TWAS Fellow and economist Justin Yifu Lin visited TWAS headquarters in Trieste, Italy, on 8 May 2023. An expert on economic development, he discussed the Academy’s unique role as an institution dedicated to strengthening global South science, and shared his expert perspective on approaches to help nations economically grow.
Lin was the senior vice president and chief economist of the World Bank from 2008–2012. He is also a 2005 TWAS Fellow, and Dean of Institute of New Structural Economics and Institute of South-South Cooperation and Development and Honorary Dean of National School of Development at Peking University in China.
During his visit, Lin met with TWAS Executive Director Romain Murenzi to discuss the challenges related to economic development in the global South and the importance of social sciences, such as economics. He also met with TWAS staff to discuss the Academy’s programmes building scientific capacity enpowering women scientists in the global South.
Lin noted that he believes his election as a TWAS Fellow was a factor in his candidacy and ultimate choice to serve as chief economist at the World Bank. He noted that he was the first economist to serve in that role from the developing world.
“I appreciate that I was elected to TWAS in 2005. It gave me a recognition of my contributions to economics and the community,” he said. “All my predecessors had been from the United States and Europe. I consider the distinction of being a TWAS Fellow very important.”
Economic development in context
Among the points he emphasized during his visit was the need to not apply a single economic theory too broadly across countries. Countries, he said, have different national contexts that necessitate different theories on how to approach development. Awareness of this need, he said, was part of how China was able to become a ‘growth economy’ in the 1990s.
For developed countries, much of innovation is on the true cutting edge. Whereas for many developing countries old technologies can provide new and missing critical services. This is an example of a major structural difference that rises from different national experiences, he said. It also demonstrates that developing countries generally need better existing technologies that will address pressing needs at home, such as poverty or water availability.
“You can’t use a first world focus, or you will miss the big picture,” he said. “We need to adopt this understanding of the reality of the condition of the country, and what works.”
Meanwhile, some applied sciences needed to adapt to the Fourth Industrial Revolution may be a challenge in particular for the developing world. Social sciences can help by taking into account the life of people in developed countries, and identifying existing technologies in sectors such as agriculture and energy to supply those countries with the resources they need. And the kind of scientific growth nurtured by TWAS, he noted, can provide for a shift in the nation’s economic context, and make home-grown innovation possible.
“TWAS is a good bridge, in the sense that it can allow young scientists in developing countries to have a community, to share their experiences, and to contribute to scientific progress,” Lin said, “as well as provide scientists from developing countries with appropriate recognition for their accomplishments.”