|UNDP Human Development Report Office (December 6th 2012)
In a small ceremony on Thursday Dec. 6th at the Human Development Report Office, a new conference room was formally inaugurated in honor of the late Mahbub ul Haq, the founder of the Human Development Reports, in recognition of his enduring contributions to the United Nations and to global thinking on human development.
Speaking at the inauguration were the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, Mahbub ul Haq’s close friend and collaborator on the first Human Development Reports; Jan Eliasson, the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations; Rebeca Grynspan, the Associate Administrator of UNDP; Bill Draper, the former UNDP Administrator who commissioned the first Reports; Khadija Haq, Mahbub ul Haq’s widow, and now the head of the Mahbub ul Haq Human Development Center in Pakistan; and Khalid Malik, the director of the Human Development Report Office.
Khalid Malik, in his introduction, spoke about the enduring power of Mahbub ul Haq’s ideas, including through his continuing impact on those who had the opportunity to work with him directly. Rebeca Grynspan noted how as a Costa Rican cabinet minister and then as vice-president in the 1990s, she was inspired by and sought to put into practice the philosophy of the Human Development Reports, working with her government colleagues to accelerate public investment in health and education.
Bill Draper, reflecting back on how he persuaded Haq to join UNDP and write the first Reports, noted that the promise of intellectual independence was crucial both to that recruitment effort and to the ultimate success of the Reports, which were intended to provoke debate and challenge conventional wisdom. Draper recounted how he brought the first Report to the White House to show it to then-US-president George H.W. Bush, who pronounced himself ‘impressed’ by its rigor, notwithstanding the relatively low U.S. ranking among the wealthier nations in the then-new Human Development Index.
Sen recalled meeting Mahbub ul Haq for the first time as an undergraduate at Cambridge in 1953, beginning a long friendship and professional partnership that continued until Mahbub ul Haq’s untimely death in 1998 at the age of 64. In his recollections of their collaboration on the Human Development Reports and the Human Development Index, the Nobel laureate said that while its impact on global development thinking was immediate and important, he remains “somewhat surprised that it hasn’t had even more influence,” as narrowly economic measurements of progress still dominate development thinking in most countries and governments. There is still much work to be done to put Mahbub ul Haq’s vision and insights into practice around the world, Sen stressed.
Deputy Secretary-General Eliasson, who as a UN humanitarian relief official in the 1990s had known and worked with Mahbub ul Haq, remembered him as “a man of uncommon brilliance and compassion.” The Deputy Secretary-General’s prepared remarks for the occasion follow:
The very first Human Development Report, issued 22 years ago, opened with a simply stated premise that has guided all of the Reports since: “People,” it said, “are the real wealth of a nation.” Those were the words of Mahbub ul Haq, the lead author of that first report, and the driving force behind the reports that followed for the next several years.
The naming of this conference room in his honour, in the office that carries on the tradition of the Human Development Report, is but a modest gesture. But it is one that comes from our hearts, rooted in our warm memories of a man of uncommon brilliance and compassion.
As a reform-minded finance minister in Pakistan, as a leading economist at the World Bank, and finally, as the innovative thinker and distinctive voice behind the first Human Development Reports, Mahbub ul Haq had an enduring impact on all of us.
Mahbub wanted economies to grow, but he asked a key question: what is growth for? He argued that growth had to be for and about people. In his eyes, development was not meaningful unless it meant human development.
As firm as he was in that conviction, Mahbub also always rejected certainties. He was always open to new things. Some of you will remember the slogan that was on his desk: "It is too late to tell me you agree with me. I've already changed my mind."
We are privileged to have with us for this occasion two men who were arguably the most important of Mahbub ul-Haq’s philosophical allies, and who share with him the credit for conceiving and launching the Human Development Reports.
Bill Draper, as the Administrator of UNDP at the time, had the foresight and courage to recruit Mahbub ul-Haq, and to encourage him to write and think freely and creatively, without bureaucratic constraints. The immediate and then lasting impact of the Reports testifies to the wisdom of Bill Draper’s approach.
The Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, Mahbub ul Haq’s good friend and closest collaborator, is renowned throughout the world as the leading force behind the human capabilities approach to development, a philosophy that has guided not only the Human Development Reports, but the UN’s own development efforts on the ground. His pioneering work with Mahbub ul Haq on the Human Development Index has stood the test of time, as it has become the most widely accepted alternative to GDP growth for measuring national and global development progress.
Since Mahbub ul Haq’s passing in 1998, Mahbub’s ideas have become even more influential. His central argument that “people should be at the center of development” no longer sounds heretical or insurrectionary; it sounds like common sense. And it sounds like what the UN is putting into practice around the world in its efforts to eradicate poverty, hunger, disease and discrimination.
Let us continue to draw inspiration from his life and his legacy. Let us feel, in this conference room, the abiding spirit of a man who did so much for us, for the United Nations and for the world.