Development Possibilities: Looking at the Present, past and future challenges of international development



(Mahatma Gandhi) once said: “the future depends on what you do today.”

Over the last decades attitudes towards development have changed significantly. Now the short-term ‘aid for commercial gain’ thinking of the past has been replaced by a much greater focus on development as a long-term concern enveloping a wide range of issues such as conflict prevention and resolution, trade and investment, and environmental protection.

Also, there has been a change in the form that the old paradigm that development policies should first and foremost promote economic growth, with the realisation that development must be based upon growth, sustainability and justice. Firstly, when developing countries are helped to tackle head on illiteracy, high infant mortality rates and corruption, to name but a few social ills, as well as develop economically, will they be able to break free from the poverty that blights their people’s lives (Howard and Griffith 2013).

Despite the many positive developments over recent years, my opinion that the situation of the world’s poor will worsen before any improvements are seen if they are not given the tool and skills to become independent, as it is only through a more equal dialogue can developing countries make their own voices heard. Therefore they will be able to grow into countries that are liberated from development aid.

So in looking at the future of international development, I want to start by looking at where we are today (2043) which means I’m now 49 years old. The last 50 years of human history has thought to have been the best in terms of the quality of human lives. But I personally think it is the next 50 years that are going to be the best.

After working 22 years in sierra Leone and Thailand for Girls Incorporated a non-profit organization that focuses on giving confidence to girls, I have thought many girls to become empowered, smart confident and bold. I have also showed them skills required to become an independent and liberated women who does not have to become dependent on their husbands or on development aid. Therefore, I can proudly say that things have changed as now girls are more educated and not just pushed into getting married at a young age, as a result we are now in a society that is been wean off development aid through education and giving developing countries the tools and skills needed to stand on their own.

Future challenges

I’m not saying this will be easy, as all the problems are not yet solved. The figures speak for themselves:


  1. Andrew Howard and Phoebe Griffith (2012); the Future of International Development: available from:; (accessed date: 02/01/2014)
  2. Mark Lowcock (2012): The future of international development; Department for International Development ; (Transcript of the speech, exactly as it was delivered) available from:, (accessed date: 02/01/2014)
  3. Maeve Bateman, Tara Bedi, Dr Lorna Gold and Olive Moore (2011) The Leading Edge 2020; critical thinking on the future of international development: England; published by Trócaire

counter argument to the single story that aid is always a good thing! But is aid always good?



What is AID?

Aid usually refers to financial assistance given by richer countries to poorer countries. There are two main types of aid, Humanitarian aid and Development aid. But I will be looking at development aid, and this aims to help a country achieve long-term sustainable economic growth and poverty reduction. ( global village;2006)
Firstly, since the days of colonialism, western countries have always had an obligation to support former colonial territories in term of development. Colonial governments set up social, political and economic structures. However, after independence, the colonies were not trained how to manage and develop the resources they had. Therefore, developing counties especially Africa has gotten worse even with them receiving development aid.
In addition, the reason for this is partly because they are just given resources whose value
they do not know because they do not work for them. As humans, we mostly look
after what we value, and we mostly value what we work hard for. Similarly, why didn’t the charities teach those kids in the ads 30 years ago how to survive, be self-sufficient, etc., so they could sustain themselves without charitable assistance? (Gerald Kirangama; TED conversation; Jan 11 2012)
Unintended Consequences of Aid
Aid has been thought to have some unintended consequences such as how it supports corruption, weakens trade and places Africans into the degrading position of having to accept charity ( Wiedemann and Thielke;2005). Also, a bitter example of how development aid doesn’t really help is that  people will never stand on their own two feet.Again and again finance is hurriedly provided for one project after another, without any evidence of a convincing overall concept.
furthermore,(Cohen, Kupcu, and Khanna;2008) .” In their view aid receiving countries are in fact locked in an extreme form of dependency on the development community to perform basic state functions. The new philanthropists and the proliferation of NGOs have  literally displaced the government in countries like Botswana, Cambodia, Georgia, and Kenya, “eroding” state responsibilities as well as the community’s faith in its government’s functionality.
“Aid tends to delay the development of business in Africa, modern business. It has kept Africa behind, or Africans behind in terms of getting the confidence they need, the experience they need to take a full part in the global economy, create businesses that compete globally and succeed globally. Aid has distorted markets in Africa. So the sooner, Africa can “graduate” from its dependence on aid, the better.” (Malik Fal;2012)
In conclusion, since decades of Western aid have done little to ease suffering in Africa as the situation is worse. Is it time for the West to rethink its aid strategy? Such as long term and empowering strategies which will allow the aid receiving counties to be able to live on their own rather than depending on aid. However, there are some charities which just seem more effective at solving problems than others and other people who disagree with the idea that aid is corrupt, as they believe it is necessary to provide poorer countries with aid while they are developing, until they are able to support themselves.

  1. Global village (2006) what is aid; (accessed date;18/12/13)
  2. Gerald Kirangama (2012) Africa does not need any more aid to develop; TED conversation; Jan 11. Available at (accessed:20 December 2013)
  3. Erich Wiedemann and Thilo Thielke (2005) Too Much of a Good Thing: Choking on Aid Money in Africa: available from: (accessed 22/12/2013)
  4. Michael Cohen, Maria Figueroa Kupcu and Parag Khanna (2010): the New America Foundation; “The New Colonialists: available from (accessed 22/12/13)
  5. Poverty cure (2013) Ghanaian entrepreneur: growth hindered by foreign aid; available at (accessed 20/12/13)

Have NGOs made a difference in the world of development?


Since the late 1970s, NGOs have played an increasingly prominent role in the development sector, widely praised for their strengths as innovative and grassroots driven organisations with the desire and capacity to pursue participatory and people centred forms of development and to fill gaps left by the failure of states across the developing world in meeting the needs of their poorest citizens.(Banks, Nicola with David Hulme ;2012). But over  the last 20 years, growing numbers of non-governmental organisations have diversified from service provision such as infrastructure, health care, food and education into policy and advocacy. They are being credited with considerable impacts on global processes ranging from economic development to democracy. But are these impacts actually occurring.  This blog will  address this issue.

Firstly  ( Edwards, 1995), finds that development NGOs have been influential in getting the mainstream to address the negative aspects of globalization, commit to participation and human rights as basic principles of development, and of critical global issues like climate change and poverty in Africa. Also,  across the developing world states with limited finances,  poor governance and corruption have failed to lead to development for all of their citizens.(Banks and Hulme;2008).

Within this context, alternative forms of development have been pursued, and since the 1980s non- governmental organisations (NGOs) have been increasingly advocated as a means through which the gulf between citizens’ needs and existing services can be bridged. Where states cannot provide sufficient goods, services or enabling environments that help citizens in securing livelihoods, or were disadvantaged groups are excluded from existing state institutions, alternative channels of service provision and/or holding governments to account must be found.

NGOs to some extent have made difference in the world of development as it provides an empowerment for marginalized people whose voices cannot be heard. Another example of the difference that NGOs have made in the world of development is The South Asia Poverty Alleviation Program, launched by  (UNDP) has made a big difference in the overall picture of poverty in  South Asia because the innovative has motivated the poor to stand up on their own feet.

However (Atack 1999), there have been a number of emerging criticisms highlighting  problems of representativeness, limitations to effectiveness and empowerment, and difficulties remaining loyal to their distinctive values, which are all undermining the legitimacy of NGOs. Some of the issues addressed are of lack of appropriate evaluation of programs, particularly when it is performed at a distance by donor agencies that may not be sensitive to local needs.

Also, when one looks beyond the short-term gains that have been made in development, there is a less positive side to the story. They have not been very innovative in finding ways to lever deep changes in the systems and structures that perpetuate poverty and the abuse of human rights. Example, development NGOs have not changed power relations on anything like the necessary scale in the crucial areas of class, gender and race (Edwards;1995).

In conclusion, I personally think that there are exceptions to all of these generalizations of whether NGOs have a difference. Criticisms aside, perceptions remain that NGOs will and must continue to play a key role in development and one of the strongest lessons to emerge from  research is that success is more likely when organizations identify a clear long-term goal at the outset and stick to it over time. ( Atack; 1999).


  1. (Andrew Rowell;CARE Australia, Asia Impact Report; 20th December 2012: (accessed 25th october)
  2. (Nicola Banks with David Hulme; The role of NGOs and civil society in development and poverty reduction; BWPI Working Paper 171: June 2012).
  3. (Michael Edwards and David Hulme , Non-governmental Organisations: Performance and Accountability Beyond the Magic Bullet; 1995),
  4. (Shirley Johnson-Lans; Do NGOs Make a Difference: A Case Study of Rural Rajasthan; July 2008).
  5. (Tabibul Islam, Press Service November 26, 1997).



How has the past shape development present ?


History doesn’t just happen; it is  made by real people who faced real challenges, who had uncertainty about the future, just as we do today.  McCullough (2003), has once said that history is not about the past. If you think about it, no one ever lived in the past, they lived in the present. Additionally, history can be an important instrument that informs our approach to critical issues today.  It is  important to remember that when history is made it becomes a piece of our world, a factor in our future decisions.  Heilbroner (1974)  “explore the past to understand the present and shape the future”.

How does the 1929 Colonial Development Act compare to the approach to development of the British government today?

The history of British overseas aid goes back a long way throughout the nineteenth century  George (1929), the Colonial Development Act was  introduced  for the purpose of promoting colonial development and it stressed the importance of duty to humanity to develop the vast economic resources of the great continent. Colonial development was a matter primarily for the colonies themselves. They were required to finance their economic development from the proceeds of sales of their export crops and whatever private international capital they would attract. It introduced an entirely new concept of colonial development in which the provision of annual grants and loans would prove mutually advantageous to the colonial territories.

However, other studies argue that the act was passes as a means rather than as an end in itself. for example, the act was passed  in order to benefit the economy of the united kingdom rather than to benefit the colonies.  Therefore, the act was regarded as a sort of multiplier with both forward and backward linkage effects, a twin concept which is now quite familiar to development with economists. For example it excluded investment in social development in general and in education in particular, the act seems to have placed too much emphasis on the material and physical aspects of development.

Of course, modern-day development studies is quick to distance itself from the days of colonialism; but below the surface – the concept of modern-day ‘foreign aid’ is largely the same as it was back in 1929, we’re just not as honest about it. Development aid nowadays is still very much regarded as a having dual-objectives. lot of countries, including the UK, give aid in the hope that the countries they are investing in will soon begin consuming British goods which would subsequently lead to an increase in the UK’s economic growth and give a boost to the UK’s export market.

what is the significance of the past in the present for the development studies?

Sharing knowledge is a vital component in the growth and advancement of our society in a sustainable and responsible way, so the past is significant in the present  for  development studies.  Alfini and  Chambers (2010) the prevailing words and expressions in development discourse keep changing, some become perennials, long-term survivors year after year, like poverty, gender, sustainable, and livelihood. Others have their day and then fade, like scheme and integrated rural development. Yet others mark major shifts in ideology, policy, and reality, as have liberalisation, privatisation, and globalisation.

In conclusion,our language influences both policies and practice in development thus, studying how the language of development policy has changed and how development was in the past can give us a sense of the historical shifts in development thinking and priorities, and help us to reflect on where we are going (or could go) in the future.


  1. author David McCullough, (2003)  the Course of Human Events, Jefferson lecture.
  2. (George, A Re-examination of the (1929) Colonial Development Act, the Economic History review, p68).
  3. (Naomi Alfini and Robert Chambers (2010) Words count: the changing language of British aid)
  4. Robert Heilbroner,(1974), An Inquiry into the Human Prospect (New York: W. W. Norton and Company.
  5., (22 September 2010); (accessed 9 0ct0ber 2013)


what is development?

what is development?

Are you sure that you know what  the word “Development” really means? whether your answer is yes or no please continue to read as you might see this term in a different perspective. Different people have different ideas and mind-set about what development means, as a result this makes the definition very complex with contentious definitions.

UNDP development  ‘leads to 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.’ Different countries have different priorities in their development policies. But to compare their development levels, you would first have to make up your mind about what development really means to you, what it is supposed to achieve. Indicators measuring this achievement could then be used to judge countries’ relative progress in development.

Sachs’ (1992:1) contends, ‘development is much more than just a socio-economic endeavour; it is a perception which models reality, a myth which comforts societies, and a fantasy which unleashes passions. Also, the word development itself Rist (2007)has become a ‘modern shibboleth, an unavoidable password’ which comes to be used ‘to convey the idea that tomorrow things will be better, or that more is necessarily better’. Despite its widespread usage, the meaning of the term ‘development’ remains vague, tending to refer to a set of beliefs and assumptions about the nature of social progress rather than to anything more precise and as a result the actual meaning of development is still elusive, since it depends on where and by whom it is used.

‘Development’ has  been widely used as a hard drug, addiction to which, legally tolerated or encouraged, may stimulate the blissful feelings that typify artificial paradises. So it may also be legitimate to regard the word ‘development’ as toxic. This global promise of generalised happiness had immediate appeal, not only for those who expected an improvement in their living conditions, but also for those who were committed to international social justice.  In the 1960s ‘there was little attempt  to define development. Instead, there was an unquestioned assumption  that “development”, whatever it was, could lead to improvement in the situation of poor people’ (Hayter 2005 ). The “development” represents  reconciliation to  opposite sides, as it was  was mainly used as an excuse for enticing ‘developing countries’ to side with one camp or the other.

Development is

Chambers (1997), regards the eternal challenge of development is to do better and usually this is tackled by identifying  the three Ps: policies, programs and projects. But there is a crucial link that is missing in this definition which is the personal dimension, as to do better and develop we have to examine not just the normally defined agenda of development  “out there”, but ourselves  and how our ideas are formed, how we think, how we change and what we do and don’t do. As the definition of development is changing,  the meanings given to the word have evolved  from just the economic meaning used by economists to other complex definitions used by different organisations and professions.

I think that development is about progress, this is the idea that the world can become increasingly better in terms of science, technology, modernisation, liberty, democracy and quality. Also, progress  means reaching the end of human life and entering heaven Hooker (1999).  The Millennium Development Goals and the 8 targets are an example of the progress. I want you to leave a comment/feedback on what you think development means and remember there is no right or wrong definition. As development can mean different things to different people.


  1. Deconstructing development discourse, buzzword and fuzz words (2010), Cornwall. A and Eade.
  2. Gilbert Rist (2007); development as a buzzword, development in practice
  3. Robert Chambers (1997), Responsible well-being : A Personal Agenda for Development, World Development, Vol.25 (11) 1973-1754
  4. The millennium development goals, (2010) ;, (accessed 2 October 2013).
  5., (2008); (accessed 1 October 2013)