Poet Laureate Emeritus, William A. Douglas, is the former director of the SAIS International Development Program and current Professorial Lecturer at the Liberal Studies Program at Georgetown University.

Economic growth used to be slow – 
It took Great Britain a century year to grow
Into a fully industrialized nation.
For the poor, the wait was cause for frustration.

In recent Times, growth has accelerated:
The four Tigers grew fast, as technology penetrated
Into poor countries that soon came to be,
Like Korea, proud members of the OECD.

Then China stood up, and grew even faster.
Like a phoenix, it rose from Mao’s disaster,
And grew to become again a world power
Before which, today, its poor neighbors cower. 

The “late-comers’ advantage” explains part of this change.
For the emerging nations, the new ways were not strange.
They had seen them in the wealthier West,
And were able to borrow whatever worked best.

But, the LDCs didn’t copy the West’s ways unaltered.
Had they done so, their economies soon might have faltered. 
They adapted technologies to fit the situations
Found in the various emerging nations.

In Africa, one solar panel on each farmer’s dwelling,
Provides power to use to improve what he’s selling.
So, his income goes up, and soon demand rises - 
A chain of events bearing happy surprises.

“Leap-frogging” is another late-comers’ boon
That helps them to achieve modernity soon.
To communicate, no land-lines were needed - 
Directly to cell phones poor countries proceeded.

Adaptive technology and innovation
Do not always help a poor nation.
Having first provided a lift,
Their impact later on may shift,
And then they may impose a cap – 
Through the “middle-income trap”.

Then, after an initial surge,
An emerging nation may cease to emerge. 
If its development model is export-led,
As it grows and gets ahead ,
It may lose its favored position
In international competition. 

As such countries industrialize
Their workers’ wages begin to rise.
So, their labor-intensive industry
Away to poorer countries will flee. 

Then, the race to the bottom they will lose, 
If earlier they had failed to choose
To train each worker and technician,
In skills needed to make the transition
To higher-tech goods which they could sell,
So their development stories would end up well. 

Technology can help a nation to grow
Providing what is needed so:
To lift up those who once were poor
Into prosperity that will endure.

PHOTO CREDIT: Department for International Development/Russell Watkins from Flickr Creative Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0