Prahlad Singh Shekhawat

Indicators of development like gross national product and other purely economic criteria are increasingly seen as insufficient. The need for higher GNP leads to productive systems and consumption patterns that are not in harmony with the carrying capacity of the environment and our planet. GNP does not measure the fair and equal distribution, unpaid labour, social sector indicators like employment, health and education. By emphasizing only economic value the prevailing paradigm transforms skills into lacks, man and women into commodities and labour, tradition into burden, wisdom into ignorance and autonomy into dependence.

The mainstream discourse of development tends to ignore what the poor might themselves value as measures of well-being. Poverty has solely become a matter of inadequate income, the solution to which was also one dimensional growth. Development in most places continues to be a top down, ethnocentric, technocratic and one which treats people and cultures as abstract concepts and statistical figures to be moved up and down in the charts of ‘progress’

The UN Prepatory Social Summit Report had noted that the increased market integration has not increased social wellbeing nor strengthened democracy and civil society. The tendency to allow the economic criterion to dominate social policy agenda in recent years has distorted human and social issues (1).

After decolonization the western model of modernization was proposed for poor countries. Then came Basic Needs approach followed by participatory development and the culture and development approach. Sustainable development is still a major theoretical outlook. There is also a debate between neo-liberal economic development and globalization which is being challenged by the centre-left Third Way, post-capitalism and by Another World is Possible of the anti neo-liberal World Social Forum. There is also a lively discussion about Post Development which advocates culturally diverse and local solutions which value traditions as opposed to the centralized bureaucratic and western centric ideology of development. Recently more emphasis is being laid on well-being and happiness as more valuable societal goals.

Social movements, civil society groups, intelligentsia and NGO’s like the Alternative Development Center, Jaipur (2), are calling for redefining the concepts and measures of development and social progress in terms of human development, wellbeing (both objective and subjective), equity and social justice, inter-community or social harmony and peace, just sustainability, human security, Quality of life, participatory processes, good governance and democracy , desirable cultural values and leading a meaningful life with a purpose larger than one’s own narrow self interest. The wellbeing, dignity and the empowerment of the poor and the deprived always come first. Being meaningful implies a good life that is both ethically right as well as a life that is enjoyable, satisfying and fulfilling over a long period. Such a life requires basic needs and certain levels of income and material comforts for all but does not depend on endless economic growth, consumerism, greed, desiring economic status and huge military power.

Amartya Sen, as an economist and as a philosopher of ethics has been suggesting new concepts and measures of human development (3). The human development approach is concerned with enlarging choices by building capabilities and the abilities to function better. The three requisites for enlarging choices are knowledge, a decent standard of income and a long and healthy life. The elements of human development are productivity, sustainability, equality and empowerment. Human development should lead to the ability and possibility for all to choose a valuable life that is worth living.

He has been reminding policy makers that economic growth and a free market is not sufficient. In order to achieve human development and the focus has to be on social sectors like education, health, gender equity and entitlements and employment for the poor and developing their human capabilities, and abilities to function better in the society. Sen. highlights the case of Karalla where even if some shortcomings persist, achievements in social sector especially in education and health of women and life expectancy are the best in India, despite low economic growth. Market he says is as good for demand as it is bad for delivering social and welfare programs. Sen and Jean Druze in their book; Hunger and Public Action (4), recommend that such a policy approach has to be brought about by public action which refers both to public policy execution as well as civil society and public mobilization and participation to put pressure on the


The UN Secretary General had pointed out that the international community has to adopt a compelling new vision of development based on human-centered economic growth, protection of the environment and social justice and democracy. Without these, he warns, peace will be forever beyond reach (5). There is a need now to reaffirm the United Nations charter goal of promoting social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.

The then United Nations Under Secretary General Nitin Desai emphasized that we must integrate the previously separate concepts of peace and security on the one hand, and social and economic development on the other. Development must now be seen as part of the task of building a more secure and peaceful world for everyone (6) ). The Draft Declaration of the UN Social Summit has suggested that we should identify ways in which the societies and individuals everywhere can enhance the dignity of each human being, develop the material and spiritual well-being of every community and build solidarity among groups and nations (7).

Democracy for John Dewey, perhaps the greatest philosopher of education, was both a means and an end to the building of a good and just society. In this regard he sought to develop strategies and methods for training students through learning and discipline to become socially responsible adults and conscientious citizens concerned with the rights of others and the common good (8) The most successful democracies have been those where people have most transcended narrow loyalties to become more aware citizens and who participate more in elections, in community affairs, in decisions which effect their life and are more socially engaged. These qualities enhance what is being accepted as the social and political capital which plays a significant role in the progress of society and a democratic nation.

Most studies agree that up to a certain level, improvement in economic standards directly leads to increase in happiness or subjective wellbeing (in terms of satisfaction with life over a long period), which supports the idea of basic needs first for the poor as a precondition for happiness. The studies also indicate that after achieving certain comfortable economic standards, happiness is not dependent on further increase in affluence (9). This implies firstly the need to then focus on enhancing non economic factors and secondly it becomes logical and desirable to redistribute wealth from the very rich, who do not derive happiness from it to the poor who will gain greater corresponding happiness through this wealth. Even after satisfactory material comforts have been achieved people who otherwise should feel happy actually feel dissatisfied and resentful when they compare themselves with those better off. This phenomenon supports the argument for reducing inequalities to enhance happiness in society. Enabling the poor so that they are empowered to define and rate their happiness levels and satisfaction with life is a positive grass roots exercise in defining well-being which has been too long left to experts and bureaucrats with their urban and intellectual biases in a top down approach.

Multinational National Corporations need to be more socially responsible and accountable not only to their share holders but to all stake holders because as the global financial has shown their decisions impacts us all . The developed countries ought to be obliged to contribute at least 0.7 % of their GDP as aid to poor countries as recommended by the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations. The principle of distributive justice should extend globally in a globalized world, beyond national boundaries, just as the international division of labor and the operations of the national economies and the multinational corporations know no national boundaries. A similar norm of global social justice is applicable in the case of global warming and climate change which needs to be addressed urgently based on the ethical principle that the rich countries who consume and pollute more have to cut down carbon emissions accordingly and pay more to solve the problem including helping developing countries with aid and technology.

Business social responsibility implies that the corporations are responsible not only to the share holders but to all stake holders because they impact us all. The corporations need to be more socially accountable also because they get infrastructure facilities, land and other resources at subsidized rates especially at the Suez’s and cheap loans from public banks etc. Wealth creation apart from financial and economic capital should also include the creation of social, political and natural capital which need be given a value and factored in Business calculations andaccounting (10)

The Dharma Index based on Hindu and Buddhist values like nonviolence, compassion, mindfulness, ethical living and ‘loksamgrah’ or solidarity and welfare of all. It provides for the screening of potential investments according to dharma-based guidelines including corporate governance, and social and environmental impact. The Index rewards companies that have worked to better the welfare of the world, whether in terms of environmental preservation, sustainability, or acting for the good of society, and they exclude companies that have negative impacts in any of these areas.

The principles of dharma contain precepts relevant to good conduct, but also the implicit requirement of mindfulness about the sources of wealth — and therefore responsible investing. Companies from business sectors deemed un-dharma such as weapons manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, casinos and alcohol, are barred from the index. The Index can be effective by providing culturally rooted measures to judge ethically good investment (11)

Mahatma Gandhi proposed 4 criterion of progress.

Firstly the poorest and the last person (“antoday”) should benefit first, which is similar to the idea of John Rawls, the greatest modern philosopher of justice that any change in policy or the system is justified only if the worst-off benefit first. Secondly progress should be based on human need and not greed. Thirdly there ought to be fraternity among different communities as well as between human beings and nature. Finally nonviolence and peace are both means and ends of a good society. The Dalai Lama going a step further emphasizes peace both within and outside. Being a Buddhist he gives priority to peace within. But for peace to be authentic, both its aspects within and outside in society can be better conceived and experienced as mutually reinforcing.

Schumacher in his book; Small is Beautiful, suggested Buddhist Economics or human scale, self sufficient, sustainable, ethical and community oriented economy as if people mattered. Gross National Happiness (GNH) developed in Bhutan, has four pillars: the promotion of equitable and sustainable socio-economic development; preservation and promotion of cultural values; conservation of the natural environment; and establishment of good governance. According to the Research Group: Wellbeing in Developing Countries, the concept of wellbeing examines three perspectives: ideas of human functioning, capabilities and needs; the analysis of livelihoods and resource use; and research on subjective wellbeing and happiness (12).

A survey of literature on well-being, cross-cultural human values, psychological assessments, and social indicators reveals the following common features as analyzed by Sabina Alkire (13) of the OPHI : Survival (health, safety), Work and leisure(employment, quality of work and leisure), Knowledge (education and ability to learn from life experience), Relationships (personal including family and professional, trust), Empowerment and participation (self-dignity, democratic participation and participation in decisions that shape one’s life), Identity and Creativity(meaning in life, culture and arts) Self fulfillment and Meaning in Life ( secular world outlook, or spirituality).

The Country Futures Indicators developed by Hazel Henderson (14) and encouraged by the Lokayan, on which a cross-cultural national accounting system could be based are : (a) income distribution, (b) informal and household sector production, (b) deduction of social and environmental costs, (c) community based accounting, (d) military\civilian budget ratio. Some of the complementary indicators of progress include (e) education, (f) health, (g) nutrition, (h) basic services, (i) shelter (j) political participation and democratic progress (k) status of minorities, women etc.

There is a case to set up a commission as they have done in France, Bhutan, Nova Scotia in Canada etc, to define and suggest new measures for social and economic progress. Eminent scholars and citizens with a broader vision and who are also active in the civil society could be considered for the commission’s membership, for example in France President Sarkozy has appointed The Commission on Measurement of Economic Performance and Social Progress, which includes three Nobel Prize winners; Professors Sen., Sachs and Stieglitz. If Professor Amartya Sen considers it important to be a part of such a project in France, why can’t he be asked to or himself initiate such a commission in his own country which needs and deserve it even more?.

The Alternative Development Centre has initiated a Redefining Development and Social Progress Forum , which will include scholars, representatives of the government, eminent citizens and members of the civil society, to evolve new approaches, concepts, measures, indicators and accounting systems relevant to India, in order to provide a coherent alternative, raise social awareness and influence policy. The challenge is to translate the alternative values and approaches into a policy frame of priorities and as far as possible as measures and indicators which with due weightage, can be factored in planning, program formulation and accounting system. Social, environmental, economic, and health costs and benefits and impact on the future generations should form part of the calculations of the cost and benefit analysis of development. Such an exercise has been undertaken in Bhutan with the help of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, in Nova Scotia in Canada, in the new National Accounting in UK and is being proposed by the OECD Project on New Measures of Social Progress.

The Alternative Development Centre, Jaipur (www.altdev.org) invites all likeminded and concerned to offer suggestions and information regarding the ideas and goals of the Redefining Development and Social Progress Forum. You are also invited to join the initiative. Contact the Convener; Prahlad Singh Shekhawat, prahl24@yahoo.com.

References and Notes:

World Social Development Summit Draft Document, United Nations Research in Social Development News Letter, March 20022 As part of the Alternative Development Centre’s Redefining Development and Social Progress Forum, the books published by Prahlad Singh Shekhawat are:

[1] Aspects of Human Development and Culture: Alternative Perspectives, (2007), University Book House.[2] Rethinking Development, Wellbeing and Globalization, is to be published soon by Rawat International Publishers

Articles and Papers: [1] Rethinking Development and Wellbeing and a Search for New Indicators; Paper presented at the Gross National Happiness Conference, Bangkok, December, 2007.[2] Development as Happiness; Seminar Journal, March 2008. [3] Economic Crisis and Opportunity for a Good Life; Seminar Journal, September 2008. [4] Redefining Progress; Policy Innovations, January 2009: a journal of the Carnegie Council (for ethical globalization), USA

3 (1) Sen, A., (1985), Standard of Living, Oxford University Press, Delhi. (2)‘How is India Doing’, Sen, A , July 23,1989, New York Review of Books, (3) Sen., A, Nussbaum, Martha, Ed., 1993, The Quality of Life, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, (4) Sen,A, (1996), Development As Freedom, Oxford University Press, Delhi

4 Dreze J and Sen A., (1991) Hunger and Public Action, Oxford University Press, New Delhi

5 Crisis of Social Development in 1990’s, Preparing for the World Summit, UNRISD Report, 1993, Geneva

6 World Social Development Summit Draft Document, United Nations Research in Social Development News Letter, March 2002

7 In : United Nations Research in Social Development News Letter, March 2002

8 Democracy And Education, (1997) Dewey, John, Free press. Also see: Freire, Paulo, (2001), Pedagogy of Freedom, Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage, Rowland and Littlefield Publishers.

9 Haidt, J., (2006), Happiness Hypothesis, Arrow Books

10 ‘Uncertainty, Stakeholder Democracy and Broad Wealth’ Mirslaw Izienicki, Paper presented at the OECD and ILO High Level Conference on Corporate Social Responsibility, 23 to 24 June,2008, Paris. Izienicki is President of the 5th Capital Group.

11 ‘Dharma Index for Ethical Business’ January 5, 2009, Shekhawat, Prahlad Singh in: Seeds of Peace, Bangkok

12 In 2002, the Economic & Social Research Council announced funding for a program on Wellbeing in Developing Countries (Wed). The program, based at the University of Bath covers four topics: Wellbeing, Poverty Sustainability and Conflict

13 Based on my interview with Sabina Alkire, who carried out the review of cross-cultural and global literature. (Oxford, July 22, 2008). Sabina Alkire is the Director of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, International Development Centre, University of Oxford

14 ‘Alternative Vision of Progress’, Henderson, Hazel, March, 1995, Lokayan Bulletin


Friedman, John., (1992), Empowerment: The Politics of Alternative Development, Wiley-Blackwell.

Fukuda-Parr, Shiva Kumar, A. K., (2003), Edited, Readings in Human Development, Oxford University Press, Delhi

McGilliyray, M., Edited, (2007), Understanding Human Well-being, United Nations University Press.

Narayan Deepa,( 2000), Voices of the Poor, Oxford University Press, New Yor

Pandey, S. R., (1991), Community Action for Social Justice, Sage Publications, New Delhi


Rao, V, Walton, M., (Editors), 2004, Culture and Public Action, Permanent Black, Delhi

Sachs, W., ed., Development Dictionary, (2000), Orient Longman, New Delhi.

The Genuine Progress Indicators: http://www.cyberus.ca\sustain1\gpi.html.

Leave a comment