Before starting this course, I had a naive view on development; that ‘us’ in developed countries had a duty to help ‘them’ in less developed countries.  I definitely believed in the ‘single story’ (Adichie, 2009) of Africa – that all Africans were poor, starving and sick – partly due to getting all my information on development from Western media.

Typical images of Africa in Western media

I also thought of development in terms of Said’s (1978) binary opposites – the idea that people in developing countries were ‘others’ who could be helped by people in the West.  Thinking about development, I tended to think only of economic growth, job creation and curing diseases, not about happiness, fulfilment and empowerment.  However, I had a very positive view on development and thought that all the inequalities in the world could be solved given enough time and resources.

At the start of the course, while my naivety about development disappeared, my positive attitude also did.  Studying all the different development actors, their criticisms and the many dilemmas in development, I began to see the size of development as a subject and the many unresolved debates in it.  Writing my first blog post ‘What Is Development?’ I found myself agreeing with Rist (2007), that there was an ‘absence of a real definition’ (Rist, 2007 p.486) of development and that development was just a word made up to group a series of problems with no obvious solution.  I began to think that there would always be a divide between developed and developing countries, and realised that for every person helped, there were still many more who were suffering.

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria's finance minister - another side of Africa

Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s finance minister – another side of Africa

Reading works by African scholars has increased my understanding of a different perspective of development and helped me to understand how I used to view the world.  I have found that this has had the largest impact on how I think about development, increasing my understanding that in all developing countries – whilst there is some extreme poverty – there is also education, humour and happiness.  Now when reading pieces on development in Western media, I often find myself thinking about how they are written and how they would be viewed by the people they are written about.

Nearing the end of the course, I find my optimistic attitude towards development returning.  Writing my piece ’20 Years of Good Change’ inspired me to think about the future of development and what could be done to educate others with opinions like mine once were.  I also found myself thinking about solutions to what I think of as problems in development, and realising that these can be achieved.  I now think of development not as a negative thing, describing all the inequalities and problems in the world, but as a positive concept, inspiring people to challenge these problems and change them.  Thinking about development does not fill me with naive hope as it once did, nor does it fill me with dread.  Instead I find myself thinking about possibilities – the possibility of change, the possibility of a world with equal opportunities and the possibility for everyone to be happy and fulfilled.


Rist, G. (2007) ‘Development as a buzzword’, Development in Practice, 17(4-5), p.485-491

Said, E. (2003) Orientalism.  London: Penguin Books.

TEDtalksDirector (2009) Chimamanda Adichie: The danger of a single story.  Available at: (accessed 05/12/2012)

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07/12/2032 – 20 Years of Good Change

In 2012 I was a student in a world filled with uncertainties – a global recession, rapid climate change and fears about food shortages.  Twenty years later it is amazing to see how much the world has changed – we have seen once powerful countries such as Greece and Spain fall, and once struggling countries such as Brazil, India and China become some of the most powerful countries in the world.  While all the problems in the world can’t have been solved, a significant start has been made.

Working to overhaul what was the Department for International Development (DFID), I have helped to create UK Action for Development (UKAD).  Whilst the UN target of spending 0.7% of GNI on overseas aid promised in 2012 (Watt, 2012) has been met, the way in which aid is given and the goals used to help this have changed.  Instead of focusing on huge goals such as the MDGs, we now focus on a series of smaller and more achievable goals, the Development Objectives, focusing not on whole countries but on success in villages and towns.  This means that goals are achieved more frequently, giving everyone a feeling of success and a drive to continue.

Understanding that ‘Business is a primary driver of innovation, investment and job creation’ (Ban Ki-moon, 2010) we have focused on what business can do for development.  Using the concept of philanthro-capitalism (using money from business to help developing countries) we have set up programmes helping multinational corporations to do their bit.  By linking companies with grassroots NGOs in developing countries, businesses have been encouraged to think about their role in development.  This has also increased the money available to these NGOs.

The Importance of Communication

‘Only with communication will the project beneficiaries become the principal actors to make development programmes successful’ (FAO).  Recognising the role of communication in development has been vital in rethinking official aid.  By improving communication with people in developing countries we have been able to increase the success rate of projects.  This is linked to our bottom-up approach to development, allowing us to create programmes and projects to best suit the needs of the local people.

This video shows the lack of understanding of the British public about official aid in 2012.  We have recognised the importance of educating people in Britain about what we do.  By understanding how much of their money is going on international aid and how it is being spent, people are less critical and have an increased interest in getting involved in development.

Finally, instead of just seeing development as figures and statistics, there is now an increased interest in the economics of subjective well-being.  Described as the ‘economics of happiness’ (Dolan, Peasgood and White, 2007, abstract) studying this is helping to understand that it isn’t just money that makes people happy.  Research suggests that ‘poor health, separation, unemployment and lack of social contact’ (Dolan, Peasgood and White, 2007, abstract) are all negative on subjective well-being.  This has allowed a better understanding of how to improve the lives of people in developing countries.

While there are still people living in poverty and many inequalities in the world, reforms in official aid agencies in the last 20 years have greatly improved methods of giving aid and the state of development.  There is lots of work that still needs to be done, but I believe that we are in a better position now to do it.


Dolan, P. Peasgood, T. and White, M. (2007) ‘Do we really know what makes us happy? A review of the economic literature on the factors associated with subjective well-being’, Journal of Economic Psychology, 29(1), pp. 94-112

FAO, Communication – a key to human development. Available from: (accessed 03/12/2012)

United Nations (2010), Secretary-General, Opening Private Sector Forum, Urges Business to Recognise the Investment in Millennium Development Goals is ‘Win-Win Proposition’. Available from: (accessed 03/12/2012)

Watt, N. (2012) Government committed to UN overseas aid target, says Justine Greening. The Guardian. Available from: (accessed 03/12/2012)

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Can Aid Improve the World?

‘Aid has become a cultural commodity’ (Moyo, 2009 p.xix)

Whether aid is working is a strongly contested topic.  Since the 1940s, approximately one trillion US dollars have been transferred as aid from developed countries to Africa (Moyo, 2009).  Yet there are still 840 million people in the world who don’t have enough to eat (Easterly, 2006).  So is aid really beneficial?

Donated mosquito nets – what about the long term effects?

I found Moyo’s (2009) example of the damage aid can do particularly thought-provoking.  She explains that if there were an African mosquito net maker who employed 10 workers each supporting 15 family members, one business affects the lives of at least 150 people.  If a Western donor donated 100,000 mosquito nets to the region, the African net maker would be out of business and 150 people would be affected.  Short term interventions may have little long term effect, or may even be detrimental.

Cassen (1994) has a more positive view on the effects of aid, stating that ‘the majority of aid is successful in terms of its own objectives’ (Cassen, 1994 p.225).  While this may be true, it is fairly short-sighted to look only at objectives and not, as in Moyo’s example, look at the whole picture.  Robert Picciotto (2009) believes that aid can be a way to solve problems in developing countries as long as aid allocations are reformed to emphasise the poorest and most vulnerable people, and there is greater coherence between official aid, non-official aid and private philanthropy.  I found this view particularly interesting as it accepts that there are problems with the way aid is currently given but is also positive about there being a future for aid.

It seems that aid is often only seen in terms of numbers; for example fifteen years ago 71% of the population of Ethiopia was suffering from malnourishment but now it is only 44% (Barder, 2009).  While this is seen as a success, almost half of the population of Ethiopia is still malnourished.  The idea of only seeing aid in terms of numbers distracts from the human aspect of development.

The effectiveness of aid given in the aftermath of natural disasters is also questionable.  After the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, 4 million people received food aid and 1.7 million people were provided with equipment for basic shelter (OECD Insights, 2011).  However, a year after the earthquake, over 800,000 people were still living in camps (OECD Insights, 2011).  While initially aid had a positive effect, in the long term conditions have not been improved.  After a natural disaster many people will be inspired to donate money for immediate help, but these events are quickly forgotten so long term help cannot be provided.

Charles Lwanga-Ntale from Development Research and Training, a Ugandan NGO said ‘there is an almost unanimous pessimism among African civil society and academia about the unworkable nature of aid’ (Glennie, 2008 p.4).  Although donors in the West may see aid as the best solution to problems in developing countries, those who are receiving aid are not as positive about its benefits.  Moyo (2009) says that foreign aid increases unproductive public consumption and brings about a culture of dependency on donors.  Dependency on aid may mean that any natural sustainable development happening is stopped, or even that no opportunities for development without aid arise.

In my opinion, aid can be beneficial in the short term in cases of extreme disasters, but I think the long term effects of aid need to be carefully considered.  Looking at the long history of aid and the relatively few results it has yielded, it seems like potential alternatives to aid are the way forward.


Barder, O. (2009) Beneath the appeal: modestly saving lives. Available from: (accessed 04/11/2012)

Cassen, R. (1994) Does Aid Work? New York: Oxford University Press

Easterly, W. (2006) The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Glennie, J. (2008) The Trouble with Aid: Why Less Could Mean More for Africa. New York: Zed Books

Moyo, D. (2009) Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is Another Way for Africa. London: Penguin Books

OECD Insights (2011) Haiti earthquake: Independent evaluations needed. Available from: (accessed 02/12/2012)

Picciotto, R. (2009) Aid pessimism: myth and reality. Available from: (accessed 04/11/2012)

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Gates Foundation – Doing Good or Causing Harm?

When talking about actors in development, NGOs are usually the first thing people think about.  They are seen as a ‘development alternative’ (Banks and Hulme, 2012 p.8) to official development actors due to their ability to work independently of the state and work from a grassroots level.  But how effective is the work of NGOs?  And how accountable are they to the people they aim to help?

Melinda Gates meets children in Zambia

Bill Gates is one of the world’s richest men.  In 2000 he founded the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (Gates Foundation) to use his wealth to help people in developing and developed countries.  The endowment of the Foundation is greater than the GDP of most sub-Saharan nations and it bestows more foreign aid than medium-sized countries (Turner, 2012).  With all that money, surely the Gates Foundation should be able to do some good?

However, the Foundation has had many criticisms.  A programme funded by the Foundation, the Global Fund, pays for salary increases for doctors and nurses providing antiretroviral drug therapy for HIV/AIDS (Piller and Smith, 2007).  This has caused large numbers of healthcare workers in developing countries to move into AIDS care, creating a lack of clinicians working in basic care.  By targeting only high profile diseases such as HIV/AIDS, the Foundation is ignoring the basic needs of people such as lack of food.  For example, many patients are given drugs as AIDS treatment but don’t have enough food so find themselves unable to take the treatment (Piller and Smith, 2007).  The Gates Foundation has also been criticised for its choices of firms to invest in.  It has invested more than $400 million in oil firms in the Niger Delta which are responsible for pollution that many blame for respiratory problems among the local population (Democracy Now, 2007).  The Foundation also has investments in sixty-nine of the worst polluting companies in the United States and Canada (Democracy Now, 2007).  This shows that although the Foundation may be investing lots of money in health in developing countries, it may be inadvertently making things worse.

This raises the question of accountability and highlights the difference between the Gates Foundation and more conventional NGOs such as Oxfam or Save the Children.  By acting as a philanthro-capitalist – using money from business to help people – the Foundation can choose exactly where to invest money.  Conventional NGOs have a high dependency on donors (Banks and Hulme, 2012) who can have some say in where the money goes and potentially stop money being given to organisations which are causing harm.  However, this dependency on donors has skewed accountability away from beneficiaries (Banks and Hulme, 2012).  With a lack of dependency on the wishes of donors, the Gates Foundation may be able to focus more on what people in developing countries want.

Overall, I think that while the Gates Foundation is clearly going to help lots of people with the money it has available, it needs to be more careful about some of the companies it has investments in.  I also believe it should not only focus on high profile diseases such as HIV/AIDS and instead focus on overall health.  In my opinion, NGOs are a very important development actor as the high profile they can have is important in raising awareness, and they are able to take a more grassroots approach to development than other development actors.


Banks, N. and Hulme, D. (2012), The role of NGOs and civil society in development and poverty reduction. Brooks World Poverty Institute, University of Manchester

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Available from: (accessed 29/11/2012)

Democracy Now (2007), Report: Gates Foundation Causing Harm With the Same Money It Uses to Do Good.  Available from: (accessed 29/11/2012)

Piller, C. and Smith, D. (2007), Unintended victims of Gates Foundation generosity. Available from:,1,7781791.story (accessed 29/11/2012)

Turner, J. (2012) ‘Is Melinda Gates the world’s most influential woman?’, The Times Magazine, 13/10/2012, pp. 28-34

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The History of Development

‘If you would understand anything, observe its beginning and its development’ (Aristotle).

To understand something, and therefore be able to change it, its past must be understood.  The past has had a great influence on development and to change the present we must look at the past.  The history of colonialism, changes in gender equality and advances in technology have all affected the state of development today.

Before the 1929 Colonial Development Act, colonial assistance was only given by colonising countries in emergencies (Abbott, 1971).  This act led to annual grants and loans being provided to promote economic development and gave a recommended breakdown of how the money should be spent (Abbott, 1971).  This shows the beginning of development assistance for less developed countries and the introduction of the concept of aid.  However, this may not have been a good thing as the act was ‘too rigidly administered’ (Abbott, 1971 p.80) to allow for any local variation of projects to suit particular regions and people.  Giving aid through colonial assistance has potentially caused more harm than good.  At the Berlin Conference 1884-85, Africa was divided between the colonial powers ‘without any regard for social cohesion’ (Baah, 2003 p.1).  At the time, this was done without any thought for the future of Africa, but splitting tribes between countries may have led to many of the problems of civil war in Africa today.

Similarly, decisions about gender equality have been made in developed countries and expected to be implemented all over the world.  Equality between men and women has been recognised in international law since the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 (Connell, 2005) yet in many societies women still do not have the same opportunities as men.  Women still have ‘command over fewer resources both in terms of political power, economic power and time’ (United Nations Development Programme).  It was not until the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995 that a global Platform for Action was agreed upon to work on empowerment of women (United Nations Development Programme).  This shows that it can take a long time for ideas in development to become implemented.  When decisions are made and laws are passed, they may be put out of the minds of those who decided them without any thoughts for implementing them across the world.

A young girl in Pakistan walks 30 minutes for unclean drinking water

A young girl in Pakistan walks 30 minutes for unclean drinking water

Advances in technology are another example of something which will benefit the West but not those in developing countries.  An example of this is access to clean drinking water.  Expected in the U.K. and other developed countries, the technology enabling this has been around for many years.  However, there are still 1.1 billion people who lack access to ‘improved’ water supply and the lack of clean water is responsible for 1.8 million deaths per year (WHO, 2007).  Under the UN Millennium Development Goal to ensure environmental sustainability is the goal of halving the proportion of the population without sustainable access to safe drinking water (UN).  The cost of achieving this – $11.3 billion a year (WHO, 2005) – is achievable, so why is it not reality?  Advances in technology, while seen as beneficial, actually increase the divide between developed and developing countries.

History has shaped the present of development in many different ways.  Looking back at history can show why some countries are more developed than others and show the influence of the past on the present and future.  I believe without understanding the past of development, the future can’t be changed.


Abbott, G. (1971) ‘A Re-Examination of the 1929 Colonial Development Act’, The Economic History Review, New Series, 24(1) pp. 68-81

Baah, A. (2003) ‘History of African Development Initiatives’ Africa Labour Research Network Workshop, Johannesburg

Connell, R.W. (2005) ‘Change Among the Gatekeepers: Men, Masculinities, and Gender Equality in the Global Area’, Signs, 30(3) pp. 1801-1825

United Nations, Goal 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability. Available from: (accessed 28/11/2012)

United Nations Development Programme, Gender and Inequality and the History of Gender Mainstreaming. Available from: (accessed 28/11/2012)

World Health Organisation (2007), Combating Waterborne Disease at the Household Level. Available from: (accessed 28/11/2012)

World Health Organisation (2005), Water for Life: Making it Happen. Available from: (accessed 28/11/2012)

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What Is Development?

What is development?  Development as a word has come to mean many different things to different people.  Is development about wealth?  Is it about opportunities?  Equality?  Or is it just about happiness?

There are many different views on what development means, some positive and some negative.  Rist (2007) has a negative view on the term development and believes it is used to make people feel better.  Development is characterised by ‘wishful thinking’ (Rist, 2007 p.488).  Chambers believes that development can be defined as ‘good change’ (1997, p. 1744).  A more generalised view of the meaning of development can be seen in Glennie, Straw and Wild’s research into the British public’s opinion on development (2009).  They thought that people in less developed countries do not have ‘access to food, clean water, education or the ability to make informed choices’ (Glennie, Straw, Wild, 2009 p. 8).  The majority of people understand development to be about what is missing, thinking of development as being about statistics – how many people are starving, how many children don’t go to school.  Development should be about quality not quantity – improving quality of life, education and health.

People in developing countries are affected more by environmental change

I believe a key aspect of development is sustainability – both environmental sustainability and the ability to have a lasting impact.  Environmental sustainability is important as people in less developed countries are affected considerably more by environmental degradation (United Nations Development Programme).  Development should provide ‘intergenerational’ equality (World Bank, 2004 p.9).  It should be sustainable so that each new generation has equal or better opportunities available.

Chang believes that development has come to mean many different things such as ‘poverty reduction, provision of basic needs, individual betterment’ (2010, p.2) but that the traditional meaning of the word has been lost.  In my opinion this may be true but it is a slightly negative view.  Even without an obvious definition, the concept of development will still inspire people to attempt to make a difference to inequality in the world.

The personal aspect of development is also important. Chambers said development is about giving ‘priority to the values and preferences of the weak’ (1997, p.1746) and about ‘disempowering oneself to empower others’ (1997, p.1751).  I think that development has personal meaning to different people and agree that the language of development can ‘depersonalise’ (Chambers, 1997 p.1745) attempts to make change.

Freedom is an important meaning of development.  In the World Bank article ‘What is Development?’ (2004), freedom of choice is mentioned as a key goal of development.  This is linked to equality, both gender equality and equality across different countries.  I believe this shows the importance of basic human rights and the availability of equal opportunities for all.

Overall, I believe development is about freedom – freedom from illness and disease, freedom from hunger and poverty and political freedom.  Development is also about equal rights – the right to equal opportunities, the right to well-being and the right to pleasure and happiness.  I believe there can be no one definition of development as it incorporates a range of different problems and therefore a range of different solutions.  For me, Chambers (1997, p.1749) best summarises the meaning of development in that it should be beneficial to all:

‘The objective of development then becomes responsible well-being by all and for all’


Chambers, R. (1997) ‘Editorial: Responsible Well-Being – A Personal Agenda for Development’, World Development, 25(11), pp. 1743-1754

Chang, H. (2010) ‘Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark: How development has disappeared from today’s ‘development’ discourse’

Glennie, A., Straw, W. and Wild, L. (2009) Understanding Public Attitudes to Aid and Development, London: ODI and IPPR

Rist, G. (2007) ‘Development as a buzzword’, Development in Practice, 17(4-5), pp. 485-491

United Nations Development Programme, ‘Environment and Energy’. Available from: (accessed 26/09/2012)

World Bank (2004) ‘What Is Development?’. Available from: (accessed 26/09/2012)

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