About us

Over the past forty years, international aid agencies, development banks, and recipient-country governments have sometimes been accused of promoting forms of development that are imposed upon people, rather than being carried out by those people for themselves. In response, many development thinkers have come to agree that development projects ought to be "empowering" for the men and women who are meant to benefit from them. Endorsements for this view can be found in the 1986 Declaration on the Right to Development, the "human development" approach of Mahbub ul Haq (founder of the Human Development Index), the Human Development Reports, and to some degree in policies of governments and development banks. Debate at this point is now shifting to focus on which types of development activity are more empowering than others.

The Ethics of Empowerment project will help development scholars to distinguish more clearly between the levels and types of empowerment that different types of development activity can provide to people. To do so, the project relies on the emerging field of development ethics, and in particular on the capability approach founded by Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum. Yet while there is agreement among development ethicists that development, insofar as it is a socially worthy goal, must be empowering, there is considerably less agreement about what this "empowerment" should entail. Some writers focus on the kind of individual empowerment in which people become able to accomplish more for themselves, within their social contexts. This sort of empowerment is often noted as especially important for women in development. Other writers focus more on collective action, in particular the participation of stakeholders in project decision-making. The Ethics of Empowerment project aims to clarify not only the meaning of "empowerment" but also its value from an ethical point of view.