What is Sustainable Human Development?

While I am a traveler by heart, my greatest passion is for a commitment to the idea of sustainable human development. This term is rather new, although several components have been around for as long as human existence. I wanted to share with you a short introduction to the concept of sustainable human development. The infographic I made is just to highlight the basic scope of sustainable human development.

Made by Christian Ekleberry, backpacksandblackboards.com
Made by Christian Ekleberry, backpacksandblackboards.com

Sustainable human development can be defined as the advancement towards acceptable standards of living for all human beings. Significantly, this does not mean that everyone around the globe should have an equal amount of material goods or the same access to opportunities, but rather they meet a certain level of quality in lifestyle. Now some might be familiar with the usage of happiness to determine quality of life. While happiness is an important component, sustainable human development recognizes that even the world’s bottom 1 percent can be happy with what they have; this ranking system does not necessarily guarantee individuals will lead a life they deserve.

One of the most fascinating parts of sustainable human development is its commitment to safeguarding cultural integrity. Participants in the field realize that a blanket list of “ingredients” should not be the solution to many of the world’s problems. Instead, each community needs its own recipe for quality of life and the culture of that community should be preserved in the process. It is for this reason that the field of sustainable human development is multi-disciplinary, covering political science, sociology, anthropology, international relations and affairs, science, environmental protection, religion, and more.

Over time, it seems that the world has grown fairly negative in its response to the work of many non-profits and charities. A large number of these fail in their attempts to make lasting changes in the communities where they work. This has a lot to do with the mentality that the outsider has all the answers and resources to come in and “fix” the problem. Cultural context and community involvement is what makes initiatives successful and permanent.

Do not get me wrong, charities, welfare, and missionary work can all play a role in sustainable human development. However, without fostering community, the outsider remains the outsider. Academics in the field argue that the community members must be the ones generating the ideas for initiatives and that community leaders need to lead the programs. Outside participants are merely partners and potential sources for resources and support.

For instance, as an outsider we might see education being the most lacking and needed component of Community X for growth; yet, if the community believes water irrigation is a larger necessity to bring about progress, sustainable human development projects should be geared towards water irrigation. This builds trust and relationships as well as dignity and respect for this community. Moreover, it could lead to a greater yield of progress. As an outsider we might not always understand the subtle or underground currents of society. In Community X, food may be dependent on agriculture. Every member of the community has to participate in watering crops to ensure food growth. Water irrigation will lead to a decrease in demand for agricultural workers, allowing for more children to attend to other activities such as school.

Overall, sustainable human development can be taken for its name. It promotes sustainable measures of change that can be upheld or continued, rather than merely short term solutions or minor alleviations. At the very core of its belief is the notion that the human is the most dignified part of the picture and that a holistic approach is necessary to address the various dynamics of an individual’s well-being. Further, the individuals whose lives are impacted should be the ones making the decisions. Finally, the word ‘development’ signifies the reality that there continues to be constant work needed for progress. No community has reached Utopia and thus there are always individuals or areas that require our attention.

I hope that this small introduction has helped give you, the reader, more insight into the nature of my passion and by default the tone of my travel essays. If you would like to read more of my writing that contains a sustainable development edge, you can read “Wanderlust to Culture-less,” “Do You Really Have a Case of Wanderlust?,” and “So, You Want to See the World…” You can also see one of the places I would recommend in Laos to learn about a NGO (non-government organization) doing some on the ground sustainable human development in “Vientiane’s Must Visit: COPE Visitor Centre.”

Also, don’t forget to sign up for the giveaway! Ends Saturday evening (Taipei Time)/ Saturday morning (Central US Time)


2 thoughts on “What is Sustainable Human Development?”

  1. Very informative post Christian. You have basically summed up my thoughts on this matter. I was just commenting on another blog this morning about how I get really frustrated with all these for profit volunteer projects that are around these days. People pay a fortune to volunteer for 5 days then leave. I’m sure the volunteers mean well, but this is not helping a community! I also agree about people on the outside thinking they can come in and ‘fix’ things. It’s not about that either. It is about ongoing development that is meaningful for the community. Thanks for this great post!

    1. I am glad I could sum up your feelings on this. Volunteering is such a great thing but I do agree that when you start paying $3000-$5000 to volunteer, this is not always the best option. That money could be invested in living for a semester in a country and really learning about their culture or donating to a grassroots NGO.

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