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Understanding Development PDF Print E-mail

Extract from: ‘Development: Communication, Information and Training’, J. Manuel Calvelo Rios, Research Institute for Development Communication (Runa), 2001.


Development should be endogenous, self-managed and sustainable

Understanding DevelopmentWe understand development as an endogenous, self-managed and sustainable process which strives to improve the quality of life – material, intellectual, cultural and emotional – of the whole of humanity and in particular, of those who nowadays cannot even attain the basics of biological survival due to hunger, disease and a lack of nutrition and health. Sustainability, as one of the conditions of development, must exist on four levels: economic, ecological, energetic and social (or equity).

The basic contributions required to generate a process of development can – we would add must – come from outside the universe of subjects to be developed. But they must be of a strictly catalytic nature and be neither permanent nor recurrent. If they were, the process would lack the necessary autonomy and its progress would be determined externally; there would be an absence of genuine participation, in terms of effort and contributions, required to ensure its continuation.

There is nobody better placed than the subjects of development themselves to take charge of its management in a way that is autonomous. This is one of the few genuine ways to be sure that they are the ‘beneficiaries’ and not the ‘sufferers' of the intervention. To treat them as though they were intellectually incapable because of a lack of familiarity with the abstract management models proposed, instead of providing training, will hold back or stop any attempt at development. By emphasising limitations in relation to the management of available resources, instead of providing training, the agents of the intervention will appear more developed and the underdevelopment of the subjects will be accentuated.

Economic sustainability derives from the principle that any investment in the process of development must act as a catalytic input and must offer returns, either of the same or of a greater amount, which can be reinvested in new processes. It’s clear that the returns are not simply financial since it is necessary to take into account the social profitability, as well as the ecological and energetic profitability. It's also clear that the returns on investment are historical (social), non-urgent (urban) and not political.

Ecological sustainability derives from the principle that we must manage and not exploit renewable natural resources, retaining a stable base of resources that can be utilised for the interests and demands regularly generated by biological processes and the correct management thereof. It also derives from the vital need to: reduce and ultimately eliminate both erosion of land and of genetic capital, and pollution of all kinds in every environment, including social; reduce and reverse the accelerated process of deforestation; and contribute to the maintenance of diversity – social, natural and cultural – as a basic element of development.

Energetic sustainability derives from a number of factors. We are consuming at an accelerated rate, and depleting over short timescales, the fossil fuels (gas, oil, coal) that the Earth created over geological periods. We are consuming these resources to the point where they will be exhausted, and in the most inefficient manner: we burn them. […] A key factor in the problem is that all countries consider profitability in monetary terms and both costs and benefits are calculated and expressed in terms of financial models. With the exception of a few, for example Georgescu Roengen, virtually no economist has thought (or tried) to express the balances in terms of energy.

Regarding social sustainability, or equity, it is not only ethical criteria and principles that are important: just as important, if not more so, are those of an economic nature. According to data given to the United Nations, in 1998 the distribution of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) at a global level was as follows: 20% of the world population received 86% of GDP; 60% of the population received 13% of GDP; and the remaining 20% received only 1% of GDP. These data, no matter how much we may mistrust GDP as a measure of development, shows that a substantial percentage of the population is being excluded from the goods and services market: almost 80%. […]

What we must start doing – and is our obligation as promoters of development – is to differentiate between some of the terms that have gradually become synonymous with development.

Growth, industrialisation, technification, mechanisation, urbanisation, modernisation, acceleration, homogenisation, globalisation… these terms are confused with development in the every-day language of the media, in political rhetoric, in the common language and even in the language of some scientists. But these words do not describe development. Perhaps a prudent dose of some of these factors is necessary to achieve development; however, none of them – not even the sum of them – are development, even less sustainable development. […]

There is little left to be said about modernisation: everyone who lives at the present time is modern and contemporary. Moreover, we are all products of the previous century and experience the same modernity. Except in a few areas (although not many) such as health and the resources that enable us to deal with natural emergencies – natural events which result in disasters due either to the limitations of scientific predictions or to short-sightedness at a socio-political level – our supposed modernity has achieved little more than to cause the number of victims of military conflicts to increase and has led to a not-inconsiderable increase in life expectancy at birth.

In terms of homogenisation – an integral part of this vague, so-called globalisation – this has led to a reduction in cultural diversity, to the detriment of the whole of humanity, and to a loss of languages and of social and productive practices that have still to be systematically and scientifically studied in order to construct from them contributions to development.

Material wealth can grow: only people can develop. Development is human; it is not about objects, but about subjects; it does not mean to have more, but to be more.



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