The world of development and humanitarian assistance is undergoing profound change, arguably the most important since the inception of development as a formal field of research and practice in the middle of the 20th Century. From Walt Rostow’s “Big Push” of the 1950s through the work of Jeffrey Sachs and Paul Collier at the dawn of the 21st Century, development justified its existence by arguing it was the only way the truly poor could escape poverty and enjoy a higher quality of life.

Recent evidence is rapidly gutting this justification. Countries are moving from “low income” to “middle income” status (as measured by per capita GDP/GNI) with little correlation between such change and development projects and planning. And while there are still a billion seriously poor people in the world, the majority of them live in middle income countries that may not want or need the broad-spectrum prescriptions of traditional development thinking.

“The vast majority of people working for development organizations are intelligent and good-hearted. They care deeply about the plight of the global poor and labor each day on projects and policies that might, finally, reverse the trends of inequality and unsustainability that mark life in much of the world . . . If these agencies and individuals are, by and large, trying their hardest to do good and have billions of dollars to work with, why are they failing?”

From Delivering Development: Globalization’s Shoreline and the Path to a Sustainable Future

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All of this begs the question: if development’s role in these changes is difficult to identify at best, why am I still working on development issues? The answer is pretty straightforward: while things are changing much more rapidly than anyone expected, and by many measures those changes are quite positive for the poor, there are other changes afoot that are likely to cost us much of that which has been gained over the past few decades.

Economic integration and global environmental change are producing more, and more frequent, shocks and pressures that can challenge these positive gains. We have a role in addressing these challenges now, and in the future, for example by:

Connecting traditionally separated fields like disaster response/disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation to build stable foundations for indigenous innovation and opportunity now and into the future.

Better understanding the needs of the global poor, which requires much more engagement with their decision-making and knowledge

I spend my time identifying and thinking about how to address these current and coming shocks. I try to identify and implement solutions for these challenges in conjunction with smart, dedicated people in my lab, at development donors, and various implementing organizations around the world. These pages give more information on me, my work and its results.

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