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Overarching Concerns Programme Paper 2: Needs, Rights and Social Development

3 Oct 2003

  • Author(s): Rodolfo Stavenhagen


According to Rodolfo Stavenhagen, free-market economics and globalization, instead of providing solutions to some of the world’s most serious problems such as poverty, tend to exacerbate them. He says that the idea of social and human development has become the “step-child” of international priorities and that, rhetoric aside, development often fails to take into account human values and social goals. In other words, development is often confused with economic growth.

Stavenhagen deplores that national development strategies have often been subordinated to overall growth objectives in the emerging global marketplace.

All human beings have to satisfy material, cultural, social and spiritual needs, and it is the purpose of development strategies and policies to contribute to their fulfilment. Development must serve the needs of the people, especially the poor, which means that needs must be factored into development strategies. These must be designed to address the issue squarely: not as a hoped-for secondary fall-out or an afterthought, but as the centrepiece of development thinking.

Stavenhagen points out that it is “development” itself that is the problem, when it is imposed without taking into account of specific contexts. He also maintains that development policies designed to alleviate poverty, overcome social exclusion and reduce inequalities must focus on the needs and rights of specific categories or groups in society, and insists on the role of the state in doing this.

“The state must be seen as an instrument for the achievement of socially desired collective goods and the well-being of all of society’s members. Such a state can only be built up from the grassroots level, and can thrive only in a democratic environment. The state must be a socially responsible and accountable institution of governance, with a clear vision of what the public sphere is to provide in terms of addressing the needs and rights of human beings (...) The market serves only as a necessary mechanism for the allocation of certain kinds of consumer goods and services, and a stimulant to changes in productivity—not as the judge and provider of socially valued collective goods. These collective goods can only be obtained through politics: the politics of consensus building, collective participation, transparent decision making and democratic commitments, inspired by the values of freedom, justice and morality”, states Stavenhagen.

Rodolfo Stavenhagen is Professor of Sociology at El Colegio de México and is the United Nations Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people.

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