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Development Management: a new domain

Thursday, January 12, 2017, 06:11

What is management? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as "the process of dealing with or controlling things or people.” By this definition, 'management’ dates to early civilisation, when groups of people came together to hunt, protect and share their gains. 

The ideas and frameworks of managing people - living together harmoniously, using resources for the common good and effectively using the talents and abilities of diverse individuals - were applied to human society largely through religious establishments, and governments. Let’s call this 'Social Management’.

'Business Management’, which originated in the early 20th century, derived a lot of its ideas and principles from social management and applied it to specific conditions of production and business within organisations. Over the years, business management and social management have diverged considerably. Backed by talent, capital and governments, for-profit corporations have become huge, even monstrous.

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Social Management, deprived of attention, has been mostly relegated to the mercy of well-meaning, passionate individuals struggling to meet funding and organisational goals. This disconnect has resulted in tremendous damage to society and the environment. Given a broad consensus in society today about the humanistic principles of equality, brotherhood, tolerance, and acceptance, it is shocking that huge levels of inequality persist throughout the world. Much of the ills of modern society - poverty, starvation, lack of dignity, discrimination, and environmental degradation - can be laid at the feet of the rampant growth of capitalism at the expense of social management.

There seems to be a growing realisation of this unhappy state of affairs even in the business community. Business Management schools and business managers around the world are often heard saying "We would like to give back to society” or "We can make a difference to society and drive social change.” Business Management theory has also evolved in a Maslow-ian way - cognitively, psychologically and morally. This has spurred a significant move towards allocating funds to addressing social ills and has created what is now called the 'Third Sector’ or the 'Development Sector.’ In the last two decades, this sector has become large in terms of the number and size of organisations, available funding, the number of people involved and influence in government decisions and processes.

However, while the intentions are noble and backed by sufficient capital, management in this newly burgeoning sector has hewed to the same principles that have governed capitalism. That is because, there has been a profound lack of understanding of the differences in the business and development sector, and a serious underestimation of the complexity and effort required to drive social change.

Development Management, as a science, has never really been studied, analysed or understood in the way Business Management has been. There is a widespread belief that Business Management, with some tweaking, can be applied to the development sector. Nothing is farther from the truth. This is like saying that for the principles applied to "wealth creation” are the same as those for "poverty alleviation.”

Development Management is not simply about what works and what doesn’t in a theoretical framework. Development is a process. This process intensively deals with thinking, feeling human beings and is hugely inter-connected across the varied forces operating in society which in turn are constantly evolving. Management of this development process is therefore, complex, dynamic and requires constant negotiating with societal norms and values.


The differences between Business Management and Development Management could not be starker. At a fundamental level, the objective function in a business entity is to maximise monetary returns while (hopefully) being sensitive to individuals in society and the environment. The objective function in the development sector entity is to maximise social returns while being sensible about the monetary considerations involved. Given this diametrically opposite purpose, various aspects of management in the business sector and the development sector are very different in construct and application.

Development Management is, thus, a new domain requiring very different theory, courses, programmes and institutions. How do we build the theory for this new domain? There is an argument which says that the theory needs to be developed first before it can be taught - this argument assumes that the student has no role in the process of creating knowledge - a flaw that plagues all our universities today. The process of teaching Development Management must commence simultaneously with the process of developing the theory for this domain. 

Much work is already happening in this field and these are live social experiments that can provide valuable input for students as well as teachers. Any pedagogy that is developed in isolation of the efforts in the sector runs the risk of being irrelevant. The process of interactive teaching-learning must evolve theory through case studies, engagement with the practitioners, wrestling with and analyzing real-world successes and failures, recording and research, and collaborating across various stakeholders engaged in development work. This is the slow and meticulous work of building this domain.

India with its inherent diversity and complexity is best placed to develop this domain. Developing the body of knowledge for Development Management will require scholarly rigour and involve observing, recording, analysing and postulating.