Section 2 – What is Development?

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To explore development as it relates to volunteers, and to place volunteering within a global context.


Learning outcomes


  • Understanding the relationship between development and the sustainable development goals
  • Awareness of the partnership focus within development
  • Knowledge of pros and cons of different types of development




This section is intended to engage participants thinking on the topic of development as it relates to volunteering overseas. It is not intended to be a comprehensive examination of development theory or practice.

A basic understanding of some core topics and discussion around development in the world provides a valuable insight to how volunteering can benefit the development process.







Discussing Development.


Comhlámh believes that in order to maximise your contribution, it’s critical to consider volunteering within the wider context of development and the structures that affect it.


A basic understanding of some core topics and discussions around development in the world provides a valuable insight to how volunteering can benefit the development process. While many issues affecting development can seem abstract and theoretical, the impact they have on people’s everyday lives is very real. Having insight into the bigger picture will help you to understand the forces that might shape events at the local level of your placement.



Activity 1 – Development is?

Step 1


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Step 2

First ensure you have Read the Sustainable Development Goals and then answer the following questions


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Step 3


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Comhlamh promotes the use of the hash tag #VolOps as a way of encouraging discussion on volunteering opportunities.
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Development is a complex issue and can be a highly contested term. It is arguable that there is no right or wrong answer.

In simple terms, Development is a process through which countries change over time. It can be defined in different ways.

A basic perspective equates development with economic growth. The United Nations Development Programme uses a more detailed definition, according to them, development is ‘to lead long and healthy lives, to be knowledgeable, to have access to the resources needed for a decent standard of living and to be able to participate in the life of the community.
The United Nations have developed the Human Development Index as a way of measuring development by looking at three basic factors which include life expectancy, or the average age people live to, education and income.
Achieving human development can be seen as freeing people from the obstacles that affect their ability to develop their own lives and communities. Development, therefore, is empowerment: it is about local people taking control of their own lives, expressing their own demands and finding their own solutions to their problems.

Activity 2 – Types of Development


Step 1

Read Appendix 3 “Types of Development” and think about the debrief questions; send us your reflections.

By being open and honest, we can help others to formulate their own opinions and challenge our own and others current mindset.


Types of Development – Headings


  1. Raising of national income
  2. Raising of human development: life expectancy, health, housing, education.
  3. ‘Development as a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy’ (Amartya Sen, 1999, ‘Development as Freedom’, p. 36.)
  4. Development should meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.
  5. Development is the realisation of our human rights





“A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.” – Gustavo Petro




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NB: These types of development are not intended as an exhaustive list, there are others; we just think this is enough for now.

“Did you know that there is a link between the varying approaches to development and your future volunteer programme? Each programme will adopt different approaches, which in turn affect programme activities and intended outcomes – knowing which of these models of development you want to be a part of will help you find the right organisation for you”




Activity 3 – Who is involved

Step 1



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Click here to compare your list with ours.



Step 2


Partnership Focus

There are many stakeholders/partners involved in the bigger picture, it is important to be aware of who they are and what role they play. In this course we are going to focus on just three – Host Community, Volunteer, Sending Organisation. As a volunteer, you will have a relationship with both Sending Organisation and Host Community both separately and together.

The host and sending organisations will also have a relationship, most likely already developed. The centre point of the Venn diagram is the sweet spot, when communication is clear and effective between the three stakeholders, it allows for a much more enjoyable and rewarding experience for all.



venn diagram




As a volunteer you will be working in settings where there are existing relationships and between stakeholders the various partners who have different amounts of influence and importance. It is likely that you will encounter personal challenges and potential conflicts based on your position as an outsider from the Global North.

The Matrix is a useful tool to explore the levels of power and influence that may affect how you carry out your role.

Using the lists created, slot the various stakeholders into the matrix according to their level of power and influence. Share your finished product in the comments section.


The Stakeholder Matrix (source: Victoria State Department of Environment)






Box A

These are stakeholders who have a high degree of influence on the project, who are also of high importance for its success. This implies that the implementing organisation will need to construct good working relationships with these stakeholders, to ensure an effective coalition of support for the project. Examples might be the senior officials and politicians or trade union.




Box B

These are stakeholders of high importance to the success of the project, but with low influence. This implies that they will require special initiatives if their interests are to be protected. An example may be traditionally marginalised groups (e.g. Indigenous people, youth, seniors), who might be beneficiaries of a new service, but who have little ‘voice’ in its development.





Box C

These are stakeholders with high influence, who can therefore affect the project outcomes, but whose interests are not necessarily aligned with the overall goals of the project. They might be financial administrators, who can exercise considerable discretion over funding disbursements. This conclusion implies that these stakeholders may be a source of significant risk, and they will need careful monitoring and management.




Box D

The stakeholders in this box, with low influence on, or importance to the project objectives, may require limited monitoring or evaluation, but are of low priority.






Read the statements in the following exercise and give yourself a number according to how much you agree or disagree with the statements points of view. There is no absolute right or wrong answer, all opinions are valid and should come from your own perspective.



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There is no absolute right or wrong answer, all opinions are valid and should come from your own perspective.




To read some discussion points on the statements, click here.



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