What is development?

Surrounded by technology from an early age, it was almost impossible to ignore the jarring inequalities and poverty throughout the world, due to the representation of such issues more than daily via the media. This sparked my interest in the social sciences and more specifically those concerned with International Development. However, when asked by my peers to explain the concept of development, I initially found it difficult to respond. Put simply, there is no straightforward way to explain what development is, no short answer as such. This is because there are so many contrasting interpretations to development, views that have evolved over time.

Historically, development always reflected western ideas of economic progress, the idea that economic growth symbolised the way in which a country was developing. It is difficult to deny that this idea has worked for most of the developed world, however there have been cases of different approaches proving successful; the socialist approach of Cuba resulted in a healthcare system (Lamrani, 2014) that was the envy of the west for many years. Clearly, western ideologies have not provided a solution for all, such is the abject poverty that still remains across large parts of the globe. A slightly controversial view for some is that of the post-development perspective, the idea that development in its current form is not working, and we are no further forward than we were half a century ago. A pioneer of this viewpoint is Dr Robert Chambers, who strongly believes in ‘immersions’, the idea that the best way for governments and organisations to gain a perspective on these people’s lives is to spend time living with them, consequently being able to more knowledgeably decide when and where to send aid, instead of simply “throwing money at the problem”.(Chambers, 2012) And arguably it is this method of giving aid that would go a long way in aiding development in the poorest countries. One of the most nonplussing articles I read recently explained how the UK government defended its decision to give £1.2bn in aid to India (Guardian, 2011), despite the rapidly increasing wealth of the emerging economic giant. This is the same India that spends $31.5bn on its defence budget and $1.25bn on a space programme, when it is also home to a third of the world’s poor (Bunting, 2011) – more than all those designated as poor living in sub-Saharan Africa. It is politically motivated aid such as this that has largely contributed to the stalling of development across the world over the last few decades – over the last 30 years, the most aid dependent countries have experienced an economic decline of 0.2% a year. (Moyo, 2010) For example, The UK government officially ended tied aid, where aid is given on the premise of receiving something in return, well over a decade ago (BBC, 2000). However, it would be naive to suggest that the UK, along with most other Western aid donors, do not hope to benefit from the giving of aid in certain situations. International development minister Andrew Mitchell admitted that the decision to spend £1.2bn in aid over the period of five years was part of a broader partnership that also included the hoped-for sale of fighter jets to India. (Buncombe, 2011)

Of course, development should not only be judged economically. Over time, ‘development’ has taken on many new meanings and rather than being simply an economic construct, for some it should also include social (i.e the contentment of society), political (i.e the level of corruption in a government or lack thereof) and environmental factors (i.e the commitment to global environment targets, and whether these are met). This is what makes development so difficult to define and pin down, it is unquestionably a fluid, ever-changing concept. Different development models have their strengths and weaknesses, and it largely depends on your viewpoint as to how you define development. On a personal level, I would define development as sustainable and socially equal progression. In today’s world, it is all too easy to be sceptical, and it is worthwhile to occasionally step back and look for a reason to remain positive.



BBC (2000) Government ends tied aid. Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1064978.stm (Accessed: 30 December 2016).
Buncombe, A. (2011) Aid to India part of broad plan to build trade and investment, says minister. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/aid-to-india-part-of-broad-plan-to-build-trade-and-investment-says-minister-6278373.html (Accessed: 30 December 2016).
Bunting, M. (2011) Is India ready to refuse UK aid? Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/jan/10/uk-aid-india (Accessed: 30 December 2016).
Chambers, R. (2012) Provocations for development. London, United Kingdom: Practical Action Publishing.
Guardian (2011) Government defends £1bn of aid to India. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2011/feb/14/government-defends-1bn-aid-india (Accessed: 30 December 2016).
Lamrani, S. (2014) Cuba’s health care system: A model for the world. Available at: http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/5649968 (Accessed: 30 December 2016).
Moyo, D. (2010) Dead aid: Why aid makes things worse and how there is another way for Africa. London: Penguin Books.

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