Our Perspectives

My voyage on the Human Development Report "Enterprise"


Selim JahanSelim Jahan and Amartya Sen at the Human Development Report Office in the 1990s. Photo: UNDP

“It is an intellectual Enterprise,” Mahbub ul Haq, a Star Trek fan, would fondly say about the Human Development Report (HDR).

The Report was his brainchild, and he was the captain of the HDR Enterprise. And it was this Enterprise’s dynamism, out-of-box thinking and intellectual courage that attracted me to it.

What a journey I have had with the HDR over the last quarter of a century - a core-author of the Report, a vivid reader, and a committed champion of it. And it feels good to be ‘back home’, having taken the rein of the Report less than a year ago.

From the very beginning, the HDR took the road not taken, and that has made all the difference. It pursued an alternative way of looking at, and measuring, development and was innovative in putting people, not the economy, at the centre of development as active agents and beneficiaries.

Over the years, the HDR has changed the content and tone of the development dialogue around the world.  It has measured development results with indices, which may be as vulgar as the GDP per capita, but not as blind to the broader aspects of human well-being. It has provided advocacy tools to civil society, and informed and influenced policy-making, not to mention exciting academics and researchers for further substantive work and investigation in this area. Countries and societies have embraced the idea, and more than 700 National Human Development Reports have been produced, even down to the municipal level.

The HDR has never been an ivory tower initiative. Over the years, it has won many hearts with its contemporary thematic choices, clear and robust analysis, innovative data and information, lucid language, and simple presentation. Over 4 million people visit our website every year, with more than 350,000 hits on our latest Reports.

All this success does not make us complacent, but induces us to aim for even higher goals. We recognize that the world has changed over the last 25 years since the first publication of the HDR. Today, we live in a world with a different set of contexts, challenges, and of course, opportunities. The world is becoming more unequal, unstable, and unsustainable.

We are about to enter the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The expectation from the HDR Enterprise is high in terms of intellectual thinking anchoring the agenda, new ways of measuring and reporting development outcomes, and substantive leadership to support achieving the Agenda. The challenge is big and we are ready for that. The 2015 Human Development Report on Rethinking Work for Human Development is a contribution to that effort.

A quarter of a century ago, an intellectual enterprise started its voyage, and the time has come to revisit the concept and the measurements of human development: to address some of the conceptual issues that we have not addressed (e.g., individual versus collective choices), to examine some of the new issues that have emerged (e.g., how to sustain human development progress when shocks and vulnerabilities are the new norms), and to reassess the composite indices (e.g., the Human Development Index itself).

We have come a long way. The past has made us what we are, but it will not limit what we will be. Our intellectual voyage will continue with new vigour, vision and motivation. And I ask all of you to join us in that journey, as I joined 25 years ago.

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