David Grimshaw: Beyond 2015: a values based approach

Development Policy22 Jun 2009David J. Grimshaw

The MDGs provide a set of indicators of development. They adopt an approach to development that has been influenced by management thinking. Setting targets that are measurable was fashionable throughout the 1990’s but is perhaps getting rather tarnished by those in business who set performance targets for themselves in the board room and then failed to deliver. Yet still somehow lucrative bonus payments were awarded. The events of the global economic meltdown are an important element in how we view development, not only because economic growth is generally recognised to be slower, but also because of a failure of values. Beyond 2015, in a global environment challenged by climate change and resource shortages, there is a need for development thinking that diverges from the status quo.

There is substantial evidence (see Wilkinson and Pickett 2009) that economic growth, beyond a certain stage does not reduce inequalities in society. So the long held “trickle down” does not work. The focus of development needs to take account of human needs, not just the market, dominated views of economic well being. Any measures that are then introduced, such as Gross National Happiness in Bhutan, must be based on values, for example freedom, choice, or human rights.

The concept of ‘development’ has been evolving since its origins after the Second World War. Sachs (1992) dates the ‘age of development’ as beginning when President Truman at his inauguration described regions in the South as ‘underdeveloped’. International organisations such as the World Bank and the United Nations (UN) were established to support international relations and their agendas have influenced the discourse on development ever since. These early approaches to development were influenced by efforts at reconstruction and gave economics a priority. In many ways development could be seen as an instrument of foreign policy (Klien 2008). Ideologies in economics swung towards the Chicago School in the 1990’s. This influenced the way in which resources like water were viewed. Previously thought of as a public good, water was now thought to be a commodity that should be priced in the market. Thus, with a change of ideology underpinning economics, the ways in which development outcomes such as clean drinking water could be delivered had a market focus, based on a value proposition that water is a commodity whose price can be fixed by a market.

These market based values have been under scrutiny since October 2008 with the onset of the global economic crisis. Many markets have delivered shocks to a number of key sectors like banking and motor vehicles. Governments have stepped in to “rescue” these sectors. If we look at such recent events through the lens of values it is possible to suggest that key managers in these sectors lost sight of the wider social and environmental responsibilities of running large business. A value based approach to development would be based on an explicit recognition of core values. Actions would then stem from these agreed values. This is a radically different approach but one that would be more suitable for the likely global environment that we face beyond 2015.