What Is Development?


Development is one of the main goals of the United Nations and encompasses economic growth, eradication of poverty and hunger, education, healthcare, social justice and the preservation of the environment. The most basic goal of development is economic growth – the improvement in the standard of living of people through increased incomes and better access to jobs, clean water and food, and other resources. This should be broad-based and benefit all parts of the population. It is closely linked to the other social and environmental objectives of development, including the eradication of poverty and hunger, the elimination of illiteracy and disease and the provision of education and healthcare for all, and the preservation of the natural world in which we live.

There are a variety of theories and approaches to development. Some, like mechanistic meta-theories (which use the caterpillar-chrysalis-butterfly metaphor) assume that people are fixed as wholes and only change in a predictable way through discontinuous qualitatively different stages (like the caterpillar-chrysalis-butterfly model). Others, who support lifespan or ecological systems approaches, believe that developmental processes can take on a wide variety of patterns and pathways, depending on the cultural, historical, and societal context under which they unfold.

Amartya Sen developed the “capability approach” which defines development as a process of enhancing people’s ability to pursue their desired futures, by enabling them to make choices and exercise their freedoms and capabilities in ways that they see fit. This is an important and useful definition of development which should be used in any discussion of the topic.