What Makes Development Happen?

When I first began working for a relief and development organization, I began to wrestle with the question “Why are some nations rich and some poor?” I came to realize that poverty is not caused by a lack of resources. The root of poverty is found in a society’s worldview. Development, on the other hand, whether human development, community development, or national development, is rooted in a Biblical worldview.

In my quest to understand the wealth and poverty of nations, I came across the name Lawrence Harrison. Harrison spent almost 25 years directing USAID missions in the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Haiti, and Nicaragua. Harrison has been the Director of the Cultural Change Institute at Tufts University Fletcher School.  He has authored a number of books and articles related to culture and development. In particular, Harrison’s book, Underdevelopment Is a State of Mind, captured my imagination as it corresponded so strongly with the ideas on which I was reflecting.

I believe that the creative capacity of human beings is at the heart of the development process. What makes development happen is our ability to imagine, theorize, conceptualize, experiment, invent, articulate, organize, manage, solve problems, and do a hundred other things with our minds and hands that contribute to the progress of the individual and of humankind. Natural resources, climate, geography, history, market size, governmental policies, and many other factors influence the direction and pace of progress. But the engine is human creative capacity.

What Harrison called “human creative capacity” is what the Bible calls imago Dei, man’s creation in God’s image. That capacity flourishes in some societies and flounders in others. If the culture and its corresponding worldview do not comport with objective truth and reality as God made it, major barriers to a nation’s development result. Correspondingly, to live within God’s reality creates the conditions for a people to flourish.

A critical chapter in Harrison’s book became part of the DNA Resource Reader. It can be accessed here.

For more from Harrison see his article Culture and Economic Development and a short video on  Haiti’s Culture and Vulnerability.

– Darrow Miller



This entry was posted in Development, Economic Development, Imago Dei, Resources, Worldview & Development Resources and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to What Makes Development Happen?

  1. Mike Soderling says:

    I love Harrison’s work and refer to it all the time. My first exposure was reading “The Pan-american Dream” while in Guatemala and thinking wow this guy gets it. Though not for kingdom reasons. And my friend and long time mentor Dr Dan Fountain (now with the Lord) referred to his work “Culture Matters” all the time. I think the world is slowly coming around to acknowledging that culture is a BIG deal when working to help others overcome poverty. Just look at how books are out there on the subject and how many consultants now exist to help companies be more sensitive to the cultures they seek to work in. For a long time we have used the phrase “Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, teach him to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime” and now we realize that even if you teach him to fish for himself, if he’s fishing in contaminated water (culture) you haven’t really done him much good.

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