Darrow Miller and Friends

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



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  1. Mike Soderling

    February 21, 2013 - 12:37 pm

    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.

    • admin

      February 21, 2013 - 2:59 pm

      Thanks, Mike. We’re grateful for your response.

      Gary Brumbelow

  2. Will Riddle

    May 17, 2015 - 11:00 am

    Glad you picked up on this. I think that Lawrence Harrison has the bead on the real issues in development. Would love to see you develop some of his concepts in Christian context. Central Liberal Truth could easily be redone as a handbook.

    I tried a similar kind of approach for urban outreach with my book “Rise, Rise, Rise: A Simple Guide to Escaping Poverty” http://smile.amazon.com/Rise-Simple-Guide-Escaping-Poverty/dp/1481802488/
    To do speak to the end-user I had to speak a completely different non-academic language. But in essence it was mostly just the value system of historic Protestantism.

    I was inspired to do this after an email exchange with professor Harrison. He mentioned his work and connection with Harold Caballeros, who I think is a pretty amazing model of what the 21st century church may look like.

    • admin

      May 19, 2015 - 5:43 am

      Will, thanks for reading. Glad you enjoyed the piece. Actually, we have done what you suggested. The first book I wrote is entitled Discipling Nations: the Power of Truth to Transform Culture. Here is the link to it on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Discipling-Nations-Power-Transform-Cultures/dp/1576582485. If this is a key interest of yours, you can find a lot of other resources at the Disciple Nations Alliance (DNA) website http://www.disciplenations.org/. See particularly the resource tab.


      • Will Riddle

        May 19, 2015 - 9:47 am

        Darrow, Thanks for the response. Yes, I do have your book, which I know deals a lot at the highest worldview level. The practical matter of changing the cultural operating system, even once a group has become Christian and embraced a Biblical worldview, generically speaking, is the challenge I’m most interested in. Looks like from the resources page you have done some workbooks to cover more of that space.

        • admin

          May 19, 2015 - 12:40 pm

          Will, yes there are other resources. Our partner organization Harvest Foundation has developed world class Bible study materials that prepare pastors to prepare their churches to work wholistically with their own resources to help develop their communities. Also Reconciled World, another DNA partner, has developed a very effective grassroots training program called Truth Transforming Communities. You can connect with both organizations from our website.


  3. Will Riddle

    May 19, 2015 - 6:36 pm

    Thanks. The TCT thing looks very exciting and very much along the lines of what I was thinking. Reviewing it makes me wonder how well these concepts would port to cultural change inside the prison system.

    • admin

      May 19, 2015 - 6:49 pm

      You could contact Anna and Nam Ho who lead this effort. I am sure they would be open to talking with you. I know they are beginning seed this work in the urban USA.


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