Preparing for the launch of the Human Development Report

In preparation for the launch of the Human Development Report on 15 December, the ISC and UNDP embarked on an ambitious project to Rethink Human Development.

A key message from the launch of the dialogue and global relay dialogues on World Science Day 2020, was that human development must reflect cultural and societal values, while restoring natural ecosystems.

For the first time in a relationship spanning 300,000 years, instead of the planet shaping humans, humans are shaping the planet. This is the Anthropocene: the age of humans. 

The 30th anniversary edition of the Human Development Report, looks at how humanity can navigate this new age, unpacking the relationships between people and the planet and where we go from here to transform pathways for human progress.

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📑 Explore the report


The ISC, in partnership with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), brought together a wide variety of experts, and its members, to explore rethinking human development. The results are captured is a new publication, Conversations on Rethinking Human Development: A global dialogue on human development in today’s world. It’s the aim is to reconsider human-centred development by engaging with the deep socio-political, technological, and environmental shifts that have occurred over the last 30 years. 

To complement this report, the ISC on World Science Day for Peace and Development, began a virtual dialogue of global webinars on ‘Rethinking Human Development’. The webinars included a UNDP-ISC led high level dialogue, and regional conversations held in BrazilSub-Saharan Africa and the Asia-Pacific region. 

The report and webinars established that the term “development” is forever evolving through the consideration of varying perspectives. The term can be associated with negative connotations of colonialism, oppression and policies that have caused harm and even led to deaths. According to some interviewees for the report, and participants in the global relay, the term has also become entrenched with ideas and ideologies that obscure important elements such as the value of people’s inner lives or the role of power relations in perpetuating poverty and vulnerability. 

In the process of responding to global challenges and rethinking human development, it is critical to consider these issues in a context that acknowledges and wishes to further understand the interconnections between societal, technological and the Earth’s systems. The UNDP-ISC lead main webinar discussed human-centred development contextualized by the multifaceted challenges that the world faces today, such as the current climate emergency. This conversation emphasized the need for communities and individuals from all disciplines and regions to shift from a nature-based development to human-centred development. 

The ISC encourages an ongoing dialogue and urges you to register your own webinar in order to continue this global conversation.

 “Humans must learn to work in synergy with nature. Nature-centred development will enhance effectiveness and productivity, reduce waste of 30-50% of food produced, and therefore produce more from less and at the same time save land, water and natural resources to be set aside as nature conservancy.”

Professor Rattan Lal, International Union of Soil Sciences and speaker at the main UNDP-ISC webinar

Incorporating sustainable practices and nature-based solutions into the human development approach will be critical to achieve international goals such as the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. According to Asuncion Lera St. Clair, Senior Advisor for the project, human development and sustainable development should occur simultaneously and not be considered as two separate ideologies. However, implementation thus far has proven to be difficult due to the theoretical background of human development. .

During the Asia-Pacific Webinar, panelists discussed the importance of incorporating cultural and traditional knowledge into conversations on rethinking human development. They put forth the importance of incorporating indigenous groups into development-related discussions and practices. Learning from traditional knowledge systems may inform communities on how to live in better balance with nature and provide benefits to humanity that have not yet been formally recorded. 

Speaker and research scholar for the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy, Mandy Yap specified:

“What I consider to be an emerging challenge is really about measurement and what constitutes robust and relevant data that will actually help us make policy or design programs that will inform human-centred development.”

Mandy Yap, Speaker and research scholar for the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy

The webinar led by the Brazilian Academy of Sciences discussed the  danger in continuously collecting a specific set of data and not capturing those data where knowledge gaps exist or for which are not fully understood. The effort to make human development multicultural, multidisciplinary and inclusive is critical because so many useful insights are lost by not doing so.  

“Recognition is important for the mobilization of society, in the direction of democracy and equity. We need to leave our bubble and communicate, not only with the people in our university or academic circles, but with the general society, to discuss the fundamental questions for human development.”

Luiz Davidovich, Brazilian Academy of Sciences and discussant for the Brazilian webinar

During the sub-Saharan Africa webinar independent science and policy facilitator, Connie Nshemereirwe called upon her experiences working with the education systems in Uganda. She explained how students are asked to solve mathematic problems with examples from the West. An example of disconnected curricula included a lesson on the speed of a train in New York City, which highlighted the issues of a non-contextualize curriculum, as it’s inapplicable to the students’ lives in Uganda.  

Not only does this approach to education inadequately prepare students to live independently with agency in their local environment, systemic socio-economic and gender inequalities are present within such an education  system. In order for an individual to reach their full potential, there is a great need to invest in more culturally relevant learning materials, making education accessible and meaningful for all. 

One of the key messages to come out of the launch of the Rethinking Human Development relay was that capacity building in and amongst disciplines can lead to paradigm shifts that reshape our understanding of the world. 

“Human driven development is about shared-ownership. It is about every individual taking the responsibility and being inspired to make change, but also being empowered with the technology to be able to do so and we are in a world where this is within reach.”

Kevin Govender, Office of Astronomy for Development and panelist for the sub-Saharan Africa webinar

In order to redefine human development and shape the world that ‘we’ want to live in, it is necessary to sustain this dialogue on with voices from all over the world included.


Join the Dialogue

The ISC encourages its members to host local webinars on Rethinking Human Development in 2021 and we  invite you to continue the dialogue.

Photo by Nagy Arnold from Unsplash.

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