What Is Development?

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The development field can be an exhilarating space to work for those who are looking for meaning in their roles. Whether it’s eradicating poverty, improving access to healthcare or changing policies, the field requires a range of different skills and takes time to see results.

There are several definitions of development, but the most commonly used one involves improvement and progress. It includes economic growth, including increased people’s income and social progress such as literacy, education and the provision of public services. This definition has become a yardstick for measuring countries’ levels of development, but there are technical difficulties in using it. For example, it can be difficult to distinguish between a country that is rich in oil and other natural resources from one that is not. Also, the development of a country is often based on the growth of its exports of raw materials and finished goods, which can make it difficult to compare levels of development between countries.

Lifespan researchers have argued that development is influenced by many social contexts, and the way in which it unfolds differs for each person. Nobel prize winner Amartya Sen developed the ‘capability approach’, which focuses on enabling individuals to reach their full potential through granting them freedom of economic, social and family action. This is closely related to Martha Nussbaum’s ‘abilities approach’ which focuses on ensuring that the most basic needs of people are met. This approach emphasizes the importance of empowering women in development efforts.