Defying and defining development

Results will show up when you do – Jill Koeng

Development is a complex and evolving issue, with many different and sometimes contentious definitions. If defined solely in economic terms, development is associated with growth and increased income levels as measured by a nation’s gross national product (GNP). According to the United Nations Development Programme- development is \’to lead long and healthy lives, to be knowledgeable, to have access to the resources needed for a decent standard of living and to be able to participate in the life of the community.\’

This definition has since then progressed to account for people’s ability to develop their own lives and communities. Development, therefore, is about empowerment. It is about people taking control of their own lives, expressing their own demands and finding their own solutions to their problems. In its simplest form however, Development is positive change and it is a process. Development is neither the means to an end or an end to the means. It is about the now, and about the individual and how they function in the’ now’.

Historically there have been two fundamentally different approaches to development; development from above and development from below. Development from above or the top down approach is rooted in classical economic theory whereby professional leadership is provided by external resources and externally created development plans are carried out. Development from below has then emerged to challenge and correct the failed outcomes of this conventional approach. Bottom up approaches to development advocate for rural development and empower both rural and urban poor to become self-reliant, generate profit, savings and invest in themselves.  Both approaches to development aim to improve standard of living for community residents as per the traditional and most conventional definition of development.

Key to sustainable and transformational development is not just the growth or improved standard of living; it is growth in an individuals and groups consciousness. This growth is then complemented by infrastructural support whether it is provided externally or not/ whether it is top down or bottom up.  Therefore Development does not necessarily come from above, or below, but rather within. Development is not exclusively about market oriented strategies or small scale credit schemes and income generating activities; the development agenda can also be designed and affected through photography, art, dance, food, fashion, sports, creative writing and the like.

Development is a process not a destination; it is a process of positive and transformative change.