"If the only tool you have is a hammer, then every problem looks like a nail." - Abraham Maslow
International development, defined as "activities to promote equitable and sustainable prosperity," has historically been structured according to the dictates of specific professions. Economists, engineers, doctors and educators tend to work separately, with limited sharing of information and outcomes, and sometimes even negate one another's efforts. This band-aid approach to development has been less than successful, largely resulting in short-term panaceas rather than sustainable long-term solutions.
Examples of too-narrowly-focused projects abound, and a notable one worth examining is the Turkana Fish Project. The Turkana in Kenya are semi-nomadic cattle herders who lose their livelihoods when herds die during dry spells, despite the fact that nearby Lake Turkana is teeming with fish. Believing that exploiting the resources of Lake Turkana would increase income stability in the face of volatile weather patterns, the Development Agency of Norway constructed a fish-processing factory on the lake and trained herders for employment there. But the factory proved to be an unsustainable business due to its geographical remoteness, the nomadic culture of the population, and the cultural perspective on fishing in general in a society where owning cattle is a sign of wealth. The outcome of the Turkana Fish Project demonstrates the need to consider every development challenge within its broader context.
Globalhood believes that every problem exists within a web of contributing factors. A temporarily successful health care project, for example, that has not taken into account underlying social, infrastructure, or environmental issues will eventually result in the same health problems arising several years later, fueled by the same contributing factors. It is our responsibility as development practitioners to intervene in ways both sensitive to local contexts and aware of external factors contributing to the problem we aim to address.
Fireworks at the high school's 25th anniversary celebration in Chiquian, Peru.
Recognition of the need for a multidiscplinary approach is now growing in academia: there are scholarly journals (such as World Development) and research centers (such as Columbia University’s Earth Institute, IDRC, and IGERT) dedicated to multidisciplinary development. However, the move from theory to practice has been slow and cumbersome.