Demystifying Development Terms

Sustainable Development: 
 
Sustainable development is defined as ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. (Brundtland Report)
 
While the term ‘sustainable development’ had the potential to become the foundation for positive economic and environmental reforms, it is questionable whether it has achieved this goal or whether it has been used to coat unfettered economic growth with futile environmental and social reforms. A primary concern with the concept of sustainable development is that it continues down a trajectory of societal change that is ethnocentric. The ‘sustainable development’ approach presumes that all societies are headed in the same direction and that the differences among them can be understood primarily through their level of development. Furthermore, sustainable development seeks to reconcile two contradictory goals: environmental protection and economic growth. It does so by prioritizing economic growth at the great expense of environmental protection. 
 
Developing Countries 
 
The term ‘developing countries’ have been used to refer to countries with a less developed industrial base and a low human development index (HDI). However, the criteria for what exactly is a ‘developing’ country is unclear. The IMF, World Bank, and UN do not have set markers for determining whether a country falls into one category over the other. The Bank – which has done away with the term entirely – used to place all countries in the bottom two-thirds of gross national income (GNI) in the category of ‘developing’. 
 
The term ‘developing countries’ have been heavily criticized for implying a hierarchy among countries. The term also assumes that development occurs along the traditional Western model of economic development. This is misleading because it fails to consider the many challenges faced by countries in the Global South today which were not present when the West developed. Many scholars argue that ‘developing countries’, due to their under-development by colonial powers and their place in the periphery of the world economy, will not be able to develop in the traditional Western way. 
 
One interesting alternative to the term ‘developing countries’ is the ‘Majority World’, reminding us that the West is a rather small minority on the globe. 
 
Social Return on Investment 
 
SROI is an approach for measuring value in development programming by monetizing key indicators that reflect the change in relation to social, environmental and economic factors. The idea behind SROI is that, by converting social outcome into monetary indicators, we are better able to understand the value added by development projects. 
 
It is doubtful whether SROI is an effective mechanism for measuring the actual social impact of the investment.  One concern with SROI is that it places human and environmental well-being on par with financial wealth. Another concern with SROI is that it leaves much space for personal judgment. This means that the values entered to determine the SROI ratio could easily be skewed to reflect a greater social outcome than the one produced by the project or investment.  
 
 
 
Empowerment 
 
Empowerment is yet another term with many definitions. The World Bank defines it as: “the expansion of assets and capabilities of poor people to participate in, negotiate with, influence, control, and hold accountable institutions that affect their lives.” Another definition focuses on empowerment as a positive change in people’s abilities to make choices. 
 
Contemporary development approaches to empowerment have been criticized for failing to challenge the societal power structures that perpetuate inequality and rights violations. In turn, current approaches to empowerment focus on changing the lives of a few by enabling them to participate in the free market rather than tackling the social and economic inequalities that block collective empowerment. For example, projects aimed at increasing participation in the labour market by providing access to education, while of some benefit to stakeholders, are insufficient to bring about significant structural change if they are not coupled with improved working conditions and social protection programs. 
 
 
 
Gender Mainstreaming
 
Gender mainstreaming is a development strategy which seeks to make the special experiences and concerns faced by girls, boys, women and men an integral part of the design, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation of programs (Save the Children). 
 
Often gender mainstreaming focuses too heavily on the experiences of women and girls as opposed to the overall structural inequalities that are linked to gender-based discrimination. Gender-based inequality, in fact, affects everyone in society and is perpetuated by different groups, including women. Furthermore, there is a concern that the language used in gender mainstreaming approaches, namely the reference to the special needs of women, girls, boys and men, reinforces the gender binary and ignores the experiences of sexual and gender minorities. By failing to examine unequal power relations, the social construction of gender, and the needs of all members of society, gender mainstreaming approaches run the risk of perpetuating existing inequalities and creating added hurdles for stakeholders. 
 
Sustainable 
 
Definition: ‘development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. (Brundtland Report)
 
Look out for: While the term ‘sustainable development’ had the potential to become the foundation for positive economic and environmental reforms, it is questionable whether it has achieved this goal or whether it has been used to coat unfettered economic growth with futile environmental and social reforms. A primary concern with the concept of sustainable development is that it continues down a trajectory of societal change that is ethnocentric. The ‘sustainable development’ approach presumes that all societies are headed in the same direction and that the differences among them can be understood primarily through their level of development. Furthermore, sustainable development seeks to reconcile two contradictory goals: environmental protection and economic growth. It does so by prioritizing economic growth at the great expense of environmental protection. 
 

 

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