“Inclusive Development” Working Group


"Challenges to Democratic Processes in Asia", 3-4 September, Rome

Read more: "Challenges to Democratic Processes in Asia", 3-4 September, Rome
03 Sep 2018

The EADI Global Asia Working Group, together with the Albert Hirschman Center on Democracy, Graduate Institute Geneva, and the Italian Institute of Oriental Studies, Sapienza University Rome, invites to this conference to shed the light on the various challenges democratic processes in Asia are curently facing.

Debating Colonial Legacies of Development Studies

Read more: Debating Colonial Legacies of Development Studies
12 Jul 2018

“The biggest myth about development is the superiority of the West”, claimed Olivia U. Rutazibwa during the debate, “we urgently need to demythologize development.” This pinpoints one of the core arguments of the engaged debate among panellists and participants of the EADI-organised roundtable during the British Development Studies Association (DSA) Conference held in Manchester, 27-29 June 2018.

About the Working Group

The increasingly popular term – inclusive development – in the scientific and policy literature has scarcely been elaborated (Perch, 2011; UN/DESA, 2012). Hence, this working group will develop the conceptual and instrumental dimensions of inclusive development from a four-fold intellectual agenda. First, inclusive development is used to counter the dominant neo-liberal capitalist agenda (Pouw and McGregor, 2014). Second, we build on concepts such as inclusive growth, inclusive economics, wellbeing, social justice and human rights. Third, we argue that inclusive development in the context of the ‘great acceleration’ (Steffen et al., 2007) and the Anthropocene (Crutzen, 2006) has glocal dimensions requiring research into how to share our common ‘ecospace’ (Gupta, 2014). Finally, inclusive development has to be analysed using a relational approach to understand why it is being poorly or adversely implemented (cf. Mosse 2010).

[Read more about the scientific context of “Inclusive Development” …]

Inclusive development fits into the evolution of development theories over time. Every decade has experimented with ideas about development (see Meier, 2001; Thorbecke, 2006; Easterly, 2007; Gupta and Thomson, 2010 for more details). The most relevant inputs from these decadal discourses to inclusive development thinking include the recognition of

  1. universal human rights in the 1940s,
  2. investing in countries ‘lagging behind’ in development in the 1950s,
  3. human rights to protect both political, economic and social rights in the 1960s,
  4. externalized environmental impacts (Carson, 1962) and the need for an organized response in the 1970s and to reconcile environment and development through sustainable development in the 1980s (WCED, 1987),
  5. how unemployment, inequality and persistent poverty call for a strong development focus, income redistribution, a rural focus and human development indicators in the 1970s, (Thorbecke, 2006),
  6. the post-development critique to development as a discourse and the need to study social movements (Escobar, 1995), including the realities of the poor by participatory development (Chambers, 1997), a focus on entitlements, capabilities and freedom (Sen, 1999) and two parallel processes focusing on environmental and social and third world women’s survival (Shiva, 1989) and emancipation respectively in the 1990s (Tinker, 1990), reflected in Agenda 21 of the United Nations (UNSD,1992); and
  7. the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2000 as a way to prioritize ‘the bottom billion’ (Collier, 2007).

The recent work of Piketty (2014) and Stiglitz (2015) highlight the process of growing inequality, while the UNDP (2014) Human Development Report on ‘Sustaining Human Progress’ focuses on the multiple causes of vulnerability that operate simultaneously from global to local level and thus needs actions at all levels. Similarly, Oxfam (2014a, 2014b, 2015) draws attention to the obscene fact that 85 people own as much as the bottom half the world and that by 2016 1% of the world population will own more than the remaining 90%! The global community of development and environmental scholars have contributed to the UN’s adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 (e.g. Sachs, 2012). The roots of ‘inclusive development’ thus go back a long way and have evolved constantly.

Inclusive development emphasizes the social and environmental aspects of sustainable development. Sustainable development is traceable to Maurice Strong’s ‘ecodevelopment’ prior to the 1972 UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm (Adams, 2009: 65). The World Conservation Strategy (IUCN/UNEP/WWF, 1980) elaborated the concept as ‘sustainable development’ (Lélé, 1991: 610), which then became prominent in Our Common Future (WCED, 1987) and is being presently translated into Sustainable Development Goals (Sachs, 2012). These should meet the needs of current and future generations – the intergenerational component – and address economic, environmental and social aspects – the substantive component. Thus sustainable development is not only deliberated upon in the scientific community (Gupta and Baud in press); it has the power to build political consensus around it globally. While initially inclusive development focused primarily on the social aspects, we argue below that inclusive development has a strong ecological component as the poorest often depend upon local resources (soil, forests, fish, water) and are vulnerable to land, water, fish, and carbon credit grabbing (Zoomers, 2010; Fairhead et al., 2012; Leach et al., 2012) and will be most affected by global change. The wellbeing of all people is closely related to continual investment in maintaining ecosystem services (Chopra et al., 2005). However, global recession has exacerbated the trend in global politics to adopt development/environment trade-offs in favour of a focus on growth and employment at the cost of both the environment and inclusiveness. This has led to the concepts of green economy (UNEP, 2011) and green growth (World Bank, 2012), which promote economic growth within environmental limits. These concepts are in line with ecological modernization theory anchored in neo-liberal capitalist approaches, which neglect the social relational component of sustainable development. We therefore see inclusive development as a countervailing strategy to pre-empt trade-offs in favour of the economy at the cost of society and the environment creating persistent income inequality and exclusion. Inclusive development first appeared in publications of the Asian Development Bank (ADB, 2007) as a strategy towards equity and empowerment based on poverty reduction, human capital development (education, healthcare), social capital development (participatory decision-making and community-based steering), gender development (health, welfare and participation in societal development for women), and social protection (reducing risks and vulnerabilities associated with age, illness, disability, natural disasters, economic crises and civil conflict) (Rauniyar and Kanbur, 2010). We argue that inclusiveness is justified for six reasons (Gupta, 2014): normative considerations of concern for the poorest and marginalized in society (Sachs, 2004a, 2004b; Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation, 2012); legal reasons arising from human rights; economic reasons of ensuring economic production by future generations and for strengthening the economic agency of people (Stiglitz et al., 2009; Pouw and McGregor, 2014); security arguments of enabling the poor to have access to legal means of survival and live in safety (Murshed, 2006); democratic reasons for engaging all in decision-making (procedural justice) and in sharing resources and prosperity (distributive justice) (Fraser, 2001; Oosthoek and Gillis, 2013); and relational arguments that see poverty as resulting from the (more powerful) actions of others (Harriss-White, 2006; Mosse, 2010).

Although this concept is often used, it has thus far been

  1. inadequately theorized and compared to other concepts such as inclusive wealth and inclusive growth;
  2. the choice of instruments for implementing inclusive development have also been inadequately explored;
  3. there has been very little discussion of the limits to ‘inclusiveness’ – when should policies be inclusive, what are the challenges affecting inclusiveness, what is the value and price of inclusiveness, how can inclusiveness be designed and can inclusiveness help to address global change issues; and
  4. how is inclusiveness being addressed in practice – e.g. in the water arena, social protection, or gender equality.

The purpose of this working group is to build on this concept and develop it further, address the limitations of this concept and explore further the relational and political dimensions of it.



Prof. Joyeeta Gupta
Professor of Environment and Development in the Global South
Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam
UNESCO-IHE Institute for Water Education in Delft

Latest Publications on Inclusive Development