Leapfrogging: Bypassing the Long Road to Development



Developing nations have an embedded belief that “if only they were like developed nations” would they be, well, developed. The keyword here is “resources.” As in, “We don’t have enough resources to do ______. So, we cannot.”

A more sophisticated phrasing of this concern is, “We don’t have the infrastructure in place.” No infrastructure, no go.

An article that I read long ago, titled “Geography is Destiny,” had a very interesting idea. It said that nations that were completely destroyed in World War 2 – Germany and Japan – in fact found themselves in a better position to develop, as compared to, say, The Continent. Why? Because everything they had was destroyed, so when they built again, they built with later and more agile systems – not to mention cheaper technology. It’s like losing your phone and buying the latest model with added features that help you work faster.

Better still, how about you’re buying your first cellphone in 2007? Were you around when then first mini-tower sized cellphones were launched in the 1990’s? Remember the crazy bills? 


THAT is leapfrogging. You arrive late, but get the best seat. You don’t have the weight of what is technically called the “legacy system” on your shoulders. You are free to choose, in the times of the open source. Beautiful!

With technology evolving by the day, and getting cheaper at the same time, late-comers have the advantage of being able to use cheaper, and micro-sized systems for a fragmented market. Size-does-matter. WorldChanging lists tens of examples of the success of leapfrogging – indeed it’s hailed as a principle for development of “Global South”– or Southeast, in Pakistan’s case.


As it is, Pakistan has got going a pilot project on solar energy. Award-winning tele-medicine solutionsare making up for lack of health-care network distribution. The Internet has paved the way for Pakistani techpreneurs to go head-to-head with global market. 

Whatever the definition of development is, and whether it includes the cost of “externalities” (which I define as “cost to humanity”) – development today is a result of mindsets. In my consultations to those stuck on “I can’t! issues”, I ask, “What can you?” and “How can you?”

The mantra is, there is an alternative way. We just have to find what it is.


The case for Leapfrogging as a development principle is building up, while critique suggests the limited scope, or perhaps the fact that leapfrogging either occurs all the time, or it’s not as prevalent as one believes. I say which new idea wasn’t limited when it started? Do you, or do you not have a cellphone? The effect of water is best observed by a person who just broke their fast as opposed to someone who’s had one glass each hour – and therefore it’s the Global South who will really get the idea.


Image by striatic @ Flickr

Facebook comments:


  • I love the concluding note about mindsets changing things, I’d just like to add one more example to it:


    It is about China’s plans to go for 4G (4th generation wireless networks) instead of a massive deployment in 3G. Oh and BTW, even in 3G, they had a separate opinion about it than the rest of the world. But that is China the great. I hope something like happens for us also.

  • Excellent Article! It is a must read for “whiners” who do nothing but continuously blame the environment and the surroundings.

    Here is another example from Pakistan which highlights innovation by the virtue of restricted resources:


  • I am not sure where this comment fits…..
    In “about”your vision..”debate and derive solutions..power to educate the masses..”
    The latter is my concern.How about solving this by G&w building a mastermind group?

    “30 & the Pakistan powerhouse”
    A true story; A friend of mine was sponsored to UK by the British council..during his three month stay he visited me.He was very upset when after his first college meal he noticed the amount of food wasted by the students.
    He explained;At home (an african country )His wife and two boys often had 3-o days.ie .days with no meals..some days might be 2-0 rarely 3-3..
    The school was some miles away and the boys would come home and return the following morning without having eaten.
    What chance of them applying for LUMS ?
    Relate this to Pakistan..Lets say the masses are near the 3-2 How can we enhance ther lives and lift their productivity to every one’s benefit?
    USA’s achievement is not only aiming for the best but using the immense internal market to test and start businesses..
    Pakistan can do the same..the time is right
    G&W has already started a revolution in thinking
    Let’s get the challenge right ?
    Here is the impossible dream…….
    Aim ;..to equalise th world’s wealth by the rich giving the poor the means…….
    see blog .”startup-asia ”
    G&W has given me the encouragement and contact to forward this dream …..more ..Ian

  • 30&thePakistan powerhouse (3pp )part..2

    More on the” mastermind group”…………. G&W contacts include the brightest minds in Pakistan,many obviously caring, but all wanting to see Pakistan a powerhouse with increased GNP ?
    Because many are young and idealist( one hopes)at the start of their careers..There is a distinct possibility a truly united vision could be established to focus this brain power
    ..indeed Osama your” Vision” includes this idea?
    However there is a huge problem..HOW.. to harness /focus that seeming synergy for the good of all ( enhanced CV’s; stimulating debate in the coffee sessions;bringing on stream the masses,this increasing the consumer base, more internal demand, etc..
    The great wonder now is for the first time in history the technology is available to make this possible very quickly….
    Essentially the problem is an administrative one (once the mastermind group is in place )
    How to get them in place can be solved by a creative approach ..(ideally we do not want have to pay these” brains” because we want true idealists…)
    The solution is not impossible as i have found three already……
    Is there anyone in Pakistan who is thinking on these lines? And actually DOING something about it?
    It seems from my research that creativity in
    business strategies could be a real catylist
    for Pakistan’s power base.. IP….If only because it requires people’s best thinking ..

    Anyone agree ……Ian

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