Development Cooperation Handbook/Definitions/Human development

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Definitions  

The concept of “human development” (HD) was developed in the late 80s, by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in order to overcome and expand the traditional meaning of development focused only on economic growth. This different approach reflects an old tension within international organizations, including those which focus their attention primarily on economic growth, identifying it as development and those who are mainly interested in the aspects and the social consequences of development itself.

(See the chapter Defining Development in the section "Development and Aid" of the handbook.)


You cannot "buy" development; beneficiary communities must own the projects - B.Hoeper


The HD approach puts people at the heart of development and rests on the belief that the human dimension of development has been neglected in the past due to excessive emphasis placed on economic growth. Examples of this emphasis are the measure of GNP per capita, used as the primary measure of levels of development among states, and variables such as income or consumption calculated in monetary terms as a measure of wealth or poverty of individuals, families and different social groups.

From this perspective, the primary objective of policies that support development was industrialisation and the trickle-down mechanism, or rather the “overflow of economic growth”, represented the means by which poverty would be progressively eliminated.

From this principle, the basic needs concept was born in the 70s (developed by the ILO), which recognised the importance of using elements other than just income per capita for the assessment of development. Per capita income remains an important indicator of development, but only in terms of the acquisition and consumption of a sampling of goods and services essential to the achievement of an acceptable threshold of living. In particular, the ILO pointed out that the pursuit of greater access to basic needs on the part of the poorest groups of people would be facilitated by the achievement of an adequately remunerated employment status. It showed the importance of increasing the profitability of the work of the poor, the need to effect changes in the composition of output and ownership of productive factors and, finally, to make way for radical changes in the organizational structure of production.

The UNDP distanced itself from the basic needs approach, rejected especially by the least developed countries by formulating the concept of human development and introducing a new index for measuring the development of countries, the HDI (Human Development Index).

“Human development is the process of enlarging people's choices. Income is certainly one of these choices, but it does not represent the sum total of human experiences. Health, education, a healthy environment, the freedom of action and expression are also important.” (UNDP Report No. 3)

Human development, therefore, represents a new sense of development and made it possible to redefine the priorities for action and move away from GDP growth to the improvement both of the quality of life, and of the conditions of social and ecological sustainability. Development, therefore, is not promoted by a one-way search of economic growth; the amount of growth is essential but its distribution is equally important, that is, full participation in the growth process.

The primary objectives of development, considering its new meaning, thus become: the promotion of sustainable economic growth, improvement of the population's health, with priority attention to the most common problems and the most vulnerable groups, improvement of education of the population, with particular attention to basic education, literacy and development education and the promotion of human rights, with particular regard to the right to live peacefully together, the right to democratic participation, to equity of opportunity for development and integration in social life.


Human development is thus an aim for society, which is why the problem arises of how the process of economic growth - seen as an increase in GDP per capita - can help further this purpose and how human development itself can result in greater economic growth. Human development has thus become, in recent years, the goal of programs, policies and guidelines for development cooperation.

An example is the decision, voted by the Copenhagen Conference of the United Nations for Social Development, to ensure at least 20% of development interventions are of a social nature.

Another example are the objectives that the OECD in its Shaping the 21st Century: The Contribution of Development Cooperation conference has set for the near future:

  • Ensuring basic education for all inhabitants of all countries by 2015;
  • Realizing irrefutable progress towards gender equality and strengthening the autonomy of women, the elimination of any gender discrimination in primary and secondary education by 2005;
  • Reducing by two thirds the child mortality rates and children under five and maternal mortality by three quarters by 2015.




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Other Resources

Human Development

The concept of “human development” (HD) was developed in the late 80s, by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in order to overcome and expand the traditional meaning of development focused only on economic growth. This different approach reflects an old tension within international organizations, including those which focus their attention primarily on economic growth, identifying it as development and those who are mainly interested in the aspects and the social consequences of development itself.

The HD approach puts people at the heart of development and rests on the belief that the human dimension of development has been neglected in the past due to excessive emphasis placed on economic growth. Examples of this emphasis are the measure of GNP per capita, used as the primary measure of levels of development among states, and variables such as income or consumption calculated in monetary terms as a measure of wealth or poverty of individuals, families and different social groups.

“Human development is the process of enlarging people's choices. Income is certainly one of these choices, but it does not represent the sum total of human experiences. Health, education, a healthy environment, the freedom of action and expression are also important.” 

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Human Development Report 2011