It is political will that determines human wellbeing

Development Policy14 Sep 2011Tanja van de Linde

We may need a new development model, one that puts greater emphasis on culture and social exclusion, Tanja Van de Linde argues.

It is not the first time that the recommendation is being made to shift emphasis from measuring economic production to measuring people’s wellbeing. In 2008, French president Nicolas Sarkozy created the Commission on the Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress that made a similar recommendation. Within the development field, improved human wellbeing has already been the ultimate goal for as long as I can remember from working with UNDP, UNICEF, Save the Children, Plan and private foundations. The more interesting debate is related to how we can achieve human wellbeing and a better quality of life. Obviously, this is not by economic growth alone. 2011 has seen great changes in the political climate in Africa and the Middle East. The young people that went to the streets were calling for political change and improvement of their quality of life. They want equality, freedom of expression and the right to a decent standard of living. Wellbeing certainly includes economic security but it means much more than that. We know that family relationships, work, friends, health, personal freedom and spiritual expression are also essential to wellbeing.

In the organizations I just mentioned, we like ranking countries: we invented the State of the World’s Children (UNICEF), the State of the World’s Mothers (Save the Children), Because I am a Girl reports (Plan) and the Human Development Index (UNDP). All these statistics will tell you the best and worst places to live if you are a woman or a child. What we may conclude from all of those is that it is not so much economic wealth but rather political will that determines if a country is willing to spend the maximum of its resources on human wellbeing. So maybe we do need a new development model or even several models, namely those that not only take into account the intersectoral and multisectoral nature of development but also put greater emphasis on culture and social exclusion.