Submitted by Arthur Dahl on 5. June 2011 - 18:23
e-learning centre on sustainable development


Heading: Development    Topic: Development

Development has been a major goal of the international community and most countries or more than half a century. Starting with reconstruction after World War II and extending with the process of decolonization as poorer regions became independent nations, major efforts and enormous resources have been poured into what is now known as social and economic development. Development has been called the largest and most ambitious collective undertaking on which the human race has ever embarked, with a deeply humanitarian motivation supported by enormous material and technological investment. Yet by one assessment, "while acknowledging the impressive benefits development has brought, the enterprise must be adjudged, by its own standards, a disheartening failure. Far from narrowing the gap between the well-being of the small segment of the human family who enjoy the benefits of modernity and the condition of the vast populations mired in hopeless want, the collective effort that began with such high hopes has seen the gap widen into an abyss" (Universal House of Justice, 2005, p.9). The rich have become richer, and the poor are often poorer today than they were in their traditional subsistence societies. One reason for this failure is the narrow view of development itself as addressing only material needs. A society that defines prosperity only in materialistic terms has misunderstood what brings human well-being and happiness. While no one can deny the importance of eliminating extreme poverty and want, even the poor will quickly identify other priorities than material satisfaction, such as family and community relationships, dignity, a place and role in society, opportunities to be of service, and spiritual growth.

Development is too often equated with growth, particularly economic or material growth. Yet when used in the term "sustainable development", this becomes fundamentally contradictory, since material growth cannot continue forever and sustainability thus requires some limits on growth. For sustainability, development must be redirected towards intangible forms of progress in areas such as knowledge, science, culture, art, institutions, social relationships and spirituality.


Universal House of Justice. 2005. One Common Faith. Baha'i Publishing Trust, Wilmette, IL, USA.

Article last updated 29 June 2006

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