The first UN Development Decade was launched by the General Assembly in December 1961. It called on all member states to intensify their efforts to mobilize support for measures required to accelerate progress toward self-sustaining economic growth and social advancement in the developing countries. With each developing country setting its own target, the objective would be a minimum annual growth rate of 5% in aggregate national income by the end of the decade.
The economically advanced states were asked to pursue policies designed to enable the developing countries to sell more of their products at stable and remunerative prices in expanding markets in order to finance more of their economic development, and to follow policies designed to ensure developing countries an equitable share of earnings from extraction and marketing of their natural resources by foreign capital. Industrialized states were also called on to pursue policies that would lead to an increase in the flow of developmental resources and stimulate the flow of private capital to developing countries on mutually acceptable terms. The General Assembly recommended that the flow of international capital and assistance to developing countries should be about 1% of the combined national incomes of the economically advanced countries.
Throughout the decade of the 1960s, however, the growth rate in the economically advanced market economies accelerated, and the gap between the per capita incomes of the developing countries and those of the developed countries widened. Two-thirds of the world's population living in the less developed regions of the world still had less than one-sixth of the world's income. In 1962, annual per capita income in those regions averaged $136, while that of the economically advanced market economies in North America and Western Europe averaged $2,845 and $1,033, respectively.
In a report issued in 1969, Secretary-General U Thant noted that the slower progress in development had been accompanied by the emergence or aggravation of major imbalances that imperiled future growth. Without greater progress in food production and the more effective control of communicable diseases, the necessary conditions for steady economic and social development could hardly be said to have been created. At the same time, the Secretary-General pointed out, the experience of a few countries had demonstrated that "given a favorable constellation of circumstances and policies, an adequate and sustained pace of development can be achieved," and acceptance of development as a fundamental objective had gradually wrought a desirable change in attitudes and modes of action on the part of developing countries. Public decisions were no longer made solely in response to expediency, and policies and programs previously decided upon in relative isolation were gradually being integrated and harnessed to a common purpose. At the international level, the Secretary-General noted, the institutional machinery for the review and advancement of international policies had been considerably strengthened by the creation of such bodies as the UN Conference on Trade and Development and the Committee for Development Planning.
The first UN Development Decade ended in December 1970 with one of its major goals, the attainment of a 5% growth rate, unattained in the developing countries. During the period 1960–67, those countries achieved an annual rate of increase in their total domestic product of about 4.6%, but, because of the population increase, the increase in their per capita gross product was only about 2%. The General Assembly concluded that one of the reasons for the slow progress was the absence of a framework of international development strategy.