Catriona O’Connor: Dinner party development

Catriona O’Connor’s blog is a runner up in the 2017 Trinity College Dublin and Development Issues blog series

The topic of development is one of constant discussion between academics, socialites and bar-stool politicians in modern society. We analyse the concept from an economic perspective, detaching ourselves from the lives it touches and assess from an economics perspective; is it sustainable? will it grow? will we ever reach a point of total development or just continue to play a game of catch up in the standards that divide different parts of the world? Some of us are more empathetic in our approach to the issue, discussing the quality of life, exploring socio-economic factors that influence the inequalities of wealth in our world, discussing the choices and events that lead us each to the position we hold in the world today. But can we ever, as the ‘developed’, truly comment on the inequality and importance of development without sounding just that little bit privileged or ignorant?

Development is a complex and multi-faceted expression that considers social, political and economic factors. It cannot really be discussed without reference to inequality. It is not a blanket term; something is not simply developed, or not.

In modern society, we explore development within a country predominantly with comparisons to another. In 1998, Indian economist Anartya Sen explored development as ‘concern with the achievement of a better life’ and from this perspective, whether born into the 1% or the 99%, we can all understand the journey of development. We will never quite have the life we want, always striving for more. So the term “developed” is redundant. It is a never-ending journey, never quite achieved.

Coming from a ‘developed’ country, I think it is particularly difficult to speak accurately on the topic of development when so much of our position comes down to luck of the draw. We discuss poverty, hunger and deprivation as if we have any personal understanding of these things ourselves. We casually explore the ‘means of progression to bridge a gap of inequality’ but most of us cannot even comprehend what it is like to be personally restricted by the country to which we were born.

Photo: Escondido (31st December 2008) Alex Lanz CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr

We analyse through statistics and data, foster theories from our conclusions, but we are not empathetic to the struggle presented by the gap. I do not assume to say that one must have personally gone through the struggle to be able to empathise or aspire to help, but I fear that we become to detached from these struggles through our privilege. We remove humans from our equations and have a tendency to consider these less developed countries only as the statistics they present on a page.

We are not coming at development from a bad place but perhaps in a bad way. The inequality gap has become so great that it’s created an ‘us’ and ‘them’ attitude in our eyes. Sen explores development in a way that is not purely focused on economic factors – income is not the beginning and end of our value. The inequality that exists today makes it more important than ever to bridge the gap but it also makes it more difficult to do so.

It is important and necessary to discuss and tackle issues of unequal development and, crucial to remember when we do so, not to dismiss other types of living simply because to us they appear to be missing something.

As a concept, a theory and a conversation topic ‘development’ is problematic but it is, however, essential.

Photo credit: Escondido (31st December 2008) Alex Lanz CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 via Flickr

Calling all change makers!

Are you a change maker in your community? Are you looking to develop your skills and knowledge around global issues? Do you want to join Ireland’s network of active citizens and create long lasting positive change within your community?

You could be the person we’re looking for!

Drogheda based development education NGO Development Perspectives is delighted to launch the Sustainable Development Goals Advocate programme nationwide. The programme will offer 26 active citizens an opportunity to represent their county and become the first of Ireland’s SDG Advocates through this innovative project.
The chosen advocates will have the opportunity to:
  • deepen their understanding of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of 17 goals aiming to promote peace, sustainability and prosperity for all by 2030,
  • implement an action project
  • represent the project and their efforts at national and international events in an effort to lead transformative change in each respective county
If this sounds like you then we want you to get in touch. Closing date is the 1st of June 2017. Visit now for more details.

Searching for Syria

The civil war in Syria has continued for six long years. Over those years, more than five million people have been forced to leave their homes, their families, their communities, their work, their education in order to seek shelter throughout neighbouring countries and the rest of the world. The sheer scale of the crisis can leave an overwhelming feeling of hopelessness; in understanding what has happened and is happening; in being able to do something in response, in support or in solidarity.

When it comes to the war in Syria, and the subsequent refugee crisis, the world has a LOT of questions. According to Google, users have been using the facility to try and find some answers to their questions. It appeared that many people were asking the same questions about the conflict, such as, ‘What is going on in Syria?’, ‘What is a refugee?’ and ‘How can I help?’.

In partnership with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Google has created a new platform to address these questions.

Searching for Syria has been launched as a new way for people to learn about Syria as a country, the civil war which has ravaged it and the people who have fled as a result. One of the main aims of Searching for Syria was to not only assist in people’s understanding of the crisis but to show the human side also. Using UNHCR data, google maps, satellite imagery, videos, photographs and stories from refugees themselves, the website hopes to provide some answers to some of the most asked questions about Syria.

“Searching for Syria aims to dispel myths and misconceptions about Syria and refugees, and provide an entirely fresh look at the biggest humanitarian tragedy of today,” U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a statement.

When faced with issues such as the civil war in Syria, people often ask, what can I do? Searching for Syria also offers three suggestions as to how you can help Syrian refugees: creating awareness, sharing what you can, and standing in solidarity.

This platform is an ideal space for teachers, youth workers, adult and community workers, activists, anyone in education of any form to explore this issue with their students, learn together and perhaps take some informed action together.

Dillon Hennessy: Development is…

Dillon Hennessy’s blog is a runner up in the 2017 Trinity College Dublin and Development Issues blog series

What is development? Does it matter? What does it mean to me to live in an unequal world? Today I want to talk about what I think development is, drawing on the work of Nobel Prize winning Indian economist Amartya Sen.

I am inclined to agree with Sen that development is essentially about freedom. Freedom is an elusive concept. People have been willing to fight and die for ‘freedom’ as an ideal, but people are also prone to take the reality of freedom for granted.

The freedom that Sen refers to is the ability to make meaningful decisions about your life and the path you wish to take. In this instance, meaningful means that you have at least two options available to you when it comes to making important life decisions, such as where to go to school or what career to pursue. It does not mean always getting what you want, but rather having the option or ability to make a decision that ultimately, may not work out. This definition is both the most useful and the most problematic of all the available definitions.

It is useful in that, I believe, it encapsulates what we all really want from a ‘developed’ society. It is problematic because it is difficult to measure. When people speak about using Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to measure development I believe they are actually referring to the benefits wealth brings people in terms of personal freedoms. A wealthy individual can choose whatever they want in life, from where to live to what car they drive. Poorer people are often restricted in their choices based on limited resources. They may not be able to afford college or a car and so those choices are not available to them. They’re restricted in their capabilities.

Basically, there are two dominant schools of thought about how best to measure how developed a country is, each one focusing on different metrics. Firstly, there are those who purely measure the GDP of a country and argue it correlates directly with ‘development’. This is the most predominant school of thought.

Secondly, there are those, such as Sen, who argue that the best way to measure development is to look at several different factors, including life expectancy, mean years of schooling and GNI per capita to put together a Human Development Index (HDI). This HDI, which embodies Sen’s capabilities approach, serves as a criterion by which development is measured.

Whichever way you choose to measure development, I think we can all agree it is of paramount importance.

There is an altruistic argument for development, which is very straightforward. It is not right that some people, by a fluke of birth, enjoy the benefits of development while others do not. For the altruist, it is important that we lift people out of destitution and into a situation where they can flourish and contribute to society. They see it as morally good and noble to help others. For those who are more pragmatic and less selfless, fostering development still makes sense.

In our increasingly globalised world, we can no longer ignore or quarantine the problems created by underdevelopment. From environmental damage leading to climate change, to terrorist states sending shock waves across the globe, to the dwindling supplies of resources we need to survive, the suffering of those in developing countries has practical consequences for us all.

For me, living in an unequal world means missing out on the contributions of incredibly talented people who never had a platform to express themselves. Einstein, Picasso, Mandela, Ray Charles, and people from every field of human achievement have benefited from greater inclusivity and accessibility to the trappings of development. A world without a stable architecture to foster learning and the pursuit of knowledge in diverse environments is a sterile one, and inequality perpetuates that sterility.

Photo credit: Development (2008) tgraham. CC-BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr