The concept of human development shifts the attention from the idea of economic growth to a wider concept of development, which takes into consideration all those processes that expand people’s choices and improve their well-being (see also hdr.undp). Human development is therefore understood as an end rather than a means of development (UNDP 1990).
This approach differs from other theories of economic growth since the emphasis is here placed on inequalities rather than poverty in absolute terms (Sen 2000). Supporters of theories on human development have demonstrated that GDP growth does not necessarily widen the possibility of choice for all human beings (Sen 1992, 2000). To show the link between GDP and some dimensions of human flourishing, a recent work edited by the Human Development and Capability Association has compared the cases of Uruguay and Saudi Arabia. Although Uruguay has a much lower GDP than Saudi Arabia (source: UNDP 2007), people in this country live longer, the female literacy rate is higher, and children’s life conditions are better than in the Arab country (Severine and Shahani 2009).
Similarly, the concept of human development should not be confused with the theories based on the formation of human capital, which consider the investment on human capital as a means to generate wealth (see also Lastly, this approach is different from welfare theories and basic needs approach (Baldi 1998). In this respect, the human development approach is aimed at widening people’s capabilities.
In the 1990s, the Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq identified four key principles linked to human development (Severine and Shahani 2009, pp. 29-30):
1. equity is referred to the concepts of justice and impartiality and it incorporates a special attention to distributive justice among groups. The concept of equity is different from that of equality since it presupposes that disadvantaged groups, such as women, minorities, etc., may require preferential treatment;
2. efficiency is related to the optimal use of available resources. It is necessary to show that a particular intervention offers the best outcomes in terms of people’s opportunities;
3. participation and empowerment allow individuals to become the agents of the development processes. It is about the actual involvement of people in social and political dynamics.
4. sustainability refers to the form of development such that its outcomes in the three spheres (social, economic and environmental) are durable over time, with specific reference to future generations.
The Human Development approach is inherently multidimensional and plural and it includes the following themes:
. social progress - equal access to knowledge, better nutrition and health services;
. economic growth - as a means to reduce the level of inequalities within society;
. guarantees for the human development of disadvantaged or marginalized groups (such as women, minorities, etc.);
. enhancement of the basic freedoms of people (Sen 2000) and human rights protection;
. sustainability, in its social, economic and environmental dimensions;
. human security being concerned “with how people live and breathe in a society, how freely they exercise their many choices, how much access they have to market and social opportunities - and whether they live in conflict or peace” (UNDP 1994: 22-23).
The most notable supporters of the theory on human development are Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize in 1998, and Mahbub ul Haq, founder of the Human Development Report in 1990.

BALDI S., “L’indice di sviluppo umano delle Nazioni Unite. Vantaggi e limiti della misurazione sintetica dello sviluppo” in Affari Sociali Internazionali, n.3, 1998, Franco Angeli Editore.
DENEULIN S. and LILA S. (Eds), An introduction to the Human Development and Capability Approach, London, Sterling VA, 2009.
SEN A., Development as Freedom, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1999.
SEN A., Inequality Reexamined, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1992.
UNDP, Human Development Report 1990, New York, Oxford University Press 1990
UNDP, Human Development Report 1994, New York: Oxford University Press, 1994
UNDP, Human Development Report 1995, New York, Oxford University Press 1995
UNDP, Human Development Report 2007, New York, Oxford University Press 2007

Editor: Valentina GENTILE

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