The year is 2045. I’m working in the slums of Nairobi, Kenya, as the manager of a community centre. I graduated from university twenty-six years ago and, after carrying out a master in social anthropology, I decided to travel to different countries to implement and manage projects to help the most disadvantaged.
(Slum in Nairobi, Kenya. Source: http://www.citiesalliance.org/nairobi)
Many things have changed in the last three decades. Over time, development became more privatised: governments became less involved in providing public services, due to the increased presence of businesses. The push for neoliberalism by Western states forced developing countries to integrate into the international market economy, as capitalism was seen as a system totally connected with democracy (Berthoud, 2010).
As the economies of developing countries improved, dependency on bilateral and multilateral aid decreased. Official agencies like the World Bank became less important. Various countries decided to cut or diminish the amount of money donated or lent to other nations. At present, the economical differences between Northern countries and Southern countries keep decreasing. Terms like “developing” and “developed” are barely used anymore: “development” is no longer a buzzword.
However, the excessive focus on economic growth overshadowed human development. Income inequality is a huge problem. The upper class members of society keep getting richer while working class individuals experience more hardship every day. Capitalist methods like microfinance failed to help the poorest and just helped those who were already above the poverty line: with more income, more risks in form of investments are taken, which tend to lead to more income flow, but with less income, micro-loans are merely used to protect basic needs for survival (Karnani, 2007).
(Cartoon showing income inequality in USA. Source: http://articles.latimes.com/2013/mar/13/nation/la-na-tt-income-inequality-20130312)
Another big issue that was left unaddressed was climate change. Many nations failed to cut down their CO2 emissions after global consensus was not reached. This could be attributed to the failure to alter the economic system and to businesses that saw meaningful action against climate change as a threat, instead of an investment (Newell, 2011). Moreover, the lack of food security is a concern for many, particularly in poor rural regions in the Global South, where unstable rainfall patters affect agriculture negatively, as it was already expected years ago (The Companion to Development Studies, 2014).
Due to the laisse faire attitude adopted by governments and the privatisation of basic services such as healthcare and education, non-state actors like NGOs and charities now play the key role of meeting the needs of the poorest in society. At the same time, social movements comprising protests and boycotts have become the norm in many countries, in response to austerity, insecure employment and the lack public services. This has often led to unrest and political instability, including violent conflicts and terrorism in some places.
(Example of a social movement. Source: http://www.esdaw.eu/social-movement.html)
To sum up: development is not a finished project, even if many pretend it is. This quote is relevant nowadays: “a society in which everybody had a right to basic security would address inequality directly. But in the globalisation era, so far, there has been a drift to a charity perspective, not a rights-based one” (Standing, 2010). The inability of elites to create a sustainable and green economic system that prioritises human rights over economics is making life harder every day for millions and is ruining the environment. Yet, there is hope. If social movements keep strengthening and terrorism is avoided as a political tool, real transformations could happen in the next few years. Calls for development have just been replaced by calls for justice and equality. In 2045, social change is the new buzzword.
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- Berthoud, G. (2010). The Development Dictionary: Market. 2nd New York, USA: Zed Books.
- Karnani, A. (20087). Microfinance Misses Its Mark (SSIR). Available at: http://ssir.org/articles/entry/microfinance_misses_its_mark (Accessed: 07/12/2015)
- Newell, P. (2011) ‘Climate change’ in R. Devetak, A. Burke and J. George (eds) An Introduction to International Relations. Cambridge: CUP.
- Standing, G. (2007). ‘Social Protection’ in Cornwall, Eade (ed.) Buzzwords and fuzzwords: deconstructing development discourse. Dunsmore: Practical Action Publishing Ltd, pp. 65.
- Vandana, D. Potter, R. The Companion to Development Studies. 3rd Oxon: Routledge.