Asia Development Dialogue Team

The development landscape in Asia is changing. As more countries reach middle-income levels, new challenges emerge while old ones evolve, all of which demands increasingly innovative perspectives. The region is experiencing rapid urbanization, ageing populations, increasingly mobile and connected peoples, increased cultural and ethnic diversity, greater vulnerability to macroeconomic shocks, more devastating natural disasters, chronic poverty with widening disparities, a rising middle class and other political transformations that might open the doors for more active citizens, and robust economic growth, which means richer but not necessarily more effective governments.

These changes are taking place largely in cities – the arena in which citizen influence is the strongest. Many middle-income cities house expanding populations, often generate more than 50 per cent of the national income and are centres of culture, industry, commerce and politics. With this concentration of growth, many cities have risen, and are continuing to rise, in prominence. This is particularly the case for secondary cities. Contrary to common belief, the majority of the world’s urban population resides in cities of fewer than one million inhabitants. Increasingly, secondary cities are vital elements in economic development strategies and as platforms for social and political innovations.

Against this reality, international aid organizations are reorienting their work, especially in the more fragile countries that tend to be poorly governed. External funding institutions cannot exert the same degree of influence as before because any financial incentive they might offer is likely to be overshadowed by other streams of financial flows. In most of these developing countries, the issue is no longer the amount of growth but the quality of growth. The need, then, is to engage with the increasing variety of stakeholders and with the social, economic and political processes that are shaping the new development priorities and policy-making.

Recognizing that cities are the focus of change for rural, local, national and global development agendas, Oxfam is re-engaging its work in middle-income countries through urban programming. This includes campaigning in cities to leverage for national change and simultaneously using these new approaches to complement its traditional rural development work. The challenge for Oxfam is to build sustainable institutional processes through which the urban poor can advocate and innovate to realize their rights while governments and other influential actors (the private sector and international agencies) become more responsive and accountable to the urban poor. In other words, fostering active citizens and honing responsive states.

A key component of Oxfam’s urban framework is the generation and sharing of knowledge that can support its urban programming and feed advocacy and capacity-strengthening initiatives. An Asia Development Dialogue (ADD) platform was started in 2012 to promote multidisciplinary analysis and debate regarding a limited number of prioritized and cross-cutting issues that have longer-term implications for social and economic development in Asia – especially issues that may be highly relevant but have not yet been systemically addressed through this type of learning forum. It is a joint collaboration among Oxfam Great Britain, Chulalongkorn University (Thailand) and the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy (Singapore), with support from the Rockefeller Foundation.

Embracing the importance of collective thinking, multidisciplinary analysis and joint solutions in tackling the critical challenges confronting Asia today, the project leverages the expertise and networks of each consortium member to gather diverse stakeholders from government, the private sector, academia, media and civil society onto the same platforms.

The topics included in this publication emerged during various ADD meetings that took place in 2013 focusing on the challenges and opportunities of secondary cities. The publication is not intended to be a report or a collection of in-depth analytical papers but rather an exploration of questions that the ADD discussions brought to the surface. This collection both highlights emerging issues and provides different perspectives on persistent issues.





Understanding the New Urban

  • Introduction by editor Jorge Carrillo Rodriguez
  • Gender and Urban Development: Towards Women-Friendly Cities – Sita Sumrit
  • Greying Populations – An Onus or Bonus for South-East Asian Cities? -Giang Thanh Long
  • The Changing Face of Cosmopolitan Asia – Subatra Jayaraj
  • Urban Informality Revisited – Witchaya Pruecksamars
  • Urban Resilience: Preparing for Uncertainty – Daphna Beerdsen
  • Sensory Citizenship – Arthit Suriyawongkulul

The Rise of Secondary Cities

  • Exploring the Multifunctionality of Secondary Cities – Brian Roberts
  • Doing More with Less – Resource Challenges for Secondary Cities in South-East Asia – John Taylor
  • Rethinking the Rural–Urban Continuum – Eric C. Thompson


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Categories: Citizenship, Decentralized Local Cooperation, Food Security, Gender, Governance, Informality, Livelihoods, Migration, Secondary Cities