Although I forgot the source, the lesson taught by our professor on changing perspective of development had been embedded in my mind. From economic growth to sustainable development, the change passed through the following perspectives: distributive justice, affirmative action, central planning, participatory development, and sustainable development.
Economic growth connotes increase in per capita income or increase in Gross National Product. While the initial benefits of growth go the rich, it is presumed to eventually trickle down to the poor. However, experience proves otherwise. For there are systemic sieves that filter the flow to the bottom. Most often the fruits of development are not distributed. The economic growth fails to trickle down. Instead, it further aggravates the disparities.
Such realization leads to the change in perspective involving distributive pattern of the increase in income. Distributive Justice provides equality of opportunity and resources that strengthen an individual’s capabilities to function towards well-being. Subsequnetly, development is viewed as an Affirmative Action to remedy past discrimination in education, training, and employment. Some states strengthen this approach through legislations.
Thereafter, development has been associated with planning i.e. Central Planning. While in some cases, this model has turned a backward country into a world-class superpower, like in case of Russia in 1960s, it has also limitations. Observably, some countries appear to lag behind those that undertake less centralized approach. A new paradigm emerged promoting market economy. It espouses the philosophy that “more heads are better than one” to sustain productive, durable change.
In development activities, the mainstream “top-down” approach has also experienced failure to elicit support from the bottom- the supposedly beneficiary. More often, the brilliance of technocrats and planning experts and the resultant beautiful plans do not necessarily solve the problem. Simply because the supposed beneficiaries are not involve in the plan. Hence, the lack of support as plans do not respond to their needs.
New paradigm soon surfaced, influenced by the emerging People Centered principles. In international relief and development organizations, the people centered practice became Participatory Development. It seeks to engage local populations in development projects. Their participation is crucial in the creation, content and conduct of a program or policy designed to change their lives. Participation requires recognition and use of local capacities and avoids the imposition of priorities from the outside. Under this paradigm, the poor are considered part in initiatives designed for their benefit. Their participation will assure the success and sustainability of project.
The alarming ecological degradation brought about by industrialization and technological advancements, however, ignited another shift in development perspective. Addressing the growing concern about the accelerating deterioration of the environment and natural resources, the United Nations created the World Commission on Environment and Development. From the committee report, a new word was coined which became a by word among development circles i.e. Sustainable Development.
The report entitled Our Common Future, popularly known as Brundtland Report in honor of the committee chair was released in 1987. It defines sustainable development as development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Subsequently, the United Nations 2005 World Summit Outcome Document identifies economic development, social development, and environmental protection as interdependent and mutually reinforcing pillars of sustainable development