The lasting impact made on Sudanese attending a junior secondary
teacher training school at Bakht-er-Ruda, a hundred miles up the Nile
from Khartoum, was detectable thirty years later when the graduates were
senior figures in Government and other organizations. Something happened to those boys, shielded from the bright lights
of Khartoum and subjected to Outward Bound-type of character building,
that set them apart from their cohort all through their lives. And they knew
group of them asked the Ford Foundation for funds to re-establish
Bakht-er-Ruda, but with Sudanese values. As the Foundation’s representative, I declined the request, to
my lasting regret.
Also in the Sudan, an irrigation scheme called the Gezeira,
launched by the British between the two Niles, succeeded as intended in
producing the cotton needed to cover the foreign exchange costs of the
colonial government. Even
more remarkably, but less noted, was the fact that the semi-nomadic
population brought in and settled on the Scheme produced half the
student body of the University College, Khartoum, after two generations
as farmers. They had become wealthy in local terms when they were
selected to participate in the Gezeira, but soon coming to understand
that irrigation is a repressive livelihood, they undertook to ensure
that their progeny had a chance for a better life.
These and other examples led me to resume reading in the area of
human development psychology after I retired. Twenty years ago, when the Ford Foundation sent me to Harvard for
a year, I had begun reading in the field. Between then and now the field made substantial theoretical
advances, particularly in the area of adult development, but seems to
have done so at the expense of application. Perhaps due to the absence of research funding, or possibly
because of the tendency of each scholar to work out her or his own stage
theory, the expansion of knowledge seems to have had little impact on
the world of affairs. True,
Kegan’s work helps to explain why the complexity of modern life leaves
so many of our population on the sidelines,  but the pioneering work
of Alex Inkeles in exploring the changes of values, attitudes and
beliefs brought about by modernization seems to have disappeared without
Conventional analyses leading to interventions on social issues,
domestic and foreign, have often had disappointing results. Human development psychology may very well be the missing
ingredient in current analytical methods. By assuming a false homogeneity among people inter-culturally and
within a single culture group, interventions often fail to produce the
intended outcomes. In order
to see how a human development perspective might be applied, I have done
two preliminary papers, one  on three cases where authors sought to
apply human development concepts in their fields (management , faith
, and education ). The
second  is a critique from a human development perspective of
Professor Samuel Huntington’s book The
Clash of Civilizations.  The human development perspective leads
one to conclusions differing not only from Huntington’s, but also from
his many critics, writing in Foreign Affairs. 
I want next to do a more comprehensive study, for which I seek
funding, of the human development dimension of the policies of a
successful developing country, Singapore. I hope to demonstrate that a nation that consistently favors
education and training, and thus human development, can achieve its
development objectives faster than others, even those with more abundant
resource endowments. By
development objectives I mean elevated income levels, improved health
and education status, increased longevity, lower fertility rates and a
concern for environmental quality.
The project will have primary and secondary objectives. The primary ones are to define an improved development strategy
in which a higher than usual value is placed upon human development, and
to suggest why global efforts to assist nations to develop in this way
deserve high priority.
An improved development strategy is needed because of the
environmental consequences of current practices. If the countries that remain poor, especially China and India,
develop through industrialization, with lagging education and training,
as most successful countries have done, the burden of increased
population and environmental deterioration on our planet will be
enormous. Economic growth
cannot be ignored, of course, but a growth pattern emphasizing human
development measures could, I believe, achieve lower fertility and
greater environmental concern among a population much earlier than would
be the case from the more traditional pattern. In countries the size of China and India, choice of development
path can have major consequences for the rest of the world, including
the United States.
Singapore, fortunately, provides a successful model, albeit on a
small scale, of extraordinary economic growth and rapidly rising
educational and health status indicators in the population. Its usefulness as a model is enhanced by the pluralism of its
population: more than half are of Chinese origin, and sizable fractions
of the remainder are of Malay and Indian extraction. It
was the first country in Southeast Asia to adopt a family planning
program, and fertility dropped so rapidly that the Singapore Government
is now pro-natalist. (This is not to say that the family planning
program in itself led to the decline in fertility; increasing incomes
and educational status doubtless had much to do with it.)
Environmentally, Singapore is one of the neatest and cleanest
cities of its size in the world. True,
this has much to do with the paternalistic policies of the Government,
but evidence of the environmental concerns of the people will be sought
in the study. The authoritarian style of the Government may make the choice
of that country as a model problematical for some people. I would concur with the opinion that the current level of
government control is unnecessary, perhaps even repressive, given the
level of maturity of its people, and I will of course cite whatever
evidence of this I find in the course of the study.
An important element in the human development thesis I am
proposing is the parallels between levels of human development and
levels of organizational development and governmental organization. That is another way of saying that as the modal level of
individuals participating in organizations or societies increases,
decision-making devolves downward in the case of organizations, and
societies become more democratic, or at least they should for optimal
effectiveness. The notion
of a parallel structure ideally existing between modal human development
and organization is not commonly found in social science literature,
although authors like Ken Wilber  and Dalmar William Torbert 
have dealt with it to some extent. The implications of this concept for the proposed study are that
we should not be quick to apply our own standards of democracy and
rights to other societies and cultures without understanding their
circumstances. For much of
Singapore’s history, a firm hand on the tiller may have been quite
The secondary objective of the project will be to demonstrate the
utility of the human development perspective in analyzing social issues.
Human development psychology focuses of course on the individual,
and our intellectual tools for moving between the individual and the
collective are not strong. Nevertheless,
an awareness of individual developmental stages in an historical context
can be very helpful in understanding today’s problems.
The average American of a century ago was a very different person
from the average today; different in cognitive capacities, in attitudes
and beliefs and values. Conversely,
our society demands more of each of us today than any society in the
past. Recognition of the
higher level of demands modernity exacts from the average individual is
critical to the notion of national development, and to the consideration
of alternative strategies for bringing it about.
Few of us recall how recent a notion it is that all societies can
achieve a fully mature level of civility, education, income and
appreciation of environmental quality. Indeed, some may still not be persuaded; but since the Second
World War, international organizations, and most importantly the United
States, have acted upon the assumption that all societies can achieve an
advanced technological and civic level if they have the will and the
opportunity to do so. In
historical terms, this is a very fresh idea indeed. But the same egalitarian impulses that led us to conclude that
universal development is possible seems to have precluded us from
carefully examining what it takes at the individual and the
institutional level to bring it about.
Abraham Maslow [11, 12] pointed out that individuals can and do
improve; and that societies can and do improve. These seemingly obvious observations point to the need to bring
all the knowledge we can muster to bear on the issues of how and why
such improvement can be consciously brought about. Singapore, whatever its failings, has brought its people to a
high level of consciousness, education and productivity in a remarkable
short time. As a species we
need to understand how this can be accomplished, because the shorter the
transition between traditional high fertility / high mortality societies
to low fertility / low mortality societies, the lower the level at which
the global population will level off.
If, as I seek to demonstrate in the case of Singapore, a policy
framework conducive to the improvement of an entire population can be
designed and implemented without the egregious use of repressive power
by the authorities, it may be possible to design measures for enhancing
the development of lagging populations in societies such as our own,
where the gap between bottom and top income and social strata seems to
be widening. A human
development perspective could lead to a very different set of
interventions than those normally proposed on the basis of conventional
METHODS OF INVESTIGATION
I intend to use the broad concepts of human development
psychology, not the measurement devices it has produced, in my study. Measurement techniques, such as Loevinger’s sentence completion
exercise,  are the means of refining theory and delving more deeply
into the particulars of an individual’s development. My purpose is to broaden the utility of human development
psychology at the collective level, not to deepen its understanding at
the individual level.
Consequently, I intend to study the policies of the Singapore
state as they have affected the development of its people. Education and training policies will be a central focus, but
minimum-wage legislation and other economic policies will also play a
role. Singapore consciously
promoted the education and training of its people, a subset of human
development and perhaps the most rapid route of advancement, but not the
entire concept. Nor is
human resource development, an economic concept that evaluates humans as
factors of production, a notion of adequate scope for my purposes. We are after all not solely interested in Singapore’s economic
success; we are also concerned with its success in limiting fertility
and maintaining a healthy environment.
Measures of education achievement and of fertility-rate decline
should be easily come by. More
difficult is the measurement of awareness of environmental quality. I will need to search for indications that the people of
Singapore, not just their government, care about environmental quality.
A good deal of information on Singapore is available on the
internet and in the stacks of Widener Library at Harvard University, to
which I have access as a Harvard retiree. To capture the full flavor of the Singapore experience, however,
I believe I need to spend three months there, interviewing people and
consulting documents not otherwise available. In addition, I would benefit from brief visits to Kerala State in
India, and to Kuwait. Kerala
has achieved many of the benefits of development, including longevity,
basic education, and health status, without substantial economic
development. Kuwait had
economic growth thrust upon it, and quickly provided vast educational
opportunities for its people, but there is evidence that human
development still lagged behind that of Singapore. The drop in the Kuwaiti fertility rate, for example, was much
slower than Singapore’s and has not progressed as far. Evidence of environmental awareness will be sought, but solid
data are unlikely to be available.
Although I will gather as much data as I can to illustrate the
importance of human development to international development strategy,
the compass of the work is too broad to expect to prove my case beyond
dispute. I will need to interpret and juxtapose data so that the
reader will see evidence in a different light and perhaps challenge some
of his or her assumptions about the development process. For this I will rely heavily upon my experience in different
parts of the world, including Southeast Asia. I will seek to illustrate and persuade, rather than prove, my
point of view.
In the course of the study, my primary base will be in Cambridge,
conversations indicate that I can have an office at the Harvard
Institute for International Development, an organization from which I
retired a few years ago, which will allow me to exchange views with
other development professionals on a regular basis.
RELATION TO THE PRESENT STATE OF
Two fields are the central foci of the work. The overseas development field is still celebrating the failure
of centrally planned economies and the triumph of free markets. Resistance to a perceived undue reliance on market mechanisms
exists in the UNDP and elsewhere, but their call for more concern for
human development is couched in terms of human resource development, an
economic term that owes nothing to the psychological concept.
The UNDP position  favors increased investments in education
and training, a step in the right direction but alone inadequate. Inkeles  found thirty years ago that formal education, along
with factory employment and exposure to mass media, were powerful
instruments for the modernization of values, attitudes and beliefs. By now, however, we should be able to devise technologies and
organizational principles that will accelerate human development much
beyond the early stages of modernization as studied by Inkeles. Environment, along with genetics, is recognized to shape our
development, but the work environment where most of us spend the bulk of
our waking hours is seldom considered from the point of view of its
impact on our continued growth as people. Management theory is still tied closely to productivity and
profitability, with little regard for maturation of the managed, as well
as the managers.
This project will not resolve the contradictions in our theories
of organization and management, but it may illustrate some neglected
dimensions of most of them. To
my knowledge, only Fisher and Torbert have begun integrating human
development psychology and organizational development.
What I hope this project will accomplish is to put development
strategy into a different context, to strengthen the case of the UNDP
for more attention to the human dimension of development, and to attract
development psychologists to the application of their knowledge to
In the field of human development psychology, as noted above,
applications of theory to social problems are lagging behind the
development of theory. In
the past ten years, theory has expanded at a rapid rate. We now have enough variety of hearty theoretical ideas about
intellectual, moral, and emotional development to begin to speculate
about the conditions that support or impede such growth. Cross-cultural and longitudinal evidenced has clearly supported
the existence of stages of intellectual growth, as originally propounded
by Jean Piaget , and this work has been extended into adult years. If it is true that we have at least a beginning understanding of
the course of intellectual, moral, and emotional development across the
life span, then the time has come to seek the dissemination and
application of that knowledge to the larger problems of human life.
We now know, for example, that the ability to grasp and
manipulate abstract problems is a product of adolescence and is most
likely to appear in the presence of conventional secondary education. It rarely occurs in social settings that do not offer structured
secondary education. This
set of developments is called formal operations. Formal operations are requisite to rational, scientific thought,
and to the ability to take the point of view of another in a systematic
thinking is a product of formal operations.
Most of the larger problems of human life, from war and violence
to overpopulation and famine, are problems greatly exacerbated, if not
wholly created, by human beings. In
order to grasp the implications of such problems as war, overpopulation,
famine and environmental deterioration, for the future well-being of the
species as a whole, there is little doubt that formal operations are
necessary. Yet, formal operations are not the norm for traditional
societies, nor are they prevalent in many third world populations.
The developed world has, generally, taken macro-economic
approaches to the solution of such dire problems. It has tried to support the growth of third world economies, the
development of free trade, and the democratization of political
processes. It has provided
medical and subsistence aid to countries in crisis. There has never been any consistent application of psychological
or developmental principles to the problems of development on the
national and international scale.
Macro-economic / social programs have often not been particularly
development theories would suggest that part of the reason for this
failure has to do with the imposition of ideals and programs that are
either too far ahead of the intellectual and social development of
individuals within a society, or that are not sufficiently embedded in
the conditions of everyday life to affect individual development. The development of the species has to be a grass-roots affair,
from this viewpoint. It
entails a consideration of the development of individuals within their
Theory in the field of human development is now advanced enough
for us to begin a systematic program of research and action that could
move beyond the individual level to address the systemic problems faced
by the species. The
proposed project represents one small step in that direction.
RELATION TO THE LONGER-TERM
GOALS OF THE RESEARCHER
My longer-term objectives, to be advanced but not achieved in the
proposed project, are to bring human development psychology to the table
when measures to deal with social problems are considered. For this to happen, the usefulness of the perspective needs to be
demonstrated. Then the
profession itself must gain confidence that it has something to offer to
the real world, and collaborative projects between psychologists and
scholars in other disciplines can begin to explore how the perspective
alters the conclusions reached by other social sciences. Eventually, one would hope that a major foundation might
establish a program for “professionalizing” the human development
psychology discipline, much as the Carnegie Corporation long ago helped
professionalize museum curators. I
would like to help design such a program.
The proposed project addresses at least two of the three core
global issues in the Foundation’s Global Security and Sustainability
Program. Its primary
objectives are directly related to shortening the demographic transition
of the globe’s human population, thereby benefiting the environment
and lowering the point at which total population levels off. Although not in itself likely to yield discernible progress on
those mega-problems, if the project influences in the slightest the
development strategy of developing countries, particularly India and
China, it will be a major step forward. The path such influence would be likely to take would be through
the World Bank and the governments of the industrialized countries. Development interventions tend to follow intellectual fads
because strategists are constantly seeking better ideas for combating
poverty. When a new idea
comes along that seems to improve existing strategies, as the Basic
Human Needs idea did at first, major development institutions can change
course with sometimes alarming rapidity. One should not be overly optimistic about the impact of one
small study, but it is not beyond the realm of possibility that a
well-crafted book taking a fresh view of effective development strategy
could have an impact upon the policy people at the Bank, the UNDP, and
USAID, and through them on countries in need of their assistance.
Indirectly, the project could also benefit national security. If a more effective development strategy could be formulated,
tensions between the rich and poor nations could in time be alleviated
and the poor gain hope for their future.
Moreover, if the American public became convinced once more that
foreign aid could be effective, and that good results were within our
national interest, our government might again assume leadership of the
global development effort.
The objective of the project is to identify the policies that
were key to Singapore’s success in human development terms. The state’s economic success has been much remarked upon, but
its success in human terms, as exemplified by the levels of educational
achievement, health and longevity, lowered fertility, and environmental
awareness, is perhaps even more remarkable.
By analyzing the Singapore experience in human development terms,
I hope to improve conventional development strategy. Typically, development interventions focus on increasing economic
product and building state institutions, allowing the development of
individuals to occur in response to the skill demands of the economy
(human resource development)
or later, as better educational facilities become affordable. In other words, people are regarded as factors of production, or
as the consumers of the benefits of economic growth.
emphasis on training and education, Singapore not only shaped and
accelerated its economic growth, it seems to have shortened the path to
other benefits of development, notably the rapid lowering of fertility,
the preservation of the environment, and the improved health and
longevity of its people. For
example, Singapore, the first country in Southeast Asia to promote
family planning, now has a pro-natalist policy because the fertility
rate has fallen below replacement levels.
plan to collect, and analyze from a human development perspective, the
Singapore government’s policy objectives, and the policy framework in
such areas as education, training, and minimum wage legislation, which
have affected human development in Singapore since independence. Human development indicators will include educational attainment,
health and longevity, fertility rates, and environmental awareness,
insofar as data are available.
I plan to spend three months in Singapore examining data, then to
visit Kuwait, an economically successful state where less emphasis has
been put on human development, and Kerala State in India, where a
relatively high level of human development, as measured by literacy,
longevity and fertility rates, has occurred at a low income level.
I believe that our species is in a long-term population crisis,
accompanied by environmental degradation, which may threaten our very
existence. The least objectionable solution of this crisis, it seems to
me, is the rapid development of the earth’s inhabitants to the level
where each society is able to take responsibility for its own collective
behavior. The emphasis
should be on “inhabitants” rather than “economies,” because the
globe could probably not sustain universal development using energy
technologies currently in use. If
a way could be found to shorten the industrialization phase of the
development process by emphasizing human development, as Singapore seems
to have done, it could be possible for the global population to level
off sooner than otherwise, and for the environment to incur less damage
than traditional strategies produce.
The broader significance of including a human development
perspective in social and political problem-solving would be to improve
the effectiveness of interventions. Current analytical techniques consider people to be homogeneous
in their responses to incentives and disincentives, which is one reason
they often fail.
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Fisher, D. and W.R.
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