One size does not fit all

Traditional design and practices for building Chinese wooden arch bridges. Photographer: Duoxing Wang © UNESCO

Early theories of development considered culture and the associated traditions as an obstacle to social and economic welfare. Since at least the 1990s, there has been a major shift in approaches, which promoted development goals in humanistic rather than in purely economic terms and led to the notion of a “human development index” developed by UNDP. To this day, however, mainstream development policies are still often based on a one-size-fits-all philosophy that fails to adequately acknowledge the context.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) have generated an unprecedented drive to mobilize the international community around clear and shared priorities and objectives. 

In the lead-up to their elaboration, growing recognition of culture’s role led to important initiatives and research that aimed to capture and measure the links and relationships between culture and development. Unfortunately, culture was eventually left out of the MDGs’ and their indicators, largely due to difficulties in concretely measuring and demonstrating culture’s impact on development.

Many have suggested, however,  that acknowledged gaps and setbacks in the implementation of many well-intentioned development  programmes are in fact due to a lack of consideration for local specificities, cultural identities and values, the ‘softer’ dimensions of development which are crucial for sustainability.

Back to top