"While both approaches look at individual agency, the Sustainable Livelihoods approach doesn't disaggregate the challenges and contributions of the poor on the basis of gender. It doesn't look at particular issues facing the men and women and the relationships between them in building up their asset base.

It doesn't articulate a gender perspective and for Sen that is a very crucial part of Development as Freedoms, a recognition of women's role - as one that warrants noting that some variables relate directly to women's agency and structural position."

Jo Beal
(LSE July 7th Colloquium)

Jo Beall

Michael Mutter


Let us consider the approach that has been taken towards development by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) as an example of a multi-layered approach to policy making and influencing policy. It is part of the International Development Co-operation Agencies (IDCAs). Its approach towards development has been varied for a number of reasons that relate not only to its internal changing perspectives but also to the shifting ground in the political status of the host countries where its programmes are implemented. As Michael Mutter has explained in his paper:

"At the turn of the millennium there are mixed messages within government policies - both for national governments, and for International Development Co-operation Agencies - in approaches to Urban Development and Shelter Programmes. Whilst national governments have come to understand the importance of having coherent strategies for urban development, the IDCAs have taken a different course.

The UK is such a case, the national government putting much emphasis on new thinking - for example the methodologies for regeneration and sustainable development, and more recently, the government's Urban Task Force - as much as traditional thinking that emanated from the emergence of town planning as a statutory requirement in UK from 1947 onwards."

Further endorsement of such mixed messages and variable responses to these can be seen in the two papers recently presented by Sue Unsworth, a long time employee of DFID. In these papers, she contends that donors find it easier to say "what" needs to be done rather than "how" it is to be done. Her analysis of the 'how' problem is extensive and far ranging. Indeed it could almost be considered nebulous in the range of issues that are identified for corrective measures. The range of such issues is illustrative of the plight of many donors who are trying to understand and then tackle underdevelopment.
In using the word "underdevelopment" one is being, perhaps, somewhat classic in one's terminology since over the last two decades, a whole host of new terms have superseded this word with alternative descriptions about the conditions of poor societies such as chronically poor, disadvantaged, economically challenged, exploited, stateless, anarchic, unstable etc. The condition of under development has not only persisted across historical time periods, it also extends spatially across large parts of the more densely populated areas of the globe.

Understanding it has been the subject of a continuous search for generations of economists. Five decades ago it seemed that it was the economists who had a prerogative to explain theories about underdevelopment, but as the other disciplines such as sociology, political science and anthropology joined in to broaden the definition of underdevelopment, this search for an acceptable definition of underdevelopment has become a shared pursuit. From the earlier and simpler theoretical formulations that advocated industrialisation as a single point cure for underdevelopment, current development literature is multi-disciplined and advocates multi level, multi- directional approaches.

Sue Unsworth's analysis reflects this multi-sect oral approach to tackle the wide range of symptoms that could be termed as underdevelopment. She mentions historical legacies, geography, social, economic and political processes, the role of institutions and the state as being relevant to understanding the causes of poverty. Her formulations are grounded in the effort to clarify the aims and objectives of donors while assisting underdeveloped societies. However in advocating a wide approach or what I would term as a nimble footed approach, she almost advocates an approach that relies more on the instinctive understanding of situation by the donor rather than on an evaluated one. There is a possibility that such an approach may not answer the donor's "what and how" questions adequately.

While explaining the Key Themes, Unsworth has mingled the symptoms of underdevelopment with those of policy directives when the two need to be distinguished from each other simply because the ideals of the recipient seldom coincide with the more technical and bureaucratic concerns of the donor. It would be an ill-advised policy that aims at forcing the varying perceptions of the recipient and the donor to become identical as a precondition of donor policy. While focus on such key themes is undoubtedly a useful basis for a brainstorming session or a workshop to evolve strategies, it may not provide a sufficiently reliable framework for donor policy.

While the condition of underdevelopment is inherently unstable, there is a need to have a stable framework to view it for policy purposes. Such a policy framework needs to be not only simple but also broadly acceptable to the international community as one that ensures co-operation between all the parties concerned (see last section for such a framework). In identifying the various issues of underdevelopment and donor responses, Unsworth may have given inadequate attention to two issues, which to my mind, are important enough to need more focused attention.

Firstly there is the issue of the relationship between the countryside and town in underdeveloped countries. This is not only an important issue but also an unresolved one. It is one that is debated heatedly by donors while considering their spatial and regional priorities in locating projects and directing policy thrusts. I have already commented, earlier on in this paper, on the importance of urban centres in the midst of the crises that are unfolding in this century.

Secondly we need to consider the important issue of inter-donor co-ordination. In order to tackle the wide complexities of underdevelopment through the extensive initiatives advocated by Unsworth, one would need to cast a much wider net than any unilateral aid agency could do on its own. Since it is easier to identify the problem of underdevelopment than to tackle it, one needs to consider more fully the role of international co-ordination in tackling it.

Unfortunately, recent events that emphasise a diminished American confidence in relying on international agencies have damaged the possibilities of effective international co-ordination. As George Soros has commented, those international institutions that deal with trade and global financial markets are much stronger than those that deal with social investments. Issues of peace, political stability and poverty alleviation have been subjugated at the expense of issues related to trade, currencies and the movement of capital around the globe. For instance, the reluctance of the United States to pay its UN dues has undermined the role that an organisation such as the UNDP could play in coordinating inter-donor efforts. Such undermining is also reinforced by E-U strategies in many countries. For instance, during my own extensive engagement with initiating employment programmes in the Balkans, it soon became clear that, despite the fact that the programme was E-U financed through the UNDP, the E-U saw its identity as a contestant to the UNDP. This had led to a number of futile obstacles being placed in the smooth running of an obviously successful programme.

While I am not specially advocating the case of the UNDP, I would like to stress here that unilateral donor strategies often strike against the potential role of lead agencies because their own agendas are narrower than those of a lead agency. The wide policy and strategic aims being advocated by Unsworth cannot be successfully implemented without lead agencies. As I have argued in the last section of this paper, such a lead agency could hold up the framework through which donors could address their individual concerns in each country. Inevitably each donor has a unique relationship with the recipient country that is based on special historic links as well as their own metropolitan compulsions. These unilateral concerns need to be addressed in each donor programme. However, if one were to define a simple framework at the lead agent's level, then donors could enter the field through this common framework and submit the results of their initiatives to a common evaluation procedure, thus formulating a shared platform for the evaluation of successes and failures.
An account of the multi-dimensional approach to development of DFID is seen in a recent publication "Urban Livelihoods: A People Centered Approach to Reducing Poverty". This book defines more extensively the compendium of analysis, policies and programmes of DFID. Within this compendium, a wide range of approaches has been assembled in an effort to address the multiple dimensions of poverty alleviation. Such a wide omnibus approach casts a wide net and catches almost all the problematic symptoms of the poverty of underdevelopment. Any predefined policy framework for such an approach would inevitably be very complex. The emphasis and priority of the overarching goal of sustainability and poverty reduction is clear enough. Indeed so is the clear emphasis on a people centered approach clearly articulated:

" Inherent in this conception of livelihoods is the notion that the relative poverty or economic well being of poor people should be understood from the point of view of the people themselves. This people centered view provides a balance to the global and more strategic perspective normally offered by a sustainable development policy approach."

The approach advocated in the book regards the individual as the possessor of livelihood assets, as a producer of wealth. Development initiatives are seen as enhancers of these assets. Thus the level of livelihood assets can be enhanced by effective development policies. These assets are composed of five capitals, and policies are required to enhance the value of these capitals. In adopting this approach, emphasis is placed on reversing the 'deprived' condition of the recipient and substituting it with a description of him as an asset-owning member of a community. The assets of the poor are to be protected form vulnerabilities.

These assets are listed as follows (no particular sequence):

  • Financial (savings, access to credit).

  • Human (labour, health, education, other skills).

  • Natural (urban agriculture, rivers, land).

  • Physical (housing, livestock, economic and social infrastructure, production equipment).

  • Social (social support mechanisms, information).

The vulnerabilities of the poor are listed as follows:
  • Legal status (informal wage employment, shelter, land, political rights).

  • Services and infrastructure (lack of basic social services).

  • Local environment (poor physical environment, socially challenged environments).

  • Dependence on the cash economy (vulnerability to fluctuating market prices).

From the above analysis, it can be seen that the DFID approach to development and the approach advocated by Sen are mutually interlinked. However the merit of the framework being proposed in this paper is that focusing on the concept of freedom can replace the overarching goal of DFID's poverty removal policies with a higher and more desirable goal of expanding individual freedoms to enable a person to live the life that he values. While the DFID approach regards the productive status of the individual, the Freedom approach emphasises his potential to be free. DFID's goal of removing poverty is contrasted with the freedom approach goal of enhancing freedom. Poverty eradication and increase in income are the means, while the pursuit of freedom are the ends that reach out to the broader ideal of the human beings.
Like Sen's approach, the Rights based approach also places the individual at the centre of its concerns. The beneficiary of both approaches is the individual citizen because Human Rights belong to individuals (though sometimes to groups). Each individual has inalienable Human Rights that spring from the definition in the 1948 UN Declaration and other covenants which define these as being born free and equal in dignity and rights. Broadly speaking, these rights also cover, as does the Freedoms spectrum, economic, social, cultural and political aspects. The differences between the two approaches relate to the interpretation of the causes of poverty and the strategy required relieving this poverty. The Rights based approach assumes that there is a hidden bag containing fundamental rights (perhaps God given) that have to be taken or claimed from the authorities or those in power. It also assumes that these powers have the legitimacy to give these rights. Rights have to be wrested from exploitative authorities and the declarations and covenants are very much a part of a declaratory strategy which calls for the implementation of international institutional resolutions regardless of cultural or social endowments of the claimants.

The freedoms approach on the other hand is not declaratory and does not assume that freedom has to be re-gained. The enhancement of freedom is blocked by obstructions to free agency of the individual which needs to be removed without placing any single unfreedom as a priority. Each freedom consists of rights and opportunities and each of them needs to be gained "to advance the capability of a person". But the obstructions to freedoms are not being held in a bunch by anybody in particular. Each of the freedoms is interlinked and their co-partnership results in strengthening each of them beyond their independent strengths. For instance, giving freedom of economic facilities and prosperity may lead to better access to social opportunities. The granting of all human rights does not automatically lead to achievements in all social, economic, political and cultural domains because obstructions to free individual agency could still persist in open democratic societies.


"I would argue that Sustainability Livelihood's approach draws less direct link between agency and structure. That is because it has a less focus than Sen on politics and political institutions.

For Sen the overall achievement of development as freedom is deeply contingent on political and social arrangements and the way they come together.

There is a big difference between seeing institutions as intervening variables, as happens in the sustainability and livelihood approach, and seeing democracy and public action as a development needs event."

Jo Beal
(LSE July 7th Colloquium)

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DFID Key Document (pdf)
Meeting The Challenge Of Poverty In Urban Areas.

Romi Khosla

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