Development Theory


            As aforementioned on my previous blog, Development is a complex term and its understanding is conceptualized in many ways. Personally, I find issue in defining development by using economic terms and growth rates or GDPs that many times say very little about the situation and are inflated/manipulated by public officials and/or represent a privileged minority. This is why I believed I found much interest in the way Amartya Sen correlated development to freedom. I found much understanding to her perception of development, yet I also found it limited to an extent. There is an imperative need for politicians, economists and anyone who has influence over policies to understand that development is not and cannot be represented by poverty alleviation. It is and extremely limited and mainstream perception that will not bring any substantive change. This is why I resonated with Sen’s argument which focused more on the humanity of developmentand the experiences of individuals; more specifically their freedoms. However, while I believe this is an important element of development and how it can be defined it is also limited. There are several factors such as health, education, equality that fall under one of the five categories Sen used to define freedom. However, there are many other examples of freedom that do not influence the overall well-being of a society. Freedom most definitely is an important element and an ultimate goal; but by fixating ourselves in specific ideals of freedom we once again lose the complexity of developmentand its priorities. Development is a very complex area of study that has very diverse beliefs; I personally have obtained my idea of development by incorporating many of these ideas together. 

            This idea of development, however, is also extremely based on what I have conceptualized freedom and development to be defined in the context of what I have seen, Honduras. This is why there is such difficulty in reaching consensus, because the context with each one of us defined development is incredibly distinct. As a result, I don’t believe there is or there should by one overarching definition that applies to all, as it would have to be incredibly vague and lack character. Just as there are different means and strategies through which countries reach development there should also be different way of conceptualizing it. This becomes a little difficult whenever professionals would like to compare and contrast the degree of development between countries, and for that I have yet to find a solution. But I believe and important first step is to come to the conclusion that development is complex and different in every country, and as a result the way it is defined is incredibly influenced by the context of the region one was in. 

Grand Challenges

            Being a Honduran and having lived in Honduras I was able to understand the grasp and complexity of development. We live in a time and age where poverty-ridden countries are expected to combat poverty, economic stagnation, and a myriad of other problems through sustainable means. And while this is a necessary and primordial clause; it is an incredibly difficult one to understand. I have personally seen, how for many political leaders, sustainability is not a priority. However, as we have seen and continue seeing, it is one of our biggest threats. It is easy to look at the past and find a plethora of activities that led to progress and economic achievement through the exploitation of natural resources at the expense of the environment. For many countries, this was the fastest way they believed growth and development could be achieved. Today, however, those countries who want to achieve the same level of growth and economic stability, are forced to find different and more complex and costly means to do so. There is an exponentially alarming call for countries to achieve these development goals sustainably, for there to be a change in our modus operandi. This, however, is a challenge that must be implemented by every country collectively. 

            As expected, every country will have different ways and different priorities in their implementation of these sustainable development goals, in fact, even different strategies of implementation. It is important to take into consideration how the level of difficulty for developing countries increases, and what the expectations for those countries should be. I am a firm believer that every country should do their best to implement these sustainable development goals; yet, I also do believe that many of these developing countries will need the support of the international developed community to do so most effectively. As well as the contribution of different fields of knowledge and experience that will lead and provide the guidance necessary for the achievement of these goals, leading to the innovation of new strategies and methods that’s will compel leaders in these disciplines to continue and expand their efforts. 

These sustainable development goals fall under the definition of Grand Challenges for a reason. Grand Challengescan be defined as ambitious but achievable goals that harness science, technology, and innovation to solve important national or global problems and that have the potential to capture the public’s imagination”. SDG’Sare the perfect example of Grand Challenges, as they fall under every criterion that defines one.  In fact, even its name is an accurate representation of what these goals are for most developing countries; however, despite their difficulty, it is imperative for them to be achieved. 

Intersectionalities in the SDGs

Intersectionality is defined as the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group. Simply put, intersectionality is the overlaps of systems, experiences, or identities. This term is a huge buzzword in the social sciences field and in academia broadly and is taught as a theory or lens of which to look at social situations critically through. The UN Sustainable Development Goals are a great framework to critically look at with an intersectional lens. The SDGs are categorized by People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, and Partnerships which all overlap with each other, are codependent on each other to be achieved, and are therefore intersectionality related and should be approached as such. You cannot achieve SDG 1: No Poverty without addressing SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth, which can’t be achieved without the implications that come with SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities which is directly tied to SDG 13: Climate Action which is has extreme implications for both SDG 14 & 15: Life Below Water and Life on Land which cannot be achieved without SDG 17: Partnership for the Goals, upon which all the goals are connected to. The overlaps and the realities of all the SDGs are tied to, hinged on, have implications for, and are only achievable through addressing one another – that is at the heart of intersectionality and arguably sustainability broadly.

Sustainabilty like intersectionality depends on the observer to look critically at the overlaps, the points of contact, that social, environemtnal, and economic realms make with themselves and with each other. How decisions in one realm have implications and ramifications for the others and the decoupling of them in most cases is not an option. The SDGs are a great global framework to look to in how intersectionality is both vital for success an easily interpretable. Intersectionality for the SDGs isn’t an option it is the only viable avenue.

Limitations in Global Strategic Frameworks and Institutions

The MDGs were ultimately unsuccessful due to a variety of issues that left weaknesses in the international framework. According to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, the lack of progress was the result of “unmet commitments, inadequate resources, lack of focus and accountability, and insufficient interest in sustainable development.” While the MDGs have promoted increased health and wellbeing in many countries, they were unable to adequately meet international goals for sustainability. In 2000, all 191 United Nations member states committed to help achieve the MDGs by 2015. However, there were large disparities in commitments. The Declaration emphasizes the role of developed countries in aiding developing countries in the global fight to minimize and manage climate change and encourage sustainable lifestyles and development. Developed countries had more ambitious objectives and targets than developing nations which left most of the international community unaccountable. However, results in developed countries were uneven and uninspired. There was limited accountability to achieve commitments in developed countries as well. A lack of emphasis on environmental sustainability failed to portray the urgency of climate change. Much of the international community didn’t view the goals and working together in their self interest.

The MDGs were powerful because they marked a departure from typically overloaded international agendas. This framework was comprehensive and easily understood by an average individual. Further, the goals presented the issue of sustainable development and its increasing importance on an international stage. The problem has since attracted more attention and participation due to the mistakes and shortcomings we have learned from in the past. The MDGs also provided a framework for the 2015 agenda to be more successful and stringent in regard to international commitment and accountability. 

The overall failures of the MDGs calls into question the efficacy of international and multi stakeholder institutions. International Relations theories often debate whether states will always act in their own self interest, regardless of international agreements or treaties. Liberals believe that these institutions can generate widespread positive change. They argue that international institutions provide collective security while encouraging nations to make short-term sacrifices for long-term gains. Realists believe that institutions don’t impact international stability because countries will always act in their self interest by assuming the worst in other nations and thinking strategically. These theorists claim that states will always be in competition with one another. If international institutions can provide more accountability, incentive, and focus to sustainable goals, the results will be more successful.

Disaster Risk Reduction & Management for Garment Factories

This class topic focused on Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Disaster Risk Management (DRM) and the overarching topic of inclusive emergency preparedness for cities and countries. Pointing to the Sendai Conference that created the Sendai Framework for inclusive development around accessibility measures for persons with disabilities in cities, in DRR, and DRM. After the Sendai Conference, the Dhaka Conference created the Dhaka Declaration that followed expanded upon the work done in Sandai. As we discussed the implications for DRR and DRM and how they are tailored to address the disasters that will come with climate change, the Dhaka Declaration made me think of the measures or lack thereof of DRR and DRM for the industry that runs it economy. Specifically in Dhaka, Bangladesh, the issue of garment factories in the garment industry has been a major point of civil upheaval and has been subjected to another form of disaster not addressed in DRR or DRM frameworks in Sendai or Dhaka – industrial disasters.

In 2013, Rana Plaza a major 8-story garment factory in Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed killing over a thousand garment workers who were majority women. It is still the worst industrial disaster in Bangladesh’s history and not much has changed in terms of policies, measures, or frameworks to protect citizens from another industrial disaster in the future. Unfortunately, many more small-sized factory failures and collapses have occurred since Rana Plaza in 2013 in Bangladesh. This leads me to question the feasibility of the Dhaka Declaration for addressing points of inclusivity in Dhaka or countrywide DRR or DRM when in the industries that run Bangladesh’s economy lacks the very same measures to protect its citizens. In short, I think that DRM and DRM should be instilled not only as a city or country plan for climate change but also throughout a country’s economy and industry as well.

WUF10 & Entrepreneurship

The World Urban Forum (WUF) is a conference born out of the United Nations that addressed urban issues surrounding urbanization and its impact on economies, climate change, and cities. The most recent WUF conference, WUF9 took place in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and was themed Cities 2030 – Cities for All: Implementing the New Urban Agenda. WUF9 focused on the implementation of the New Urban Agenda’s goals and commitments regarding creating cities that are inclusive and sustainable. The upcoming World Urban Forum, WUF10 will be taking place in February 2020 in Abu Dhabi, UAE. The theme for WUF10 is Cities of Opportunities – Connecting Culture and Innovation which reads to me like a convergence of culture, technological and social innovation, working in tandem with fostering local-focused global entrepreneurship.

A marker for success for WUF10 would be addressing how to foster locally-focused with global perspective entrepreneurship to drive social change and innovation for sustainable development. According to the Harvard Business Review, the entrepreneurial ecosystem is a core component of economic development in cities and countries. The top three challenges that prevent entrepreneurship from flourishing however are access to talent, excessive bureaucracy, and scarce early-stage capital. I believe it would not only be to the World Urban Forum’s benefit but also for the all stakeholders attending WUF10 to address entrepreneurship in cities as a driver for sustainable developing and making their respective economies more productive and inclusive.


The High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) is a United Nations platform created in 2013 to deal exclusively with sustainable development. Under the Economic and Social Council, the HLPF meets every year to assess the progress made on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are 17 grand challenges that are time-bound and overarching for our world to achieve. According to the UN, the SDGs were created to proceed with the 8 Millennium Development Goals that lacked more modern inclusivity measures and resiliency aspects for a world charged in addressing the negative impacts of climate change for instances. The expansive, inclusive, and resilient SDGs are categorized by People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, and Partnerships which address all forms of development – inclusive, universal, integrated, locally-focused, and technology-driven development. The goal-based planning approached that the SDGs are created on, claim that well-crafted goals are able to accomplish guiding the public’s understanding of complex challenges, unite the global community, promote integrated thinking, support long-term approaches, and define responsibilities as well as foster accountability. The SDGs are meant to have positive impacts and to turn our world for the better however multiple critiques have come out against the intent or potential impact of the SDGs. One London School of Economics posts critiqued the SDG framework for creating this agenda on a failing economic model. A Quartz article claimed that the SDGs undermine democracy due to the dictatorship governed countries apart of working groups created to monitoring and implementing of the SDGs. Lastly, Dr. Michelle M.L. Lim of the University of Adelaide claims that the SDGs goals approach should shift from goals to an integrative approach to prevent “cherry-picking” components of the SDGs in countries. Many critiques raised rank respectively in merit and in concern. However, it is my thought that only time will either confirm or deny these concerns raised against the SDGs. I think it is better to have some overarching global framework for sustainable development in place than none at all and the buy-in from nations to willingly want sustainable development for their nations, their citizens, our collective future generations is what will make the difference outside of the SDGs and the HLPF. By the year 2030, the HLPF will assess whether the SDGs were met globally and whether these concerns and the intention of every nation for wanting sustainable development will be revealed.

ICTs and Inclusive Sustainable Development-Digital Divide

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) extends beyond Information Technology (IT) by stressing the role of unified communication that allows all users to access information. Due to rapid globalization and profound technological advancements in recent decades, it is increasingly important to ensure that all community members in developed and developing nations can access and participate in the opportunities that technology provides. Unfortunately, there is a digital divide across and within societies around the world. The gap exists between geographical, geopolitical, and social lines. Digital disadvantage can take many forms such as poor connection, difficulty obtaining technical assistance, isolation from services, expensive utilities or products, and more. Governance of these technologies has become an increasingly important issue due to the variety of stakeholders involved.The NETmundial Initiative seeks to provide a platform that fosters “practical cooperation between all stakeholders in order to address Internet issues and advance the implementation of the NETmundial Principles and Roadmap.” The stakeholders include actors from civil society, academia, government, the private sector, and the technical community. The initiative supports principles concerning internet governance, human rights and shared values, protection of intermediaries, cultural and linguistic diversity, unified space, security, stability, and resilience of the Internet, open and distributed architecture, and sustainable innovation and creativity. It is important that every stakeholder engage in meaningful and accountable participation. The Internet is such an expansive and uncontrollable resource that ensuring this kind of participation is difficult. Further, countries have different ideas about how the Internet should be governed. For example, China has strict privacy laws that ban many freedoms that citizens of other countries are provided. However, if international multi stakeholder organizations and initiatives such as NETmundial continue to promote inclusive policies that will foster development and equality around the world, I believe that the Internet, specifically ICTs, can effect positive change. ICTs will bring great progress to developing nations and communities. For example, mobile banking in Africa has made an enormous positive impact. With this new technology and information available, individuals are able to send money to support their families, children at universities, etc. Unfortunately, many people and communities around the world are becoming disheartened by the Internet, seeing its negative and dangerous possibilities. However, I hope that positive change and development will prevail.

What is Development?

There are three perspectives on development often debated in the international community. The first considers development as the long-term process of structural change in the international system. Another refers to it as short to medium-term poverty reduction and MDGs. Finally, development is often expressed as a discourse; a set of ideas that shape and frame reality. These definitions are derived from impressive works written by experts in international development studies and philosophy; Amartya Sen, Andy Sumner, and Michael Tribe. This post will focus on Sen, a renowned economist and philosopher, and his book Development as Freedom, published in 1998. Sen won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1998. 

Sen argues that development requires access to freedoms. He characterizes poverty as the lack of at least one freedom: political freedoms and transparency in social relations, freedom of opportunity, or economic protection from abject poverty. Development is the end and a means to development. I agree that development cannot be reduced to basic and per capita incomes. Countries and communities are only able to develop based on the social, economic, and political opportunities provided to their citizens. Further, each freedom encourages the other. “Economic and political freedoms help to reinforce one another, rather than being hostile to one another. Similarly, social opportunities of education and health care, which may require public action, complement individual opportunities of economic and political participation and also help to foster our own initiatives in overcoming our respective deprivations (Sen 1999).”

Innovation occurs when these freedoms flourish. When individuals are supported by the system, not struggling to make ends meet, feed their families, or keep a roof over their heads, they are able to foster innovation which generates development. Historically, countries with certain freedoms have made more progress, stimulating their nation’s economy and benefiting the overall population. One brilliant example of this is the United States, while a counterexample would be China. China has severe limitations on privacy, political, and social rights. However, the country has still managed to develop at an astonishing rate in the last decade. Although, this does depend on your definition of development. As many critics argue, Sen’s claims are somewhat insufficient because they do not adequately analyze the power relations that cause and reproduce underdevelopment within international and national institutions.   

The Transformation of the Internet and Internet Governance

The introduction and globalization of computers and the Internet around the world has been a transforming movement that has shaped human existence and interaction. In the 1930’s, 40’s, and 50’s computers were still emerging as slow, awkward, and expensive machines. Eventually technology evolved and computers became more advanced, cheaper, and more accessible to people. Communities, governments, and corporations began to see great potential in the advancements of computer technology. In the late 1970’s, an equation was developed to access the rate of development of computers each year. According to the equation, computers were developing at a rate of 28% each year. Microcomputers emerged in the 1980’s, a significant technological advancement that would expand its possibilities. The decade led to a great deal of experimentation as people were unsure what kind of effect computers would have on the world. The world was interested in the technology’s scalability and extensiveness; if computers would foster the same advantages in different parts of the world. Productivity applications, those that can be used by people in developing and developed countries, ranked among the most successful ICTs. Rapid globalization played a large role in the spread and success of computers and the Internet. However, as the Internet boomed and expanded, communities began to seek a form of governance over the powerful technology.

Unfortunately today, in the midst of seeking governance of and on the Internet, it has transformed from an amazing new technology to a weapon that threatens the existence of civilization as we know it. The last two decades have seen several conferences and summits concerning the important role of the Internet in international cooperation and people’s daily lives. One of these summits, the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS), established a financial task force and the working group on Internet governance. The working group worked together to establish this definition of Internet governance: 

“Internet governance is the development and application by governments, the private sector and civil society in their respective roles of shared norms, rules, decision making procedures, and programs that shape the evolution and use of the internet.”

While this definition shows progress and cooperation, and the working group did define and identify the issues surrounding Internet governance, it did not identify the respective roles and responsibilities of stakeholders. This represents the key problem for the UN Internet Governance Forum (IGF), a multi-stakeholder forum announced by the General Assembly in 2006 and convened annually since. Government participation in the forum has also decreased substantially in recent years. Tech groups and civil society now represent the majority of participants. Therefore, The IGF must foster government attendance in order to encourage international cooperation on the issue of Internet Governance.