What is Development

The word ‘development’ means different things to different people. Most notably it means one thing to the general public and the academics and activists trying their best to achieve it, yet for many of the people who actually possess the power and resources to do something about it, ‘development’ seems to mean something completely different.

Back in 2012 I became aware of plight of the Tibetan people. I felt compelled to help. I spent all of my savings on a CELTA qualification and a flight to Nepal with the intention to help educate Tibetan refugees. I wanted them to be able to tell their own story, as I believed that ‘until the lion learns how to write, every story will glorify the hunter’ (Komla Dumor 2013). At this point I very much shared Robert Chambers (1997: 1743) view on development as ‘Good change’ trying to ‘make the world a better place’.


Unfortunately upon arriving in Nepal I was confronted with a very different reality, a dark side to development. Local Nepalese people would speak of international aid going to the corrupt government and not reaching those who need it most. Governments, NGOs and development agencies such as The World Bank often focus on economic development to combat poverty. However, this isn’t always effective and can sometimes even increase inequality, as it flows into the wrong hands and they use it for the wrong things. Gilbert Rist (2007:485) argues that economic growth ‘takes place only at the expense of either the environment or human beings’. Despite this, it is still a common strategy for development and income level is still the most common measure of development. Chang, Ha-Joon (2010)

I would like for development to be as Robert Chambers visualises it. I would like it to bring about progress towards a more equal world and for all human lives to have the same value. However, so far it doesn’t seem to be achieving that. Why? I believe the answer is because development has become an industry in which the rich and ‘powerful tend to dominate’ (Chambers 1997: 1743) thus increasing inequality as opposed to reducing it. A prime example of this is the new Sustainable Development Goals of 2015 which are being funded by big business and corporations (Nick Dearden 2015). In order for development to actually tackle poverty, inequality and human rights the power over development decisions needs to be taken out of the hands of the greedy and corrupt and given back to the people in which development is directly affecting.

school kids

Chambers, Robert (1997) ‘Responsible Well-being: A Personal Agenda for Development’, World Development, Vol. 25(11):1743-1754

Chang, Ha-Joon (2010) ‘Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark: How development has disappeared from today’s ‘development’ discourse’, (2010) in S. Khan & J. Christiansen(eds.), Towards New Developmentalism: Market as Means rather than Master (Routledge, Abingdon).

Dreaden, Nick (2015) The UN Development Goals Miss the Point – It’s All About Power http://www.commondreams.org/views/2015/09/25/un-development-goals-miss-point-its-all-about-power?

Rist, Gilbert (2007) ‘Development’, Development in Practice, 17(4-5):485-491.

Telling the African Story: Komla Dumor at TEDxEuston Feb 2013 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfJn8HCKO8g

(All photos used in this blog were taken by myself)


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