An Ideas Exchange


‘Development’ is a very powerful word. It has shaped countless lives and changed the landscape of entire countries. Yet, it is often used without a very clear idea of what it means - in relation to what ‘development’ really is, and what it comprises. During the past 100 years, the world has changed rapidly, with exponential growth in population and economies, and improved quality of life around the world.  Increasingly, however, there are also signs of tensions and underlying systemic problems with our current models of development. The world economic systems are showing a greater propensity to crisis; from the recent food, fuel and financial crises to climate change debates, some commentators are suggesting that uncertainty and volatility has become ‘the new normal’[1]. These events are a stress test of current development paradigms and have led many to question our core ideas about what development is and how it happens. At the heart of this debate is the unresolved tension between material progress on the one hand, and the understanding of what constitutes human wellbeing on the other.  This debate has gathered momentum, particularly in the run-up to the United Nation’s post-2015 agenda that includes calls to integrate social, economic, and ecological dimensions of sustainable development (coming out of the Rio+20 Conference) in to the next global developmental framework.

In this context, a ‘reimagining’ of development – what it is as well as how we get there, or critically assessing whether the concept is obsolete to meet current challenges – may be opportune.  While thinkers in the west are grappling with crises in their ‘developed’ societies, in much of Asia and Africa mainstream development policies are being adopted and followed with a vengeance, creating sweeping changes in the lives of people. In Sri Lanka in particular, the end of the war has created a strong push towards very high levels of economic growth, despite disparate signs that it is neither desired nor beneficial for the mass of people. The space for evidence that challenges these orthodoxies and influence policy is limited and lack of alternative discourses which can challenge hegemonic ideas is leading to a sense of the inevitable – that development is a linear path to economic prosperity which we must all follow in a pre-determined way.  Reimagining Development aims to create a consistent space for germinating new ideas, new publications, and new research that challenge the conventional paradigm of development.  Through Reimagining Development,we invite you to embark on an important journey of recalibrating our wellbeing, growth, and development.  The timing cannot get any better…

The Centre for Poverty Analysis (CEPA) is an independent, Sri Lankan think-tank promoting a better understanding of poverty-related development issues.  CEPA believes that poverty is an injustice that should be overcome and that overcoming poverty involves changing policies and practices nationally and internationally, as well as working with people in poverty.  CEPA strives to contribute to influencing poverty-related development policy, at national, regional, sectoral, programme and project levels.

Reimagining Development is intended to be a forum to communicate diverse perspectives on reimagining development.  Although this conversation began as part of the Center for Poverty Analysis’s (CEPA) annual symposium in 2012, the ideas that are presented via the column are not limited to CEPA’s ideological stand on development.  This space will feature a variety of ideas on reimagining development will be delivered by an assortment of individuals coming from diverse backgrounds and perspectives.  As partners in reimagining development, we encourage you to submit your comments and responses to the articles on this column (email:   We also encourage you to visit our website to follow further conversations on related topics.

[1] Kanbur quoted in Haddad, L., Hossain H., McGregor, J.A. and Mehta, L. 2011. Introduction, Time to Reimagine Development?IDS Bulletin, Oxford, 42(5):1-12.

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