What is Global Development?

by Fai Nur

As students geared towards providing solutions to create social change, most of you probably hear a lot about the concept of development. For example, some of your projects might be based in countries that are considered “underdeveloped,” or your projects might help solve a problem that stems from a global development issue. In 2014, the United Nations created the “Official Agenda for Sustainable Development” which outlined 17 goals to hopefully achieve before 2030. These goals ranged from eliminating poverty to combatting climate change. The United Nations also provided its own definition of global development as “development that promotes prosperity and economic opportunity, greater social well-being, and protection of the environment." Many would agree that this definition is a wonderfully succinct way of explaining an expansive idea. However, some scholars have their own thoughts and definitions for global development, and the diversity of views provides us the knowledge to challenge or justify our own viewpoints on the subject.

Amartya Sen, an economist who won the Nobel Prize for his work in welfare economics, is one scholar whose definition of development is unconventional, but still widely agreed upon. In his book, “Development as Freedom,” Sen states that development is the “expansion of freedoms for individuals.” Despite the fact that development is usually talked about in regards to a society or nation, Sen decides to individualize the concept. For Sen, development occurs when people are empowered and know their objective interests. In this instance, development isn’t a great literacy rate or GDP, but it is the freedom that an individual has. Statistics like a country’s literacy rate or GDP are just products of this development. One challenge that individuals must realize and conquer is that their subjective interests are different from their objective interests. To alleviate this issue, people have to be provided with better information to be able to pursue their interests.

However, another opposing definition of development places the concept in a negative light. Mexican activist Gustavo Esteva is one of the most well-known advocates of post-development, which defines development as an idea that is forced onto “underdeveloped” nations in Latin America, Asia and Africa by the West. These Western standards are a way for “developed” countries to control and exercise their dominance over poorer nations. Essentially, in Esteva’s point of view, development is a ethnocentric idea that doesn’t take into account what underdeveloped nations determine as development. Unlike Sen, he believes that people are truly free to determine their objective interests when they are free from Western influence.

You might not completely agree with Sen or Esteva’s criticisms and ideas, but it is important to understand both of their arguments when you formulate your own opinion on development. The UN’s agreeable definition of development is the most universal, and it reminds us of the end goal for all of humanityto have a prosperous and fulfilling life. However, by following this definition, one must realize how development affects the individual and their community.  Only then can a person create an important project for social change.