I am so proud to get my certificate for Understanding Development Impact on FutureLearn. This course, sponsored by Commonwealth Scholarship Commission has deepened my understanding of development both as a historical progress and as a deliberate intervention. Prior to enrolling for the course, I always viewed development from the lens of economic prosperity. In part, I was wrong. Through this course, I learnt the fundamental aspects of development that many, just like me, fatally missed and disregarded.
While I learnt that there is no universally agreed definition of development, there are certain descriptors that cannot be ignored. Life expectancy, level of education (literacy) as well as income are measures of state development. This is always captured in the United Nations’ Human Development Index.
Development as expanding freedom
Perhaps, one of the incredible lessons I learnt about development is inspired by Amartya Sen, an Asian Nobel-prize Winning Economist. Amartya sees development as a process of expanding people’s freedom to live the lives they choose. He also believes that economic prosperity without investment in human development is unsustainable, even unethical. This definition inspires me to think about development broadly and not be confined to the boundaries of economic progress. It is very possible for people to achieve astronomical economic prosperity yet neglect fundamental human needs such security, freedom of speech, freedom of association among many others. Human rights is superior hence economic development must not compromise these fundamental rights.
Development intervention vs Historical Development
Development can happen naturally; as a historical progress or it can happen through deliberate intervention. Industrialization, contemporary democracy and urbanization are some of the developments that take place as a historical progress. There are little/no deliberate human interventions. Development intervention capturers improvement in health, contribution to access to education and lifelong learning, poverty reduction, social inclusion and reduction of glaring inequalities on account of gender, social status, race, skin color etc. Fundamental characteristic of development intervention include;
- Often contested on the account of development pathway to take.
- May be unequal as there are losers and winners.
- Messy as it is not linear.
- Have unexpected consequences.
Even with the above characteristics, we can agree that development intervention is intentional and can lead to greater prosperity as compared to historical development.
Partnership is crucial
Nothing great has been achieved or built by a single person. Partnership is critical in development. Sustainable Development Goal number 17 (SDG#17) recognizes that partnerships strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development. As a commonwealth scholar, I will be committing a fatal mistake if I ever think that I can achieve my development impact goals alone. This course enabled me to deepen my understanding on how to conduct stakeholder analysis, how to establish trust among partners, build formidable social relationships and establish power relations as well as conduct power analysis. One of the favorite lines I remember in the course is, “development is political, and it can get personal too.” This means that it is important to conduct power analysis to identify areas of influence.
Development projects do not just happen and people pack and go. Ooh no. It has to be evaluated. But what is evaluation? Frankly speaking, evaluation has many definitions. However, all these definitions cannot miss certain fundamental elements. Impartiality, expected and unexpected results, evidence-based information and recommendations are some of the most important elements of evaluation process. But let me cut to the chase and give one definition I got from the course.
‘An evaluation is an assessment, conducted as systematically and impartially as possible, of an activity, project, programme, strategy, policy, topic, theme, sector, operational area or institutional performance. It analyses the level of achievement of both expected and unexpected results by examining the results chain, processes, contextual factors and causality using appropriate criteria such as relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, impact and sustainability.’ This is according to UNEP.
I also learnt that evaluation must be thorough and objective, meaning that it acknowledges any potential biases, assumptions, or blind-spots and relies on recognizable and clearly understandable targets to effectively measure and communicate the performance of the intervention.
What is next?
Alvin Toffler said, ‘The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. I am looking forward to continue learning about development. As a Commonwealth Scholar, I am obligated to contribute to development within my country and also globally. Doing this will mean that I constantly offer myself to learn new things and apply the lessons in my personal and professional endavours.
With the incredible lessons from this course, I am armed with valuable knowledge and skills to take my development impact goals to the next level. I am equipped with new impetus to implement my development projects.
At times, our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. My sincere gratitude to Commonwealth Scholarship Commission for giving me life changing opportunity, first, to be a Commonwealth Scholar, and second, for sponsoring me to take this course. I cannot thank you enough.