What is Development?

‘The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the second best time is now.’ Like a tree, development is alive; a growing, complex and unique future of something exciting, inclusive and natural.  However, it is often considered something ‘we’ have done and ‘they’ are doing or should do. It’s become a dividing line in a world of globalising flows, outputs and inputs, where territorial divisions are of lesser importance.  Development then, has become the new way in which we structure hierarchy in the capitalist world and this is dangerous to the very aim of development.  Short term progression is easy; if you have nothing I can give you something, and in theory this has developed you but aid like this is not sustainable and it doesn’t acknowledge the unique definition that each community must make for themselves on what their development looks like for the now and for the future.  So what is development currently? and what should it become?


Development is often thought of as a status, a product that can be brought or a gift to be given to ‘them’ based on preconceived ideas of poverty and historical hierarchy. The indicators we often measure countries by in order to classify development are nearly always based on western ideas on what is ‘good.’ The Millennium Development goals for instance were nearly all aimed at things poor countries should do, almost repelling any blame for the underdevelopment of numerous countries and disregarding it as a truly global problem. The goal that was perhaps not addressed enough was the idea of ‘a global partnership’ that we are all in this together.



Jeffrey Sach describes development as a ladder, a  chain of steps and processes. To imagine the development process as linear though is unhelpful and uncreative. It also disregrads those in extreme poverty who aren’t on the ladder.  If we truly want development it’s time to rethink structures.  ‘We’ are intrinsically linked to ‘them’ and so development is about building a bridge together and using it on equal terms. It’s not about charity or ‘doing the right thing’ it’s about acknowledging globalisation and managing the systemic risks that poverty has on all of us around the globe if it’s not addressed responsibly. Owen Brader would support this view, he states that ‘ A 21st-century development policy means paying more attention to the impact of all our policies on the rest of the world. It does not mean making big sacrifices for the world’s poor.’  The behaviour and policies through which wealthier countries have given Aid in the past distorts the global economy in a way that connects them to poorer countries but into relationships of dependence that often undermine the natural seeds of development that are trying to grow in that given country. Barder suggests then, and I agree, that development will occur naturally if wealthier nations are responsible and mindful of the impacts of their policies on the wider world.


Development then is currently a dead tree, its rooted firmly in one ethnocentric place in soil of history and ‘ought’s’ and its leaves are completely dependent on a few for water.  Development could be a new tree that encompasses growth and new ways of thinking, flows of energy and iniquity where each leaf can catch water for itself. Poverty is a global problem and development must be a global partnership.


Click to access beg_01.pdf


Click to access Dead_Aid_Readings.pdf




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