Development Management – New Possibilities of Growth by ISDM

by Ravi Sreedharan, Founder ISDM

While the Indian civilization dates back to at least 6500 BC, India as an Independent nation is only 70 years old. As we complete 70 years of independence, it is a good time to step back and see how far we have come.

In 1947, India had a literacy of 12%; Life expectancy at birth of 32 years; 99% poverty; wide-spread epidemics like plague, malaria, tuberculosis, no infrastructure; no electricity; very few schools and colleges, limited access to villages…..The world thought that this was a basket case and India would soon call the Brits back to save them.

But, we did amazingly well and in 70 years our literacy rate is today at 74%; Life Expectancy is at 68 years; Poverty Rates are down to 21%; Our infra-structure, Schools, Hospitals, Health Centers, Roads, etc. have all come a long way. (Read Shashi Tharoor’s latest book for more details)

The social sector or the development sector in India has played a major role in this progress. Despite being a large and complex country, thanks to an active development sector, we have become a vibrant democracy, we are among few countries that have progressive reforms like the Right to Information and Right to Education, we have a Progressive Constitution and a clearly defined ‘idea of India’ captured beautifully in the Preamble of the constitution.

After 7 years of working deep and wide in the development sector, I have realized that there is a problem in applying conventional Business Management ideas in the Social Sector.

Here are some ideas that will not make sense intuitively to a Business Management mind:

  • There is no such thing as ‘poor people’ – there is ‘poverty
  • Affirmative action is not only about economic equality
  • Livelihoods is not just about creating jobs but also addressing complex societal issues ranging from cultural norms and values to security and health issues, education, dignity, inter-generational equations, and more
  • Addressing issues of education is not just about teachers and schools but also about issues related to community – culture, values, gender, health, nutrition, sanitation, rights, ecology, language, agriculture cycles, livelihood, hunger, poverty, etc.
  • Even solving the problem of open defecation is not only about building functional toilets but also about changing complex behaviours, beliefs and attitudes

The same subjects will be different or nuanced when it comes to Business Management and Development Management: Whether it is ‘Talent Management’ and understanding reasons for joining/ staying/ leaving or the kind of cultures that will motivate and inspire; Or ‘Finance’ and looking at questions like Return on Investments; understanding the monetary value of some social good like say gender equality; Or, ‘Communication and Engagement’, ‘Systems Thinking’, ‘Organization Behaviour and Dynamics’ – they are all quite different.

After discussions with numerous leading practitioners in the sector across the country and even around the world, there was universal agreement that it makes absolute sense and there is indeed a crying need for developing the domain of Development Management, as a distinct discipline.

This new discipline would require as its base high quality, world class institutions that can make a difference to the sector and society. These institutions will provide the much needed vibrant & active learning environment to the brightest minds passionate about social change. The institutions will also be at the forefront of research for deeper understanding of the complex multitude of factors that affect development issues. It is very important to realize here that great Development Management institutions will be created by Collective Wisdom and Collective Philanthropy.