Our Perspectives

Development in 2 minutes: It’s about expanding choices


Every week, at least one person asks me, “So what does the United Nations Development Programme do?” They want to know what the "development" is that we are trying to achieve, and what our "programme" is for achieving it.

The simple answer is that “development” is about helping people have more choices. It's about removing the obstacles that prevent them from realizing their potential – overcoming the barriers that stand between them and their dreams.

These obstacles come in many different forms. For 36 percent of Afghans, poverty is one barrier to self-fulfilment. For around 50 percent, it's being a woman in the face of widespread discrimination and routine harassment. For all Afghans at one time or another, it's being from the wrong ethnic group, which can make you a stranger in your own land. 

For others, it's security. It's limited access to government services and protection under the rule of law. It's the fact that the nearest clinic is miles away, that the local school has no teacher and that there are no jobs to pay for education or healthcare even when they are available. It's the threat of flooded harvests, houses crushed by landslides and the increasing number of natural disasters caused by climate change.

But listing these obstacles is the easy part; finding solutions... that’s where our “programme” comes in.

The problems in Afghanistan are entrenched and complex. But they are not intractable. With our partners in government and civil society, we have made progress.

Development is about expanding choicesA bridge built with UNDP support makes it possible for third grader Bahara to go to school. By the time she and her classmates grow up, I hope Afghanistan will be well on the way to realizing the Sustainable Development Goals. Photo: Omer/UNDP

There is a police force where there was none before. Girls now go to school in places where they used to be banned from class. People – voters – have a say in who represents them in government. Life expectancy has risen, GDP is up, there are more health facilities, and women are starting to claim their place in politics, media, business and academia.

Now we have to build on this critical mass of progress so our achievements can reinforce each other and bring lasting, transformative change.

Our new video, “Choices” is all about this challenge. It takes the story of one family to show how our work across such varied portfolios as governance, livelihoods, elections, rule of law, environment, gender and health comes together to produce an environment in which people can flourish and prosper – and an environment that will make it possible for Afghanistan to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

This year, we launched a new project focused on the SDGs. As well as our programmes that contribute toward achieving specific goals – such as training and paying the police (Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions) or preserving biodiversity (Goal 15: Life on land) – we are also assisting the government more generally to prioritize and coordinate SDG action, monitor progress and advocate for policy change.

We hope that by the time the children in our new video grow up, Afghanistan will be well on the way to realizing the Global Goals, bringing even more choices to the next generation.


Afghanistan goals in act Sustainable development Governance and peacebuilding Blog post Douglas Keh

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