Social Development Theory


Garry Jacobs and Harlan Cleveland

October 13, 1999

Importance of Theory

The formulation of valid theory possesses enormous power to elevate and accelerate the expansion and development of human capabilities in any field, leading to fresh discoveries, improvement of existing activities and capacity for greater results. Science is replete with examples of theoretical formulations that have led to important breakthroughs, such as the discoveries of Neptune and Pluto, electromagnetic waves, subatomic particles, and new elements on the periodic table. Today scientists are discovering new substances on computer by applying the laws of quantum mechanics to predict the properties of materials before they synthesize them. In fact, a broad range of technological achievements in this century has been made possible by the emergence of sound theoretical knowledge in fields such as physics, chemistry and biology.

As management expert Peter Drucker put it, “There is nothing more practical than a good theory.” Valid theory can tell us not only what should be done, but also what can be done and the process by which it can be achieved.

Social development can be summarily described as the process of organizing human energies and activities at higher levels to achieve greater results. Development increases the utilization of human potential.

In the absence of valid theory, social development remains largely a process of trial and error experimentation, with a high failure rate and very uneven progress. The dismal consequences of transition strategies in most Eastern Europe countries, the very halting progress of many African and Asian countries, the increasing income gap between the most and least developed societies, and the distressing linkage between rising incomes, environmental depletion, crime and violence reflect the fact that humanity is vigorously pursuing a process without the full knowledge needed to guide and govern it effectively.

Advances in development theory can enhance our social success rate by the same order of magnitude that advances in theoretical physics have multiplied technological achievements in this century. The emergence of a sound theoretical framework for social development would provide the knowledge needed to address these inadequacies. It would also eventually lead us to the most profound and practical discovery of all – the infinite creative potentials of the human being.

Hierarchy of learning

Social development consists of two interrelated aspects – learning and application. Society discovers better ways to fulfill its aspirations and it develops organizational mechanisms to express that knowledge to achieve its social and economic goals. The process of discovery expands human consciousness. The process of application enhances social organization.

Society develops in response to the contact and interaction between human beings and their material, social and intellectual environment. The incursion of external threats, the pressure of physical and social conditions, the mysteries of physical nature and complexities of human behavior prompt humanity to experiment, create and innovate.

The experience resulting from these contacts leads to learning on three different levels of our existence. At the physical level, it enhances our control over material processes. At the social level, it enhances our capacity for effective interaction between people at greater and greater speeds and distances. At the mental level, it enhances our knowledge.

While the learning process takes place simultaneously on all these planes, there is a natural progression from physical experience to mental understanding. Historically, society has developed by a trial and error process of physical experimentation, not unlike the way children learn through a constant process of physical exploration, testing and even tasting. Physically, this process leads to the acquisition of new physical skills that enable individuals to utilize their energies more efficiently and effectively. Socially, it leads to the learning and mastery of organizational skills, vital attitudes, systems and institutions that enable people to manage their interactions with other people and other societies more effectively. Mentally, it leads to organization of facts as information and interpretation of information as thought.

The outcome of this learning process is the organization of physical skills, social systems, and information, which are then utilized to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of human activities. It is a cyclical process in which people are continuously learning from past experiences and then applying that learning in new activities.

This learning process culminates in a higher level of mental effort to extract the essence and common principles or ideas from society’s organized physical experiences, social interactions and accumulated information and to synthesize them as conceptual knowledge. This abstract conceptual knowledge has the greatest capacity for generalization and application in other fields, times and places. The conceptual mind is the highest, most conscious human faculty. Conceptual knowledge is the organization of ideas by the power of mind. That conceptual knowledge becomes most powerful when it is organized into a system. Theory is a systematic organization of knowledge.

A comprehensive theory of social development would provide a conceptual framework for discovering the underlying principles common to the development process in different fields of activity, countries and periods. It would also provide a framework for understanding the relationships between the accumulated knowledge generated by many different disciplines. If pursued to its logical conclusions, it would lead to not just a theory of social development, but a unifying theory of knowledge—which does not yet exist in any field of science or art.

Search for a social operating system

Rapid advancement in computer technology and application has primarily been the result of dramatic progress in two parallel but interrelated fields – development of the processing capacity of the silicon chip and development of more advanced operating systems that enable users to utilize the chip’s greater computing power. Chip development increases the potential power of the computer. Development of more powerful, intuitive and easier to use operating systems increases the practical power of the technology.

As a parallel, advances in scientific and technical knowledge have vastly increased the potential productivity and developmental achievements of society. But full utilization of this potential requires the capacity to consciously direct and accelerate social development processes. The discovery of methods to genetically engineer improved varieties of food crops or to control population growth through improved medical devices would have little practical value unless we also possessed the know-how to promote dissemination and adoption of these advanced technologies.

Historically, advances in our understanding of material and biological process have far outstripped advances in our understanding of social processes. As a result, vast social potential has been created, but society has not yet acquired the capacity to fully utilize it for its own development. A theory of development should aim at a knowledge that will enable society more consciously and effectively to utilize its development potentials.

Why a framework has not yet emerged

A question naturally arises. If such a framework is possible, why with all the attention focused on development for so many decades has it not yet emerged?

Social development theory has been elusive for several reasons. First, because of the very practical importance of this issue, attention in this field has very largely focused on the material results of development and on those strategies that have proven most effective for achieving those results, rather than on abstract principles or theoretical concepts. Rapid economic progress in North America and Europe after the Second World War, which was followed by even more stunning achievements in Japan and other East Asian nations, imbued governments and the international community with the confidence that development was primarily a question of money, technology, industrialization and political will. Confident that the lessons of early achievers provided all the knowledge necessary for those that were to follow, there was an urge for concerted action and an expectation of results, rather than a quest for theoretical knowledge.

In most discussions, development was conceived in terms of a set of desirable results—higher incomes, longer life expectancy, lower infant mortality, more education. Recently emphasis has shifted from the results to the enabling conditions, strategies and public policies for achieving those results—peace, democracy, social freedoms, equal access, laws, institutions, markets, infrastructure, education and technology. But still little attention has been placed on the underlying social process of development that determines how society formulates, adopts, initiates, and organizes, and few attempts have been made to formulate such a framework.

Second, a very large number of factors and conditions influence the process. In addition to all the variables that influence material and biological processes, social processes involve the interaction of political, social, economic cultural, technological and environmental factors as well. Development theorists have not only to cope with atoms, molecules, material energy and various life forms. They must also cope with the near infinite variety and complexity of human beliefs, opinions, attitudes, values, behaviors, customs, prejudices, laws, social institutions, etc.

Third, the timeframe for social development theory cannot be confined to the modern day or even the past few centuries. Human development has been occurring for millennia. The basic principles of development theory must be as applicable to the development of early tribal societies as they are to the emergence of the post-modern global village. Development theory must be a theory of how human society advances through space and time.

Looking beyond the instruments

Fourth, the instruments of development—science and technology, capital and infrastructure, social policies and institutions—are so compellingly powerful in their action, that they are often mistaken for its cause and source. Most efforts to understand the development process have focused on the central importance of one or a few of these instruments—primarily on money, markets, the organization of production and technological innovation. Some efforts have also been made to describe what has been learned about the contribution of education, skills, laws, public policies, strategies, social systems and institutions. While it is evident that all of these instruments can and do play an important role in social development, it has not been adequately explained what determines the development of these instruments themselves or the extent to which they are utilized by society or the process by which they can be made to generate maximum results.

Obviously, the ultimate determinants of development cannot be the instruments themselves, for none of them exists independently from society. To understand the central principles of development, we must look beyond these instruments to the creator of the instruments. Human beings fashion technology, invent money, erect infrastructures, establish policies, build institutions and adopt values to serve their needs and aspirations. Although humanity exhibits a strong tendency to mistake these instruments for primary determinants rather than created products of its own initiative, the ultimate power of determination must lie with the human beings who create and use these instruments, rather than with the instruments themselves.

Money and technology do have useful power, including a power of organization and efficiency, a power to increase the velocity of production and transactions. But they do not possess an intrinsic living power for growth or development, a source of aspiration or energy that compels their own advancement. Moore’s Law describing advances in the speed of microprocessors is not driven by material forces—the microprocessor does not increase its own speed—it is driven by humanity’s quest for greater productive power. The surge in value of financial markets is not driven by impersonal physical or mathematical laws governing the growth of money, but by the quest of human beings for greater material prosperity. This self-existent power for growth is an endowment of human beings, living organisms compelled to develop by a pressure within themselves, which in turn gives life and energy to the growth of the instruments and systems they create.

What has been lacking is an organized theoretical framework that describes the role of each of these instruments as aspects of a greater whole and shows each in its proper relation to the others or the greater whole of which they are all parts. To arrive at such a framework, we have to shift our focus from the instruments of development to their creator; from the role of money and technology to the role of human beings that invent new forms of money and technology and harness them for productive purposes. The theory has to place human beings at the center and view all other aspects of development from the perspective of and in relation to human motivation and action. This conceptual knowledge of the development process should enable every society to better utilize the available instruments better, in order more fully to tap its developmental potential.

Development as a spherical whole

A theory of social development should generate a framework around which all knowledge of the factors, instruments, conditions, agencies and processes of development can be integrated. Rather than singling out a specific set of determinants or giving primacy to a limited set of instruments, it would reveal the nature of the relationships and processes that govern the interaction of all these elements to generate developmental results. Rather than generate a linear formula or ‘right’ perspective, it would make it possible to view the whole field and phenomenon of development from multiple perspectives that are integrated and unified ways of knowing the whole, rather than divided and separate ways of viewing the parts.

The modern tendency to divide scientific inquiry into an increasing number of specialized fields of study has made the emergence of an integrated perspective very difficult. Philosopher Stephen Toulmin mourns the absence of broader conceptual thinking in physics over the past few centuries and argues the need for grand cosmological visions of the universe to unify and integrate the discoveries of many different disciplines.

Comparatively, the need for synthesis is even greater for the study of human social development than for understanding the physical and chemical evolution of the universe. For in human development, we must not only grapple with four material dimensions in space and time that preoccupy the physicist and chemist, but also integrate the dimensions of life and mind—including physical, genetic and biological determinants; social behaviors, skills, attitudes, customs, traditions, systems, formal organizations, non-formal institutions, and cultural values; and linguistic determinants, data, facts, information, beliefs, opinions, systems of thought, ideas, theories, and spiritual values—all of which interact and influence each other to impact the course of human development.

The quest for theory in social development cannot lead to any linear or logarithmic equation that adequately explains and predicts human progress. The reality we seek to understand is not of that type. It is not linear or uni-dimensional or even a combination of several dimensions. It is a complex, many-dimensional whole that evolves in many interrelated directions simultaneously. The development of society is best represented to our minds as an expansion from a point to a sphere, rather than as movement along a single line or along multiple lines of progress. Social development is the gradual discovery and unfolding of the potential of a complex, integrated whole, a living organization, a living social organism.

From unconscious experience to conscious knowledge

Finally, social development theory remains elusive because the very nature of social learning is a subconscious seeking by the collective that leads ultimately to conscious knowledge. We experience first and understand later. Our mental comprehension perpetually lags behind physical experience and struggles to catch up with it.

Our view is that the very intensive, concentrated global experience of the past five decades provides fertile soil for the formulation of a more synthetic conceptual framework for social development. Such a framework can vastly accelerate the transfer and replication of developmental achievements around the world and make possible more conscious and rapid progress even for the most advanced societies in the world.

Basic premises

These observations suggest a starting point for formulation of a comprehensive conceptual framework:

  • Social development theory should focus on underlying processes rather than on surface activities and results, since development activities, policies, strategies, programs and results will always be limited to a specific context and circumstance, whereas social development itself encompasses a potentially infinite field in space and time.
  • The theory should recognize the inherent creativity of individuals and of societies by which they fashion instruments and direct their energies to achieve greater results. It should view development as a human creative process, rather than as the product of any combination of external factors or objective instruments that are created and utilized as the process unfolds and whose results are limited to the capacity of the instruments. Society will discover its own creative potentials only when it seeks to know the human being as the real source of those potentials.
  • The implication of this view is that even though it may be influenced, aided or opposed by external factors, society develops by its own motive power and in pursuit of its own goals. No external force and agency can develop a society. (Paul Hoffman, the Administrator of the Marshall Plan for European Recovery who later became the first head of the United Nations Development Program, said it succinctly: “Technical assistance cannot be exported. It can only be imported.” The aspiration of the collective expressed through the initiative of pioneering individuals is the determinant and driving force for a society’s own development.

Development as self-conception

Material and biological sciences focus on the interaction of physical conditions, materials and forces to generate results. The tendency to view social development in the same way has led to a host of mathematical equations seeking to define and predict the consequences of combining different external variables in different proportions and under different conditions. The underlying assumption of this approach is that social development is determined by external conditions.

The hypothesis on which our attempt at theory is based is that social development is determined by human beings, not external conditions. External conditions certainly can and do influence the process. People may even act and react in predictable ways to a given set of external conditions. But the results of any development equation cannot be reliably predicted on the basis of external factors. Human development is determined by human responses based on choices made by people. To our knowledge, external forces alone have never unleashed a process of social development, but there are countless instances in which external agents have failed to do so.

Human development is a function of human awareness, aspirations, attitudes and values. Like all human creative processes, it is a process of self-conception. As the writer, artist, composer, political visionary and businessman conceive of unrealized possibilities and pour forth their creative energies to give expression to them, the social collective evolves a conception of what it wants to become and by expressing its creative energies through myriad forms of activity seeks to transform its conception into social reality. The only major difference is that while the individual sometimes (but not always) is conscious of the conception he or she is trying to express, the society is usually (not always) unconscious of the idea and the urge that move it to create something more out of its own latent potential.

Society is a subconscious living organism which strives to survive, grow and develop. Individual members of society express conscious intention in their words and acts, but these are only surface expressions of deeper subconscious drives that move the society-at-large. The consciousness of a true collective organism is not merely the sum of its individual parts, but acquires its own identifiable character and personality. This is why the USA has been able to assimilate such large numbers of immigrants, yet retain its distinctive (but constantly changing) national character. Immigrants are moved by the values of the collective to share in the national aspiration for greater individual freedom, practical organization and material progress. In a similar vein, the feverish collective behavior of the stock market, fashions and pop culture are subconscious social collectives that acquire their own distinct personalities.

Role of the Individual

Society has no direct means to give conscious expression to its subconscious collective aspirations and urges. That essential role is played by pioneering conscious individuals–visionary intellectuals, political leaders, entrepreneurs, artists and spiritual seekers who are inspired to express and achieve what the collective subconsciously aspires and is prepared for. Where the aspiration and action of the leader do not reflect the will of the collective, it is ignored or rejected. Where it gives expression to a deeply felt collective urge, it is endorsed, imitated, supported, and systematically propagated. This is most evident at times of war, social revolution or communal conflict.

India’s early freedom fighters consciously advocated the goal of freedom from British rule long before that goal had become a felt aspiration of the masses. The leaders spent decades urging a reluctant population to conceive of itself as a free nation and to aspire to achieve that dream. When finally the collective endorsed this conception, no foreign nation had the power to impose its will on the Indian people.

Process of value creation

During the World Academy of Art & Science’s meeting on development theory in Washington DC in May 1999, there was a broad consensus of participants that the formation of values was a critical aspect of the development process. In this paper, we propose to re-examine the process of development as a process of value formation.

If gross physical actions are the most visible and tangible form of human initiative, the creation of values is the most subtle and intangible. Yet human existence is powerfully determined by the nature of its values. Physical skills, vital attitudes, mental opinions and values represent a gradation of internal organizing principles that direct human energies and determine the course of individual and social development.

All human creative processes release and harness human energy and convert it into results. The process of skill formation involves acquiring mastery over our physical-nervous energies so that we can direct our physical movements in a precisely controlled manner. In the absence of skill, physical movements are clumsy, inefficient and unproductive, like the stumbling efforts of a child learning to walk.

Human beings acquire social behaviors in a similar manner. Here, apart from the physical skills required for communication and interaction with other people, vital attitudes are centrally important. Each social behavior expresses not just a movement, but an attitude and intention of the person. Acquiring social behaviors requires gaining control over our psychological energies and channeling them into acceptable forms of behavior. Change the attitude and the behavior changes. The developmental achievements of modern society are founded upon such intangible social attitudes as confidence in the government, trust in other people, tolerance and cooperation. Without such attitudes, our money would become valueless paper and our institutions would cease to function.

The same process takes place at the mental level. The mind’s energy naturally flows as thought in many different directions without any structure to contain or organize it. The acquisition of knowledge involves construction of a mental structure of understanding that is analogous to the structure of skills and attitudes that govern expression of our physical and vital energy. It forms an organizational framework for learning and application of what is learned.

Human values are formed by a similar process and act in a similar manner. Although the word is commonly used with reference to ethical and cultural principles, values are of many types. They may be physical (cleanliness, punctuality), organizational (communication, coordination), psychological (courage, generosity), mental (objectivity, sincerity), or spiritual (harmony, love, self-giving). Values are central organizing principles or ideas that govern and determine human behavior.

Unlike the skill or attitude that may be specific to a particular physical activity or social context, values tend to be more universal in their application. They express in everything we do. Values can be described as the essence of the knowledge gained by humanity from past experiences distilled from its local circumstances and specific context to extract the fundamental wisdom of life derived from these experiences. Values give direction to our thought processes, sentiments, emotional energies, preferences and actions.

Centuries of experience have been distilled by society into essential principles. Values such as hard work, sense of responsibility, integrity in human relations, tolerance and respect for others are not just noble ideas or ideals. They are pragmatic principles for accomplishment which society has learned and transmitted to successive generations as a psychological foundation for its further advancement. The values of a society are a crucial aspect of its people’s self-conception of what they want to become.

Because values are intangible to our senses and their formation is the result of a very long process, we tend to overlook their central role in development. Social values constitute the cultural infrastructure on which all further social development is based. In this sense, values are the ultimate product of past development and the ultimate determinant of its future course.

Development and value creation in Independent India

In Human Choice: the Genetic Code for Social Development[1], we described the development process as one that releases, organizes and converts human energy into social capacity and material results. In summary, the process consists of pioneering individuals who consciously conceive and initiate new forms of activity which give expression to the subconscious aspirations and preparedness of the society. These pioneers are imitated by others so that the new activity gets replicated and diffused. Gradually, the general population comes to recognize, accept and support the new activity by formally organizing it through laws, policies, programs, systems, organizations and education. Eventually, the activity may become so fully integrated with the society that the need for formal structures gives way to non-formal social institutions and still later becomes assimilated as cultural values of the society.

Although we describe the process as a clean linear progression, its actual occurrence is more complex. Each stage of the process interacts with those that come earlier and later to effect a general movement in a certain direction. And while the underlying process remains the same, the external results and strategies employed to achieve those results may vary significantly from one place and time to another, even within the same society.

Both the stages and the complexity of the process can be observed by examining two remarkable development accomplishments of Independent India—the Green Revolution in Indian agriculture and the high tech revolution that is making India an international software powerhouse.

The starting point for free India was a value base molded by centuries of social stagnation and foreign rule. During the British Raj, the predominant values espoused by the subject Indian population were respect for age and tradition, submission to authority, and acceptance of one’s assigned place and role in society. Fear and insecurity were powerful social motives. Ambition was frowned upon. Security was cherished. Industrial and commercial activities were severely restricted by the foreign rulers. Few had the means or opportunity to acquire education. Those that did invariably sought employment in the British administration or British firms, the twin seats of power and prestige in Indian society.

After Indian Independence in 1947, the values of submissiveness and obedience persisted for several decades, even though they became increasingly inadequate concepts to meet the nation’s needs or respond to its opportunities. In the 1950s and 1960s, educated Indian youth sought the security and prestige of government employment, when what was really needed was entrepreneurial initiative to build the national economy. Having achieved Independence, the leaders of India’s freedom fight turned to the challenge of developing the country, but found the same lack of awareness and responsiveness from the population that the earlier freedom fighters had encountered at the turn of the century. Waging a war on poverty without the active support and participation of the people proved even more challenging than waging a war on foreign rule without an army.

Until the mid 1960s, India’s economic progress was almost completely overshadowed by the explosive growth of its population, the combined effect of a release of national energies from the suppressed condition of foreign domination and the introduction of modern medical technology which drastically reduced mortality rates. Beneath the surface, the spread of democratic voting rights, implementation of legislation to eradicate caste privileges, and rising levels of education were breaking down traditional barriers, generating national pride and releasing fresh social energy, creating awareness of possibilities and preparing the society for the next stages of its collective effort. These new attitudes could be observed primarily among the youth born after Independence, often taking on the appearance of assertiveness and crude self-seeking, rather than of noble values.

This preparedness was called into action by the sudden impact of two successive years of severe drought in the mid 1960s, which threatened the country with famine on an unprecedented scale. The challenge of widespread famine—estimated by the UN to be threatening the lives of 10 million people—led to the launching of India’s Green Revolution. With the support of large food imports, the country averted the immediate threat of famine. Then in response to a concerted government action to implement a comprehensive, integrated development strategy, within a very short period of five years, millions of India’s farmers adopted new cultivation practices, the nation increased its food grain production by 50% and achieved food self-sufficiency. Within ten years grain production had doubled. Within a quarter century it had quadrupled.

The pride and confidence generated by this remarkable achievement helped spur a dramatic change in India’s social values that was reflected in many walks of life. Areas in which agriculture had become prosperous began to industrialize. There was a marked increase in demand for education and for consumer products. Indian society became more active and dynamic.

In the 1970s the preference of educated youth shifted to employment in private companies. Then in the 1980s a generation born after Independence established itself in the nation’s workforce, people who had never known a foreign master or experienced subjection or feared famine. New values began to emerge among the younger generation. Talented youth began starting businesses in increasing numbers. Many sought education and work experience overseas, then returned to India to establish companies of their own. The value of security gave way to an aspiration for accomplishment. The sense of knowing one’s proper place gave way to an urge for higher levels of achievement, status and enjoyment. A fundamental change in social values underpinned a fundamental shift in the direction and expression of India’s national energies from minimum survival to maximum development. This shift has been by no means uniform, universal or entire. It has occurred at different rates and to different extents in different communities, classes and parts of the country, but the change in general direction became increasingly evident.

The development process that led to India’s Green Revolution differed in its external expression from that which has more recently led to India’s extraordinary achievements in the global software industry. The very notion that India could achieve international fame in a high technology industry was inconceivable to the national consciousness 20 years ago. As recently as 1983, India was employing fewer than 10,000 software engineers generating about $10 million a year in software exports. Sixteen years later, India’s software export revenues are approaching $4 billion. Most major US and many other large foreign computer firms have established companies or joint ventures in India to develop software for export. The country’s two largest software training companies educate more than a quarter million programmers annually, roughly five times the total number of computer graduates produced by all US colleges and universities. New software companies and training institutions are sprouting up in every urban area. State governments are competing with each other for dominance in high technology. And Microsoft’s Bill Gates recently christened India as “the Silicon Valley of Asia”.

This phenomenal accomplishment was made possible by and has further contributed to a general shift in social values that is evidenced in the behavior of people at all levels and in all parts of the society, including youth, students, women, farmers, lower castes, minorities and entrepreneurs.

Viewed from the perspective of the traditional values that had characterized India during centuries of foreign occupation, this shift appears to some as a degradation of social values (a decline in respect for age, tradition and authority; a loss of deference, humility, and the spirit of idealistic self-sacrifice) in much the same way that the advent of democratic values in Europe seemed abhorrent to those who embraced the values of the feudal, aristocratic society that was disappearing. Attention has focused on the vulgar self-seeking, greed, crass materialism and corruption associated with India’s economic and social awakening -- so much so, that the positive values that have been responsible for the country’s recent accomplishments and form the infrastructure for its future progress are often overlooked. The essential knowledge India has derived from five decades of development experience has been distilled into a new set of social values based on national self-confidence, self-reliance, boldness, insistence on one’s rights, greater social tolerance and social equality, and aspiration for higher accomplishment.

Same process, different strategies

The challenge for development theorists is to discover in India’s recent experiences fundamental principles and processes that are common to these two distinctly different instances of rapid social advancement, as well as to other instances of development in other countries, periods, and fields of activity.

At first glance, the differences are far more apparent than the similarities. Green Revolution was the result of a conscious, planned initiative by government which passed legislation, established new organizations, widely disseminated information and skills, introduced programs and offered financial incentives to spur India’s agricultural community to action. In contrast, the software revolution was the result of initiatives by individual entrepreneurial pioneers which were not planned by government and were not part of a conscious national strategy. The role of government was largely confined to removing administrative and tax barriers that discouraged import of computer equipment and to investment in the essential telecommunications infrastructure required to support this industry.

Yet on closer inspection, India’s progress in agriculture and software conform to a common process. Both achievements were made possible by a general social readiness and awakening of the population resulting from rising levels of education, public awareness, social freedom and national confidence. Achievement of Independence and self-government prepared the ground for the Green Revolution. The breakthrough in agriculture prepared the ground for industrialization. Advances in engineering and science education, drawing on an historical Indian endowment in mathematics, the exposure of large numbers of Indians seeking higher education in the USA to the latest information technology, and the emergence of a thriving entrepreneurial business culture in India, prepared the ground for the country’s active participation in the Information Revolution.

India’s agricultural achievements were very largely the result of conscious initiatives taken by visionary political leaders with the support of the scientific community. The early pioneers of India’s Green Revolution were public leaders, not private individuals as in the case of software. But in both cases the acceptance and spread of the new activity crucially depended on the willingness of the population to respond to the opportunity.

In the case of Green Revolution, India’s planners faced the seemingly impossible task of persuading millions of illiterate, traditional farmers to adopt new agricultural technology based on new varieties of wheat and rice, which required heavy investments in hybrid seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. The organization of more than 100,000 demonstration plots of the new varieties on farmers’ fields, which proved that the hybrids would not only grow but would also generate many times higher yields and profits, spurred extremely rapid diffusion of the new cultivation methods in progressive agricultural regions of the country.

In the case of software, the demonstration effect was informal and private, but equally dramatic. The spread of information about young Indian engineers who had found high paying jobs as programmers in the USA, and about Indian software export companies that were growing rapidly, generated widespread interest and spurred others to imitate these successful practices. Examples spread by word of mouth from family to family about a son or daughter who had been recruited on campus for a job overseas at ten or twenty times the equivalent Indian salaries. The business press reported the export achievements of every new software startup. State governments announced ambitious plans to promote high tech industry. Politicians vied with each other to appear most in tune with the high tech culture.

In both cases the initiatives of pioneers released an explosion of energy and initiative from the general population. Within less than half a decade in the late 1960s, millions of uneducated traditional farmers rushed to embrace the new production technology for food grains. Within a similar period in the mid-1990s, hundreds of thousands of educated youth throughout the country have been inspired to enlist in computer programming courses and seek employment in the burgeoning software industry.

For the initiative of pioneers to diffuse through society requires the active support of formal organizational mechanisms. Government had a role to play in organizing both India’s agricultural and its software activities, but its role in the two instances differed markedly. In the mid 1960s, India lacked dynamic private initiative capable of responding rapidly to challenges and opportunities. An adult population born under foreign rule and slow to believe in its own greater potentials, moved hesitantly to embrace change. India also lacked the social organization needed to support rapid change. Markets were undeveloped and inefficient, so that surplus food production in one region of the country was not efficiently channeled to meet the needs of markets in food deficit regions. Information flowed slowly. Agricultural education and scientific research, almost exclusively government activities at the time, had to be restructured and upgraded to support the new production technologies. Financial institutions were undeveloped and most wealth was in the form of tangible assets such as land that could not be readily converted into new forms of investment.[2] As a result, the government had to play a very major role in supporting and promoting the Green Revolution through public agencies. Food Corporation of India, Warehousing Corporation, National Seeds Corporation, Fertilizer Corporation, Agricultural Price Commission and countless other agencies were established to provide the social infrastructure for modernization of agriculture.

So prominent was the role of government, that it led many to the conclusion that the government’s administrative efforts were responsible for the Green Revolution and that similar results could be achieved in other fields through administrative mandate. The fallacy in this thinking was a major reason for India’s slow progress in other fields following the success of Green Revolution. The country had achieved, but it had not yet drawn the essential lesson from its achievement.

The real key to the success of Green Revolution was the response of the rural population to the opportunity. India’s leaders astutely recognized that unless the farmer was confident of not only growing more but also selling more grain at a profitable price, there would be no motivation to adopt the new technology. In the absence of established national markets for food grain, bumper harvests in the past resulted in falling prices and little financial benefit to the farmer. To overcome this problem, the Government instituted a guaranteed floor price for food grains and established Food Corporation to market surpluses in food deficit regions.

The importance of these formal institutions has diminished significantly over the past few decades as the new methods have become standard practice among farmers and as private firms, markets, and research organizations have grown in capacity to carry out with greater efficiency the work initially undertaken by government. Development through formal organization has gradually matured into an informal social institution in this field.

In contrast, the principal agencies of the software revolution have been private companies. The role of government in India’s software revolution focused primarily on providing a conducive policy framework to encourage the spread of technology and on investment in upgrading the telecommunications infrastructure to support a global information industry. While government did broaden the availability of computer education in government colleges, the dramatic increase in availability of programmers was primarily the result of private initiative. Software export companies recruited and trained their own staff. Software education and training centers proliferated. Investment in the software industry also came almost exclusively from private sources—banks, public stock offerings, venture capital and some foreign investment—with little government support.

Despite these differences, development in both fields has followed a similar course. The initiative of pioneers led to widespread imitation and adoption. Society accepted the new activity and established formal organizations (in one case public, in the other private) to support the new activity on a wide scale. The knowledge and skills needed for modern agriculture and computer programming have been incorporated in the educational curriculum at higher and lower levels. The social attitudes and expectations of the population have been powerfully influenced by the country’s success. Progressive rural farming families teach their youth the values of modern agricultural production. Educated middle class urban families encourage their offspring to pursue careers in high technology.

Determinants of Development

We have described social development as the release and channeling of social energies through more complex social organization to enhance productive capacity and achieve greater results. This process depends upon mechanisms to direct and channel the collective energies of the society into new and more productive forms of activity. We can identify four distinctly different levels or types of mechanism that serve this function—social aspirations, government authority, social-cultural structure, and social know-how in the form of science, technology and productive skills.

Social aspirations

Economically, development occurs when productivity rises, enabling people to produce more, earn more and consume more. To do so, they have to be motivated to learn new skills, adapt to new work processes, and adopt new technology, changes which in past ages have met with considerable resistance.

The driving force behind the whole movement is psychological. At the deepest level the energies of society are directed by the collective’s subconscious aspirations. Society’s self-conception of what it wants to become releases an aspiration of the collective for accomplishment. That aspiration exerts a powerful influence on the activities of the society. India’s twin revolutions were spurred by a growing aspiration of Indian society for security, prosperity and enjoyment. A similar aspiration spurs middle class Americans today to invest their savings in the stock market.

We have traced the evolution of social aspirations in India from pre-Independence to the present day. The earliest expression was an aspiration for political freedom and self-determination. After Independence this aspiration evolved into an urge for self-sufficiency, a willingness to try new things and take risks. More recently it has matured into a movement of rising expectations permeating all levels of Indian society.

At the turn of the 20th Century, many Americans of humble birth saw or read about neighbors, friends or others of their class who rose rapidly out of poverty into prosperity. Their example raised the aspirations and expectations of a whole generation of Americans and the generations that followed it. So powerful was this budding movement that it prompted Henry Ford to conceive of the then outlandish notion of building a car affordable by the ordinary man. In 1900 only 8000 cars were produced in the entire USA to meet the needs of a small wealthy class. By 1929, Ford Motors alone had built 15 million Model Ts to meet the aspirations of the masses.

The revolution of rising expectations, a term first used to describe Asia’s awakening in the early 1950s, is the single most powerful force yet unleashed for social development. It marks a stage in which individual members of society not only venture to dream or hope or work for higher levels of accomplishment, but in which those aspirations have coalesced into a conviction and expectation that they will achieve, possess and enjoy more than their parents or they themselves have in the past.

Expectations rise when physical security and essential material needs have been met, when fear of punishment or social ostracism is withdrawn, when rights are safeguarded democratically, when information and urbanization expose people mentally and physically to possibilities and achievements they did not previously know even existed, when technology facilitates higher productivity, and when education enlightens attitudes and elevates social awareness.

Without rising aspirations and expectations, society would not make the effort and take the risks to acquire new forms of behavior to achieve greater results. The psychological motive is primary, the mechanical, technological and organizational processes are secondary. Some forms of economic analysis tend to view these secondary levers as the driving force and thereby miss the essential determinant of the process.

In the course of social development, society is moved by a range of different psychological motives--the quest for survival and self-preservation, the urge to possess land, the seeking for social status and power, and the pursuit of wealth. The revolution of rising expectations represents a new and more powerful motive force for development, for by its nature it is not limited, as all the others have been, to a specific class or section of society.

Government authority

Like social aspirations, the authority of government has the capacity to direct the flow of social energies through the instrumentation of law, public policies, administrative procedures, controls, incentives and fear of punishment.

Here too there is a graded hierarchy of stages through which government influences the development process. Monarchy is a highly centralized form of government organization with significant capacity to restrict freedom and prevent unwanted activities, but with very limited power to promote social development, because of its limited power to positively motivate and direct human initiative. Modern authoritarian states have augmented the power of government to compel and control by evolving complex organizational mechanisms to reach out into every field of social activity. Its members submit by necessity to the power of the state, but continuously seek for ways around the strictures and demands it places upon them. As the 20th century experiments in Eastern Europe amply demonstrate, its power as an instrument for development is severely limited. Countries with authoritarian governments that have succeeded in releasing social initiative for economic development, such as China, Taiwan and South Korea, have done so by loosening social control over economic activities, while retaining it over political activities.

Modern forms of democracy greatly enhance the development capabilities of society. They are not only capable of enforcing a rule of law which to a large extent the population willingly accepts as in its own interest. They also promote far greater development of individual aspirations, thought, capacity, skill and initiative. The accountability of a democratically elected government necessitates that it continuously institute measures perceived as beneficial to the electorate. Working through decentralized self-governing structures, it empowers more and more centers of activity in the society, leading to greater creativity and innovation. The basic human rights it endorses elevate aspirations and release human energies for higher accomplishment.

The impact of democracy on development was illustrated by Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen when he observed that no democratic country with a free press and independent judiciary has suffered a famine in this century. India’s Green Revolution is a powerful testament to the power of governmental authority, though in this and every other instance, government’s role cannot substitute for social readiness and social initiative, it can only aid in preparing that readiness, releasing that initiative and organizing the new activities.

Social-cultural authority

Government exercises authority over its citizens through law, administration and enforcement. Society exercises a far more persuasive authority over its members through its ideas, attitudes, customs and values. Different societies may develop at very different rates and in different directions under very similar forms of government, due to differences in social and cultural authority.

Modern societies are far more free and tolerant than those of previous centuries, yet they continue to exert a very powerful force on their members; only, the character of that force has changed. From being predominantly negative in the form of prohibitions and strictures, now the force of social authority acts far more as a spur to initiative, than a bar. The pressure felt by middle and working class families to ‘keep up with the Joneses’ has become pervasive throughout the world. The bold initiative of a poor farmer in rural India to dig a bore well and become prosperous could act as stimulus for the rapid development of ten surrounding villages because the competitive pressure of social authority compelled his neighbors to keep up with his level of accomplishment.

The spread of education tends to enhance this tendency. Apart from the practical knowledge and skills it imparts, modern education also instills a greater sense of individual self-respect and social rights that impels the individual to seek and maintain status in society.


Here we include the complete range of capacities that determine the ability of the people to physically direct their energies to achieve productive results. The most important of these are scientific knowledge, technology and productive skills. These may appear very different in nature and action from social aspirations, government and social authority, but the character of their influence on development is quite similar. They provide the direction for the efficient organization of mental, social and material energies. Each of them carries with it an inherent authority and imposes a certain discipline on the expression of social energies. This authority usually takes the form of an impersonal authority of standards, rules and systems, such as the rules for maintaining an orderly flow of air traffic.

Adopting a higher level of technology, whether that involved in the cultivation of hybrid wheat, space travel or electronic commerce requires adherence to more stringent procedures and greater organization, without which it does not work. The Internet is a recent example of a technology that promotes freer and easier commercial and personal transactions, but accomplishes it by imposing rigorous standards of discipline on users in the form of a common computer language for communication.

Motives for development

Societies throughout the world are presently preoccupied with achieving the material results of social development. But it is interesting to note that the process itself does not appear to be driven exclusively or perhaps even primarily by material motives, although these are uppermost in the social consciousness at the present time. Even in instances where material needs and wants have approached saturation, the process shows no signs of abating in speed or intensity. On the contrary, the momentum that has led to such incredible achievements over the past century continues to accelerate. In our search for the fundamental motive that drives the process, we have to look beyond the material preoccupations by which it is currently characterized.

While it is difficult to document at the social level, at the individual level it is readily apparent that physical security and comfort are important but by no means the only or even the most powerful motives for human action. Once these needs are met, there is still the seeking for social prestige and influence, the impulse of curiosity, the thirst for understanding, the drive for accomplishment, the urge for invention and creativity, the attraction of complexity and rich variety of experience—and the irrepressible and inexhaustible quest for enjoyment that all of these activities engender.

The process of development, even the limited sphere of social development, is not driven exclusively by material motives or confined to material achievements. The goals societies and individuals seek are determined by their needs and their values. In the hierarchy of needs, physical survival, security, and comfort are primary. Vital, social and mental needs gain prominence when the basic physical needs are met. As society prospers, the vital urge for intensity, excitement, enjoyment, adventure, changing experience and self-expression become more important determinants. Beyond these lie the mental urge for curiosity, knowledge, creativity and imagination, and the aspiration for spiritual realization.

This concept of development holds very important implications for the future of humanity and the prospects for progress in the next century. Its suggests that there are no inherent limits either to the speed or to the extent of the development process, other than those imposed by the limitations of our thought, knowledge and aspirations. If we change our view, the character of this process can be transformed from the slow, trial and error subconscious process we have known in the past to a swift, sure leaping progress from height to greater height.

Phases of Human Choice

Social development has always involved a tension between two poles of its existence, collective and individual. The collective strives to ensure its preservation, perpetuation and development, preparing and compelling its individual members to abide by its traditions, laws and values, and contribute their energy and effort to defend and support the community. At the same time, individual members strive to ensure their survival, to preserve and, whenever possible, to elevate their material and social positions, personal comfort and enjoyment.

For a very long period of recorded history, the collective compelled the submission and obedience of its members to support the development and free exercise of choice by a very limited number of individuals constituting its ruling elite. This tendency reached its acme in the divine right of kings, a doctrine that effectively made the whole society subservient to the whims and fancies of a single individual as an embodiment of the collective will and collective good. All served so that one person could live fully.

Human progress over the past five centuries has moved very far away from this extreme pole of collective domination. The collective has discovered a new formula for its progress—all individuals should be encouraged to develop so that the collective may develop to the maximum. The translation of this new principle into practice has taken several centuries and is still only partially realized. But the direction is clearly reflected in the continuous move toward democracy, universal education, human rights, and access to social opportunities. Society is discovering that providing the maximum human choice to its individual members is the most effective means of releasing human energy, creativity and initiative for the maximum development of the collective.

The Protestant Reformation was a landmark for Western society in the emergence of individual choice in the field of religion. A parallel shift has been identified by historians as one of the root causes for the decline of feudalism in Western Europe. The aristocracy discovered that a free farmer working for himself generated higher production and more tax revenue than an indentured serf working for mere subsistence. Since then society has experimented boldly with new ways to increase the range and quality of individual choice within a collective social framework. In subsequent centuries the rise of democracy extended human choice to the political field and the market system has institutionalized economic choice for workers and consumers.

But the collective’s decision to empower individual choice can best be viewed as the first rather than the last step in human development. For the decision of the collective to encourage individual human choice is no guarantee that individuals will accept and exercise that choice or, if they do so, that they will do so wisely. The phase of human choice that has characterized this century as the “century of the common man” can also been characterized as one in which most individual members continue to define their opinions, attitudes, values, preferences and aspirations very largely in terms that the collective sanctions and approves. Society may have consented to creative individuals exercising free choice, but for most individuals there remains a strong motivation to conform to the views and expectations of the collective and to depend on the collective as the primary determinant. So strong is this urge for conformity that even in science, a person’s social position and prestige are often more powerful determinants of how the scientific community responds than the objectivity or rationality of the views expressed.

We can conceive of a time in the future when society has evolved to what we may term a second phase of human choice. In this society, not only the collective, but most of its individual members as well would have the realization that the individual human being is the determinant of its own future. This would constitute a true society of individuals, arriving at their own ideals, beliefs and values, discovering and expressing more fully their own innate potentials, rather than continuously looking to the collective as a role model for direction and support. We can imagine that this phase would be marked by an enormously enhanced level of energy, fresh initiative, innovation, invention, creativity and free expression and a far more rapid general advancement of the society as a whole in whatever fields of activity it chooses to develop. It might be a society of pioneers.

Yet such a phase, if achieved, would not in any way lessen the tension between the individual and the collective. Rather it might intensify the conflict to the point of threatening social cohesion and stability, in much the same way as the social and economic liberation of women in Western society may have affected the social institution of marriage. It might even become a society of rebels or revolutionaries with little tolerance for the status quo or the views of the collective.

For an ultimate reconciliation of individuality with collective existence, we must envision a further phase of development in which social stability is achieved through the conscious understanding and consent of its individual members rather than by the force of collective authority or external limits imposed on the power of individual self-assertion. In this phase, the individual would advance beyond the discovery of his own uniqueness and inner capacity to discover the complementary truth that the individual is a portion and expression of the collective society and can achieve maximum fulfillment only by discovering and relating positively with the other aspects and expressions of self which also form part of the larger social organism.

If this comes to pass, we would then have witnessed the transition of society through three phases of emergence from undifferentiated collective existence.

  • The undifferentiated phase is one in which the individuality is undeveloped and individual choice is suppressed or restricted to a very small ruling elite. The collective imposes its values on the individual.
  • Gradually the collective comes to recognize the necessity and value of actively promoting the development and expression of individual human choice in its members as a means for its own greater development. The collective discovers the value of the individual human being and the power of free human choice. This is the phase which most societies are in different stages of transiting: individuality is nominally encouraged, yet the vast majority of people depend psychologically on the collective as the primary determinant and power for their development and subconsciously act in conformity with its expectations.
  • In this phase, individual members of society discover the source of creative energy and unlimited human potential within themselves and draw on that source to achieve far higher levels of development in any fields they pursue. The individual discovers the value and power of individual human choice. Conflict between the collective and its members would still be possible and could even increase.
  • A phase could come in which individual members discover that they are only individual expressions of the collective and that their existence is fulfilled in consciously lending their energies for the pursuit and fulfillment of the aspirations of the collective. The developed individual consciously affirms the values of the collective as his or her own. This achievement would mark a further phase in the social development of the collective. It might also prepare the possibility of a truly spiritual development for the human community founded on the twin truths of spiritual freedom and spiritual oneness.

Parallels between social and business development

During a workshop presentation at the November 1998 World Academy Conference on the Global Century held in Vancouver, Canada, businessman Walt Stinson drew some interesting parallels between the principles of development theory outlined in the Human Choice paper and principles of business development set forth in several books by Fred Harmon, Garry Jacobs and Robert Macfarlane. We believe that the parallels he observed arise from the fact that both societies and businesses develop according to the same process, one macro, the other micro. We wish to identify some points of correspondence here as a basis for further exploration during the Madras meeting.

  1. In the case of both business and society, development can be defined as an upward directional movement from lesser to greater levels of energy, efficiency, quality, productivity, complexity, comprehension, creativity, mastery, enjoyment and accomplishment.
  2. Businesses, like societies, develop as a result of a self-conception that is sometimes conscious, often subconscious. Both the democratic union of the 13 original American colonies and India’s Green Revolution were the result of the conscious self-conception of a few perceptive leaders, while the population-at-large remained only vaguely aware of the process it was participating in. In the case of business, the original self-conception is usually the creation of a founding entrepreneur, but over time many other people contribute to its formulation. A noted instance of conscious self-conception was Fred Smith’s idea for establishing an overnight delivery business to compete with United Parcel Service and the US Postal Service, at a time when both were already multi-billion dollar operations. The company he founded in the early 1970s, Federal Express, became for a time the fastest growing company of all time and now has annual revenues exceeding $12 billion. Smith’s conscious conception may have been partially shared by many of the company’s managers and employees, but many others may have participated in the process as part of their routine employment with only a vague notion of the larger vision that inspired its leaders.
  3. The development of a business, like the development of a society, is fueled by the aspiration of its people. In the case of business, the aspiration of the owners and leaders is a critical determinant of how far and how fast the business grows. In the case of the society, the role of leadership is played by entrepreneurial pioneers that initiate new activities and the psychological intensity of their pursuit is a critical determinant of success. But in either case, the greater the aspiration of all the people involved, the more powerful the impetus for accomplishment.
  4. We stated in Human Choice that surplus energy is an essential condition for social development. Only in the presence of surplus capacity can new activities be supported. The same is true in business. Companies struggling for survival or to meet the minimum requirements of their customers lack the excess capacity needed to plan and initiate new activities or elevate their functioning to a higher level of organization.
  5. New modes of activity are introduced in society by pioneering individual initiatives that are imitated and disseminated by others, diffuse through the society and are eventually accepted and integrated with the normal functioning of the society. New modes of activity are introduced in a company by pioneering individual initiatives that are imitated and disseminated by others, diffuse through the company, and are eventually accepted and integrated with the normal functioning of the company.
  6. Authority is a fundamental principle of organization that is essential to the survival and development of both societies and companies. Government, social and cultural authority as expressed through social norms, systems, institutions, laws, customs, and values determine the effectiveness with which surplus energy is converted by society into productive power. Corporate authority is expressed more and more through the discipline of impersonal rules, systems, coordination of activities, policies, corporate culture and values that determine the effectiveness with which surplus energy is converted by a business into productive power, rather than by top down personal exercise of authority by a management hierarchy. But regardless of whether the form is personal or impersonal, this discipline is fundamental to the successful functioning of an organization.
  7. Social know-how in the form of technology, practical knowledge and skills determines the conversion of productive power into material results in both society and business.
  8. The productivity of social resources is not subject to any inherent limits. It depends on the attitudes, information, knowledge, organization and skills creatively applied – i.e. on powers of mind. The productivity of a company’s resources is not subject to any inherent limits. It depends on the attitudes, information, knowledge, organization and skills creatively applied – i.e. on powers of mind.
  9. In research for his upcoming book on business in 2010, Fred Harmon is exploring the relationship between the five essential components of a business—market, technology, people, capital and organization—and the five parallel components of social development—social needs, technology, people, resources and organization. As a microcosm and child of the society, companies develop by attuning themselves to the direction, trends and changing needs of the wider society of which they are a part in each of these five major areas. This relationship is especially apparent in larger national and multinational corporations whose development is often closely tied to parallel developments in the societies in which they function.
  10. The utilization of social development potential depends on the society’s level of awareness, aspiration, organization, values, knowledge and skills. The utilization of business development potential depends on the company’s level of awareness, aspiration, organization, values, knowledge and skills.
  11. Both companies and societies depend for their development on three levels of organized infrastructure—a physical organization of production, transportation, communication, etc.; a social organization of legal, financial, commercial, and educational systems and institutions; and a mental organization of information, technology and knowledge. All three are needed for the achievement of progressively more complex forms of economic activity.
  12. For both businesses and societies, values represent that highest form of organization for directing human energies in constructive and productive activities. The quality and height of the values set the limits on the magnitude of developmental achievements.

Summary of social development principles

  1. We define social development in its broadest social terms as an upward directional movement of society from lesser to greater levels of energy, efficiency, quality, productivity, complexity, comprehension, creativity, choice, mastery, enjoyment and accomplishment. Development of individuals and societies results in increasing freedom of choice and increasing capacity to fulfill its choices by its own capacity and initiative.
  2. Growth and development usually go together, but they are different phenomena subject to different laws. Growth involves a horizontal or quantitative expansion and multiplication of existing types and forms of activities. Development involves a vertical or qualitative enhancement of the level of organization.
  3. Social development is driven by the subconscious aspirations/will of society for advancement. The social will seeks progressive fulfillment of a prioritized hierarchy of needs – security of borders, law and order, self-sufficiency in food and shelter, organization for peace and prosperity, expression of excess energy in entertainment, leisure and enjoyment, knowledge, and artistic creativity.
  4. Development of society occurs only in fields where that collective will is sufficiently strong and seeking expression. Development strategies will be most effective when they focus on identifying areas where the social will is mature and provide better means for the awakened social energy to express itself. Only those initiatives that are in concordance with this subconscious urge will gain momentum and multiply.
  5. Development of the collective is subconscious. It starts with physical experience which eventually leads to conscious comprehension of the process. Conscious development based on conceptual knowledge of the social process accelerates development and minimizes errors and imbalances.
  6. Society is the field of organized relationships and interactions between individuals. Only a small portion of human activity is organized for utilization by society, so only a small portion of development potential (of technology, knowledge, information, skills, systems) is tapped.
  7. Every society possesses a huge reservoir of potential human energy that is absorbed and held static in its organized foundations—its cultural values, physical security, social beliefs and political structures. At times of transition, crises and opportunities, those energies are released and expressed in action. Policies, strategies and programs that tap this latent energy and channel it into constructive activities can stir an entire nation to action and rapid advancement.
  8. The act is the basic unit of social organization. The evolution of more complex and productive activities woven together by people to form systems, organizations, institutions and cultural values constitute the fabric or web of social organization.
  9. The essential nature of the development process is the progressive development of social organizations and institutions that harness and direct the society’s energies for higher levels of accomplishment. Society develops by organizing all the knowledge, human energies and material resources at its disposal to fulfill its aspirations.
  10. The process of formation of organization takes place simultaneously at several levels: the organization of peace and physical security in society, the organization of physical activities and infrastructure, the organization of productive processes through the application of skills and technology in agriculture, industry and services, the organization of social processes we call systems, laws, institutions and administrative agencies, the organization of data as useful information, the organization of knowledge through education and science, and the organization of higher social and cultural values that channel human energy into higher forms of expression.
  11. Each of these levels of organization admits of unlimited development. Each of these levels of organization depends upon and interacts with the others. Elevating the organization at any of these levels increases the utilization of resources and opportunities and accelerates development.
  12. Development requires an enormous investment of energy to break existing patterns of social behavior and form new ones. Development takes place when surplus social energies accumulate beyond the level required for functioning at the present level. The social energy may be released in response to the opening up of a new opportunity or confrontation by a severe challenge. Where different cultures meet and blend, explosive energies for social evolution are released.
  13. Expression of surplus energy through existing forms of activity may result in growth—a quantitative expansion of society at the existing level of organization. Channeling the surplus energy into more complex and effective forms of organized activity leads to development—a qualitative enhancement in the capabilities of the society. The fresh initiatives that lead to this qualitative enhancement usually occur first in the unorganized activities of society that are not constrained and encumbered by the inertia of the status quo.
  14. The rate and extent of development is determined by prevalent social attitudes which control the flow of social energies. Where attitudes are not conducive, development strategies will not yield results. In this case the emphasis should be placed on strategies to bring about a change in social attitudes—such as public education, demonstration and encouragement of successful pioneers.
  15. The social gradient between people at different levels of power and accomplishment in society represents a ‘voltage differential’ that stimulates less accomplished sections of the population to seek what the more accomplished have achieved. The urge to maintain this voltage gap compels those at the top to seek further accomplishments. At the same time, the overall development of society is determined by its ability to make accessible the privileges and benefits achieved by those at the top to the rest of its members.
  16. Development proceeds rapidly in those areas where the society becomes aware of opportunities and challenges and has the will to respond to them. Increasing awareness accelerates the process.
  17. Social progress is stimulated by pioneering individuals who first become conscious of new opportunities and initiate new behaviors and activities to take advantage of them. Pioneers are the lever or spearhead for collective advancement. Pioneers give conscious expression to the subconscious urges and readiness of the collective.
  18. Development occurs when pioneering individual initiatives are imitated by others, multiplied and actively supported by the society. Society then actively organizes the new activity by establishing supportive laws, systems and institutions. At the next stage it integrates the new activity with other fields of activity and assimilates it into its educational system. The activity has become fully assimilated as part of the culture when it is passed on to the next generation as values through the family.
  19. Development is a process, not a program. Development is an activity of the society as a whole. It can be stimulated, directed or assisted by government policies, laws and special programs, but it cannot be compelled or carried out by administrative or external agencies on behalf of the population. Development strategy should aim to release people’s initiative, not to substitute for it.
  20.  All resources are the creation of the human mind. Something becomes a resource when human beings recognize a productive or more productive use for it. Since there are no inherent limits to human inventiveness and resourcefulness, the potential productivity of any resource is unlimited.
  21. Human beings are the ultimate resource and ultimate determinant of the development process. It is a process of people becoming more aware of their own creative potentials and taking initiative to realize those potentials. Human awareness, aspiration and attitudes determine society’s response to circumstances. Development occurs only at the points where humanity recognizes its power to determine results.
  22. The development of social organization takes place within a larger evolutionary context in which the consciousness of humanity is evolving along a continuum from physical to vital to mental. This evolution expresses as a progressive shift in emphasis from material resources to technological and information resources; from the social importance of land to the importance of money and knowledge; from hereditary rights of the elite to fundamental rights for all human beings; from reliance on physical forms of authority to laws and shared values. As society advances along this continuum, development becomes more conscious and more rapid.
  23. Infinity is a practical concept. Human potential is unlimited. Development potential is infinite.
  24. The same principles and process govern development in different fields of social life – political, economic, technological, scientific, cultural, etc.
  25. The same principles and process govern development at the level of the individual, the organization and the society.



[1] Human Choice: The Genetic Code for Social Development, by Harlan Cleveland and Garry Jacobs, World Academy of Art & Science, 1999.

[2] Tangible assets give security and courage to venture, but liquid assets are essential to generate prosperity. In a service economy, earnings remain largely liquid thereby facilitating economic growth, whereas in agriculture and industry, earnings go to create assets and the money gets blocked.