Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Christianity and Development Part 2: Development vs. Transformation

In my last post I alluded to the limitations when measuring the progress of a developing nation (or any nation) using GDP. The United States has one of the highest GDP per capita in the world, yet lags other developed nations in crucial measures such as life expectancy and infant mortality. In fact, a consensus has emerged in policy circles that GDP should be replaced - the only question is with what. In Bhutan, the government produces an optimistic yet enigmatic statistic called "gross national happiness". The UN, in a more humble attempt at measurement, created the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These 8 goals aim to measure success against physical poverty not by tallying GDP, but by more closely monitoring what impacts an individual's daily life - education, water and sanitation, mother and child health, etc.

These new measurement techniques result from the seemingly obvious recognition that we judge success by what we measure. GDP growth in many developing countries masks the horrific income inequality that exists, and may even be growing along with GDP. The basket of statistics that are the MDGs are an improved method of determining our success in reducing physical poverty.

I use the term "physical poverty" deliberately, and in the same way that most would simply write "poverty." I do this because what we typically call poverty is only part of the story. There are people in all nations, whether "developing" or "developed" who suffer from many different forms of poverty; poverty of spirit, of community, of hope, and of meaning. Should we not address all forms of poverty, not just physical? What I am saying is that just as success is judged by what we measure, our goals will match the language we give them. Therefore, we need a new term for our goal, rather than "development" or "poverty alleviation". A term that more accurately reflects the movement of a people from desperation, isolation, dis-empowerment and physical poverty towards a life of security, hope, fulfillment, and joy.

The word "transformation" means the radical change from one state to another, and more accurately reflects the work Christ wants to do in each of us personally and in societies as a whole. When a community is transformed, it is not simply progressing towards looking like another Europe or Japan, but towards what God envisioned it to be. This vision includes much of what we call development - more education, healthier people, more business opportunities. But it includes so much more - a passion for justice, a love of peace, a desire for community and a longing for truth.

When we conceive of our goal as transformation rather than development, we become aware of the myriad ways in which poverty destroys communities and lives. But we also become aware of the richness of life possible when one seeks to be transformed into the fullness of God's creation.


  1. Thank you for the thoughtful blog. These are good things for us to be aware of and think on.