HART Prize 2020-2021 Senior Essay Winner: Esme Pearce’s What Does it Mean for a Country to Become “Developed”?

13 May 2021


Development is a notion that projects ideas of progression, improvement and positivity. The Human Development Index claims to measure the development of a country based on knowledge, a decent standard of living and a long and healthy life (“Human Development Reports”). However, it neglects “inequalities, poverty, human security, empowerment etc” (“Human Development Reports”). The nature of the HDI encapsulates the attitudes of the West and acting institutions such as the IMF and World Bank that claim to seek to ‘develop’ Third World countries that are ‘underdeveloped’; framing the notion of development in Western ideas, societal expectations and economic and political goals that ignore essential aspects of countries and their cultures. This essay will critique the Western idea of what it means for a country to become ‘developed’ and how these practices of capitalism and industrialisation are imposed on other countries for the benefit of the West at the cost of the people they ironically seek to ‘aid’.  

Vandana Shiva describes development as a postcolonial project that assumes Western-style progression is possible for all (1). These projects are usually undertaken with the pretence that a country or community is ‘underdeveloped’. Many Third World countries, such as Sudan and Burma, are traditional economies that Shiva argues provide affluence in a different sense; an ability to provide for themselves and live off of the land, rather than a monetary affluence that is so integral to the Western ideal of development and success (12). Countries that have undergone major economic and social development, including Nigeria and Syria, have actually experienced resource exploitation from Multi-National Corporations (MNCs) and the native people “have not benefitted from the revenues earned” (Hussein and Dittmann). This form of development through foreign economic policies and structures does not belong in these countries, and further issues are born as a result; increasing poverty, rising gender inequality, dependence on foreign aid or finance and severe debt. Shiva describes this as the “crisis of development [which] arises from the mistaken identification of culturally perceived poverty with real material poverty” (13). The so-called First-World’s idea of development is very different from the positive impact ‘development’ should theoretically have.

The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank as institutions are essential to the debate of development. They provide the funds for ‘underdeveloped’ countries and economies. The IMF claims their “primary purpose is to ensure the stability of the international monetary system” (IMF) while the World Bank states it is “one of the world’s largest sources of funding and knowledge for developing countries” (World Bank). Both of these taglines are embedded within website pages that show images of children studying and smiling, while the phrases “sustainable development” and “reduce poverty” float around the screen ” (IMF) (World Bank). Yet both institutions come under heavy criticisms when it comes to development projects and the financial aid that funds them. Arundhati Roy writes extensively on the failures of the IMF, the World Bank and the people sitting in their boardrooms. She argues that they are “by-products of empire…arm in arm with the project of corporate globalisation” (Roy). The names of the groups- the International MonetaryFund and the World Bank themselves are entirely based on money and are both headquartered in Washington D.C, USA. Development projects set up and financed by the IMF or World Bank such as Structural Adjustment Programmes focus on the economic system that funds and fuels the West; capitalism. They are centred around profit, imposing systems of production and consumption on communities who have neither asked nor desired this intervention. Ignorance for the cultures, histories and ecologies of societies comes at huge costs for large numbers of Third-World populations whose governments have signed away their way of life to grab a share in the exploitative revenues of so-called systems of ‘development’. The HDI may report a positive progression for a country, but looking beyond the simplified indications of development suggests otherwise.

The creation of infrastructure and physical institutions are commonly perceived as symbols of economic prosperity and development (Palei). Shiva writes of the construction of megadams in India, while Stephanie Black’s documentary Life and Debt reveals the mass factories of the Free Zone in Jamaica. Yet this kind of infrastructural development fails to address two issues: firstly, that the infrastructure needed most in ‘underdeveloped countries’ if more likely to be schools or hospitals, and secondly that this does not address more major barriers to ‘development’ that are not resolved by infrastructure. Nagorno-Karabakh, Nigeria, Sudan, Syria and Uganda are all experiencing or have recently experienced nation-wide conflict, terrorism and war (HART). Controversial political parties, governments and military groups have directly and indirectly led to the suffering of the people and environments of their countries. These are not issues resolved by money supplied by the IMF or World Bank, or by the creation of capitalist institutions.

So, if the Western notion of development is in fact worsening situations for many, what does it mean for a country to be ‘developed’? International Alert are a charity that “focus on solving the root causes of conflict” and also “advise companies, governments and international organisations on how their policies and operations can better support peace” (International Alert). International Aid is widely critiqued for not supporting the poorest of the world’s countries, and is used “as a weapon to boost trade and further political aims” (Malik) under the guise of ‘development goals’. However, International Alert are looking to change the “narrative about what ‘development’ actually means”; Development is reimagined as transferring power from violent to accountable people, developing culture, advocating democracy and creating a civil society as well as achieving economic growth (Vernon). This alternative notion of ‘development’ incorporates so much more than the capitalist ideals of profit, production and consumption that often drive development. Instead, a respect for culture, communities and humanity is prioritised, suggesting development as a tool that can genuinely benefit from more than just feeding those at the top of the food chain, or funding a corrupt government. It would allow countries to become ‘developed’ in a way that a majority of people’s lives are improved and for the long term; a form of sustainable development. Further, if this alternative ‘development’ were led by communities choosing to develop their ways of living, the negative externalities such as plundering of resources, destruction of ‘traditional’ ways of living and ignorance for cultures and histories of indigenous groups would be largely negated. Choice and voice are essential to a country or community becoming ‘developed’ within the vision of what they deem ‘development’ to mean.

The vision set out by International Aid is a ‘development’ that is progressive and positive, one that would likely be welcomed by communities who have suffered from the exploitation of MNCs, corrupt governments, the World Bank and IMF programmes. The only flaw in this vision of development is exactly that- that it remains a vision. I hold hope that, with an alternative vision of development of the neo-colonialist capitalism of the West, people can be presented with an opportunity for their country and culture to progress in a way they see fit. The work of charities such as International Alert and HART will be integral and invaluable in this transition.

By Esme Pearce



“About the IMF.” IMF, International Monetary Fund,  

Almohamad, Hussein, and Andreas Dittmann. “Oil in Syria between Terrorism and Dictatorship.” MDPI, Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute, 17 May 2016,  

Black, Stephanie, director. Life & Debt. New Yorker Films, 2001.  

“Human Development Reports.” Human Development Index (HDI) | Human Development Reports, United Nations Development Programme,  

Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust,  

Malik, Kenan. “As a System, Foreign Aid Is a Fraud and Does Nothing for Inequality | Kenan Malik.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 2 Sept. 2018,  

Palei, Tatyana. “Assessing The Impact of Infrastructure on Economic Growth and Global Competitiveness.” Procedia Economics and Finance, ScienceDirect, 31 Oct. 2014,  

Roy, Arundhati. “Confronting Empire.” Https://,, 29 Jan. 2003,  

Shiva, Vandana. Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace. North Atlantic Books, 2015.  

Vernon, Phil. “What Does ‘Development’ Actually Mean?” International Alert, 25 Feb. 2015,  

“What We Do.” International Alert,  

“Who We Are.” World Bank,  

Word Count: 1195 (excluding titles and works cited. Cited using MLA referencing)

Back to News

Help our local partners realise their vision of hope for their communities