The first Human Development Report in 1990 opened with the simply stated premise that has guided all subsequent Reports: “People are the real wealth of a nation.” By backing up this assertion with an abundance of empirical data and a new way of thinking about and measuring development, the Human Development Report has had a profound impact on policies around the world.
"The basic purpose of development is to enlarge people's choices. In principle, these choices can be infinite and can change over time. People often value achievements that do not show up at all, or not immediately, in income or growth figures: greater access to knowledge, better nutrition and health services, more secure livelihoods, security against crime and physical violence, satisfying leisure hours, political and cultural freedoms and sense of participation in community activities. The objective of development is to create an enabling environment for people to enjoy long, healthy and creative lives." - Mahbub ul Haq (1934-1998), founder of the Human Development Report
"Human development, as an approach, is concerned with what I take to be the basic development idea: namely, advancing the richness of human life, rather than the richness of the economy in which human beings live, which is only a part of it." - Amartya Sen, Professor of Economics, Harvard University Nobel Laureate in Economics, 1998
"That was the original vision and remains the great achievement of the creators of the Human Development Reports, Mahbub ul-Haq of Pakistan and his close friend and collaborator, Amartya Sen of India, working with other leading development thinkers. Their concept has guided more than 20 years of global Human Development Reports, more than 600 National Human Development Reports—all researched, written and published in their respective countries—as well as the many provocative regionally focused reports supported by UNDP’s regional bureaus."
"Perhaps most important, the human development approach has profoundly affected an entire generation of policy-makers and development specialists around the world—including thousands within UNDP itself and elsewhere in the UN system." - Helen Clark, Administrator, United Nations Development Programme
The past decades have seen substantial progress in many aspects of human development. Most people today are healthier, live longer, are more educated and have more access to goods and services. Even in countries facing adverse economic conditions, people’s health and education have greatly improved. And there has been progress not only in improving health and education and raising income, but also in expanding people’s power to select leaders, influence public decisions and share knowledge. Yet much more remains to be done in expanding choices and improving well-being for all people in all countries and communities, and for generations yet to come.
The human development approach is as relevant as ever to making sense of our changing world and finding ways to improve people’s well-being. Human development is an evolving idea, not a fixed, static set of precepts. And as the world changes, analytical tools and concepts will also continue to evolve. Yet the core insight at the center of the human development approach remains constant and as valid today as it was two decades ago: Development is ultimately best measured by its impact on individual lives.