Agenda-setting Power of International Organisations: Nation-states Policies

Reception, adaptation, translation, and transformation of Global development policy ideas by nation-states: Agenda-setting power of International Organisations



India is one of the emerging economies that are defining the agenda-setting when it comes to development policy ideas in the world. Since independence, the reception and adoption of development policy ideas from the international organization have continued to evolve and impact on the country’s economic growth.  International organizations such as World Bank, IMF, DFID, and UN play highly influential roles, and influence agenda-setting in the developing world, which in turn influence globalization (Tomohara, and Takii, 2011). This influence further trickles down to global policy ideas by nation-states where the reception and adaptation of global development ideas by the state and development NGOs are considered highly linked to  Western ideological leadership in the area of development and globalisation of states. These organizations are viewed as agents of development in developing countries but are considered aid organizations where people and organizations can contribute money for a cause in the developed world.

This fundamental question of focus in this paper is how developing countries’ governments receive, adopt, and transform global development policy ideas. The paper will evaluate the globalization process in India and how India has evolved from being a country that was a  recipient of global north developmental ideologies to being an economy that has agenda-setting power in international organizations. The paper will also focus on how India as a country has evolved from receiving and adapting the global development policy ideas in the developed global North to the developing global South with a focus on the role of international organizations on the same. The paper begins with a discussion on reception of global policy ideas then provides a discussion on the adaptation of global development policy ideas. Further, translation and transformation of global development policy ideas is also brought into context.


Reception of global development policy ideas

In India, globalization has continued to define social relations and economic development as the local occurrences are shaped by events occurring in other parts of the world. The interactions brought about by globalization widely affect the reception of global development ideas introduced to the developing world by global organizations. Prominence and value are placed on the ability to shape and manipulate relationships that can change people’s social and political positions, thus the ability to set development ideas(Leach & stevens, 2020). Fougner (2006) argues that inequality between the developed North and the developing South has disappeared. Mosse(2005), also argues that the development ideology has been increased, particularly in the neo-liberal promotion of aspects like entrepreneurship as a tool for solving poverty in the developing world. International organizations like the World Bank have fueled this phenomenon via member states and rising economies in the developing South like India. In India, it was further propagated during Prime Minister Modi’s regime with the “Make in India” campaign.

Further, these organizations are strategic when it comes to framing issues, and this creates alignment, thus gaining them the support of the public. Issues are framed in a manner to suggest gained interest for member states like reduced hunger, stunting, or even environmental sustainability. The concepts were similar but were affected majorly by context, including semantics and political environments.

Increasingly, member states’ government institutions and departments acted as initiators and organizers that set stages for agenda-setting in the developing world (Risse,2002). In India, post-independence, the government-aligned with international organizations because of the funding that was resultant of the development agenda. The promotion of developmental ideologies and agendas are in the interest of governments for purposes of political correctness. In 1948, India adopted a liberal industrial policy, which was mainly driven by the needs of the economic growth and local industry. The reception of global development ideas was reflected in the industrial policy of 1948, through which the government looked for foreign investors who benefited from unrestricted remittance of profits as well as dividends to the foreign companies, which facilitated the economic growth of the country. According to Smillie (1999), the ideologies of international organizations often seek political correctness in ruling governments, offer incentives in terms of promotion of development agendas, which will, in turn, give ruling governments an upper hand in successful leadership.

International organizations have also since seized to present themselves as not solely charitable organizations but also as countries extended sources of investment income and opportunities for trade. (Kharas and Rogerson,2017). International organizations and NGOs often act as bridges between the developing world and the developed world, where issues are articulated on behalf of the developing world, enabling the mobilization of resources for agenda-setting. As an expression of national interests at heart, this has quickly accelerated the acceptability of these organizations by member states.

Adaptation of global development policy ideas

Foreign aid is a crucial factor that influences economic growth in developing member states and, with the right political goodwill, is well adapted for development policy ideas. Foreign aid through international organizations and NGOs influence economic growth by providing knowledge, technical expertise, impacting societies, and above all, resources. International organizations in developing countries are viewed as beneficial to member states, unlike in the developed world where they are viewed as non-profit organizations they can donate to for a cause. (Maslyukivska,1999)

In the 1980s, India was the largest recipient of foreign aid in the world. This was facilitated by the industrial policy of 1980, which streamlined industrial licensing and made foreign investment in the country easier. However, in 1991, the Indian economy was faced by a crisis, just like the countries in Eastern and Western Europe, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. Foreign investors had lost faith in the economy, and the government had to take a stance to boost the economy and prevent defaulting on loans. According to Goyal and Singh (2016), one key adoption of global development ideas in India was the adoption of devaluation, which led to the Indian currency being devalued by 18-19% against other major currencies in the foreign exchange market. This was followed by the Indian government adopting economic reforms that were characterized by privatization, liberalization, and globalization to grow the country’s economy and make it globally competitive. Further, India joined WTO which promoted free global trade and competition between countries

After the crisis and adoption of the economic reforms, the adoption of global developmental ideas was also based solely on an identified mutual benefit experienced by both India and its partners in development. Aid organizations seeking to help could only partner with India upon request to address a need that has been prevailing and has been expressed as a pressing matter. Transparency is also required throughout the process to ensure funds are utilized as planned. Monitoring and evaluation for accountability are necessary to establish the effectiveness of the aid. Since India has been on a path of self-reliance, sustainability in terms of economics, social and human resources is a priority for the adoption of any policy development ideas. Inclusivity of minority groups, including people of disability, women, and children in any development policy, is key to its adoption(Dasgupta, 2016). India put all its efforts in intellectual achievements, ignoring other aspects of development in a bid to achieve the elusive self-reliance. Denying foreign ideologies set back the developing process like certain states in the country passed the use of Hindi as a language against English, which offered opportunities to compete globally. India has a pharmaceutical industry that is well established in the generic field, but there is no new formulation of drugs that have been developed in the country. After a crisis that led to hunger, India realized it had been ignoring the farming sector and implemented measures to improve the grain reserve including the introduction of farmers cooperatives that were strictly free of foreign aid also referred to as “participatory development” (Maslyukivska, 1999)

In other developing countries, adoption to global development ideas was easier in democratic member states. They saw these ideas and aid as relief and beneficial to their development. Sub-Saharan Africa benefited from this aid in times of disasters as it was swift and efficient and foresaw other opportunities for national growth and development. In the adoption of global development ideas, India moved from the North-South pathway of development aid to the South-South pathway of developmental aid (Kevin & Barry, 2016). India has continued to decline international assistance and through the Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) initiatives, and other developmental initiatives has continued to offer developmental aid to developing countries.

Translation and transformation of global development policy ideas

India’s economic liberalization was set up by embracing globalization since the early 1990s, and the country has been on a trajectory that has seen it increase its influence in the global economy. Moreover, India has had an increasing say in the advancement of the economic order, especially under Prime minister Narendra Modi. This has been attributed to the prime minister’s strengthened mandate of the government, pro-active foreign policy, and his development and growth-focused agenda. Notably, the ‘Make in India’ campaign was designed to attract investors to India through a rational and Omni-directional foreign policy. (Mukherji, 2009) India’s development priorities were clearly outlined in this.

India, as a rapidly rising power in the world as a result of globalization, can share policy experiences more frequently with not only the developing world but also the developed world (Stone et al., 2020). Having the power, authority, and capacity, the country advocates its policy experiences in international organizations such as the World Bank and the United  Nations. India has moved from being influenced by developmental policy ideas from the global developed North to being a contributor to global development policy ideas to the developed world and the developing world as well. Hybridization has been a central cross-cutting theme in the transformation and translation of global development policy ideas. It has led to the transfer and customization of policies to fit the Indian context. Similarly in the social context, hybridization has led to the modernization of Indian traditions and their cultural practices(Mondal, 2012). Also the Indian culture has had a significant impact at the global level due to their significance in contemporary times.

In 2014 when the Prime minister assumed power, the country’s World Bank’s global rank was 142. Throughout his tenure, this rank has improved and currently stands at 77. However, the school of thought that India’s position in the rankings have improved as a result of the government’s continuous effort in implementing significant policy reforms and enhancing its business environment is a mere exaggeration. The criteria that the world bank measure the business environment caters to specific factors and ignores a lot of other influential factors. The world bank itself acknowledges the flaws in the system in leaving out some critical matters such as population, security, macroeconomic stability, and level of skilled labor. The system focusses on securing creditor rights, which may either be beneficial or an obstacle to growth.

The shift in the methods used by the World Bank played a significant influence in improving India’s ranking in the last two years rather than the actual change in the country’s underlying indicators. The difference between countries’ scores was also relatively marginal; therefore, a small change resulted in a more massive shift in the ranking. With this in mind, Modi’s government went to unusual lengths to lobby the World Bank to change its mode of calculation (Singh, 2018). The changes were intended to bring about minor but specific changes that would, in turn, improve the country’s rankings.

It is also important to note that India has not been strange to large sums of foreign investment flows as a result of its ease of business index even before the changes by the world bank. Currently, the country receives investment flows greater than several countries above it in the rankings by the World Bank. The decisions to invest in a country are primarily shaped by the perceived business opportunity and prospective returns. Taking China, for example, which has had massive foreign investment resulting in robust economic growth despite lacking a clear policy framework to govern the issues that are perceived to be vital for foreign investment. The Ease of Doing Business index is an inaccurate predictor of the level of foreign direct investment across countries.

Modi’s attention to the ranking in the index shows an unhealthy focus on packaging, which gives international organizations a platform and incentive to push for global development ideas from within the country. The global development agencies create a sense of global interconnectedness. This global interconnectedness involves the development outcomes of one place being shaped through links with other places.

Poverty or underdevelopment in these countries are usually framed as residual problems and are therefore disconnected from any of the processes or structures that generate wealth and prosperity. The relational perspectives are drawn from a keen study of the processes of adverse incorporation and social exclusion. This includes the historical political and economic relations and how they influence the conventional geographical divides. What this means is that the development outcome has already been recognized to be influenced by wider systems such as capitalism or colonialism. (Dasgupta, 2016)

With a rise in Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in India in the past three decades, it is increasingly difficult to measure their performance or impact as it revolves around validity and reliability. Literature concerning the same may offer conflicting opinions as some may overrate them in terms of their impact or positive influence, while others question the reason for the existence and reality of the impact of NGOs.

Globalization has transformed the role of NGOs in countries based on the potential return from that country, which has led them to be considered as moral entrepreneurs rather than organizations (Roberts, 2005). They mobilize a public support system and bring sensitive issues to the public and political notice. This has been the case with India’s sanitation. It is a known fact that India has the worst sanitation in the world, and the country’s political leaders have often made remarks about it publicly. It is through agenda-setting that this issue has been deemed much more critical than political freedom, independence, and religion.

NGOs have an influence on public policy at local, national, and global levels cannot be ignored. They have recently dominated policymaking and international relations, making them leading stakeholders in the development arena. NGOs have often collaborated with state and non-state actors, including multinational corporations, to achieve their desired goal. However, the stakeholders might have different underlined goals in mind which may be fulfilled through the NGO. Most of the underlined goals remain unstated but are implemented through agenda setting, with the evaluation of the projects and programs implemented being minimal or limited to perceived effects rather than development outcomes.  This is mainly attributed to a lack of credible data from the grounds work and no distinct social development indices at such small scales.

A study was undertaken by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs appointed by its policy and operations Evaluations Department navigated through the relationship between foreign aid, the civil society, and overall development outcomes. The studies show the improvement in civic action and club membership through the donor aid; however, there are minimal effects on alleviation of poverty (Kharas, 2010).  The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) claims that NGOs can alleviate poverty or make strides towards it. Still, the minimal data on how NGO aid is spent is a limiting factor.

Decision making in NGOs is not as transparent. It does not consider the broad participation of its stakeholders, therefore hindering its ability to adapt to the ever-changing situations relatively faster than governments. It is expected that, since NGOs are smaller than the government, they may provide alternative leadership through mobilization and play several roles in society; however, this is not the case. NGOs impose their views on the other stakeholders based on self-interests. The participatory processes are manipulated, and the lead cause they were formulated for is abandoned. The overall opportunity to stimulate change is, therefore, lost, and no more leading roles in policy dialogues are allocated to NGOs. A good example where manipulation of the process to suit specific parties is the battle against construction large dams in India, specifically the Sardar Sarovar Project on the Narmada River.

A native group, ARCH-Vahini, was established in order to acquire proper settlement for the affected population by the Sardar Sarovar Project. The local group worked in conjunction with an international NGO. ARCH-Vahini was extremely invested in ensuring the local population gets equitable resettlement and rehabilitation policy through the World Bank. The policy was finally announced; however, the following year, a similar initiative was undertaken. Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA), a local organization in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, opposed the project citing social, environmental, and economic grounds. The group was evidently opposing its agenda as it did not consider the interests of the people like ARCH-Vahini had previously done. They did not consider the long term improvement on the quality of life but rather focused on simply opposing the project.

The criticism of the project attracted an audience both locally and internationally, and various NGOs joined the movement based on one side of the information. The majority of the NGOs that joined in were unaware of the reality of the situation. The NBA used this situation as a publicity stunt to draw more visibility and funding rather than focusing on the tribal people. The NBA leadership even went on to receive prizes for their efforts without any form of the solution being given to their main causalities; the people.

The involvement and influence of outside parties culminated in an inquiry on the Sardar Sarovar Project before the Subcommittee on Natural Resources, Agriculture Research, and Environment of the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology of the US House of Representatives in October 1989. The focus also shifted on the World Bank for funding such a project, and an independent review committee was appointed to look into the project. The resulting report was filled with errors and factual errors, according to ARCH-Vahini. The World Bank continued funding the project, and over two decades later, the dam supplies water to one of the driest states. (Dwivedi, 2006).


Globalization has resulted in development in different aspects and has been highly influenced by agenda-setting capabilities of the developed North.  In India globalization process, when it comes to development, has evolved as the economy of the country evolved. Initially, adoption and translation of global developmental policy ideas in India took the North-South pathway. Still, with time and through globalization, there has been a shift to the South-South pathway. India has moved from being a country influenced by the global north ideologies on policy to be a pivotal contributor to developmental policy ideas that are adopted not only by the South but also by the global North. These knowledge exchanges have become more frequent. International organizations are beneficial in several areas of development. They have played a considerable role in globalization through the drawing of investments and funding to the developing world, including India. These organizations have the platform to express issues requiring assistance to the world and even garner political influence, thus increasing investments. They also can influence public policy when it seems beneficial to member states. The reception, adoption, translation, and transformation of global development policy ideas are dependent on context, history, democracy, and political goodwill of a member state.

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