We talk sadly about the terrible conditions in “The Third World.” But do we actually know what the Third World is? Here are three things you probably didn’t know about the so-called Third World:

Etymology— After the Second World War, and before the start of the Cold War, the world was divided roughly into three different groups: the First World, the Second World, and the Third World. The First World referred to countries such as the U.S.: capitalist, democratic, and industrial.

The Second World referred to the communist-socialist countries in Eastern Europe and East Asia, such as Russia, China, Poland, etc. Finally, the Third World referred to the rest of the countries.

Today, the phrase “Third World” is used to refer to the Global South, or in general, to poorer nations. While this appropriation of the phrase is not entirely incorrect, there are a lot of “Third World” nations that are quickly developing, and taking center stage in many different fields.

History— A majority of what’s considered the “Third World,” both in terms of the original definition and what people assume now to be the third world has an imperial/colonized past. Africa represents one simple example of this. During the Berlin Conference of 1884, there was a “Scramble for Africa,” during which various European nations divided up the continent into parts to share.

Nations outside Africa, including Indonesia and India, were also colonized. Eventually, all these nations fought for and gained independence, and started developing their economies and governments. While most of these “Third World” nations that fought for independence remained democratic, some fell under the rule of tyrannous leaders and many citizens are still oppressed. These nations today continue to have severe human rights crises, as the rights of the citizens are very often denied or even ignored in these nations.

Economy— On a more optimistic note, some of the developing nations are places of great economic potential. It is widely agreed that investing in the “Third World” will have positive impact on the global economy. Up-and-coming innovations and businesses, along with the masses of populations that are just now trying to rise above the cycle of poverty provide great potential—if they’re given the opportunity to break out of said cycle of poverty.

It is important to remember that in addition to aiding the global economy, investing in and supporting the “Third World” will liberate millions from the shackles of poverty, opening up a world of opportunities and potential.

– Aalekhya Malladi

Sources: Nations Online, Nations Online: Third World, Then Again, The Borgen Project
Photo: Global Giving Foundation