines to even get a chance to get visas approved and because of backlogs it's getting harder.”

Stefan Dercon


and concrete steps to improve participation

Instead of holding conferences only in the North, conferences should be held in countries around the world to reduce barriers to attendance.

“Encourage organizations like the World Bank to think about having economic development conferences rotate and not just held in D.C. but in other locations. Both the visa and funding constraints are slightly less binding on researchers in the U.S. or Europe.”

Rohini Pande

Increased submissions and higher acceptance rates may be achieved by keeping underrepresented researchers informed about conferences and submission deadlines.

“While participation rates are low, it's also building on a low base of submissions. The reason for low rates of submissions may be that you don't hear about the conference, so ways of ensuring that people hear about conferences are important.”

Rohini Pande

Organizations such as PEP must continue to raise awareness and advocate for systemic changes.

“Keep up the pressure. The fact that you write these papers is really helpful. When I was Chief Economist [at the Department of International Development, UK], it encouraged us to set incentives differently. Find ways to increase participation, not in a token way, but meanwhile boosting the quality of the work with any means you have.”

Stefan Dercon


This webinar is one of a series of online events we are hosting to address the underrepresentation of researchers from the Global South in the field of Development Economics. Our next webinar discussion is scheduled to take place in January. Check back for further details.  

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