Human development is the process of a person's growth and maturation throughout their lifespan, concerned with the creation of an environment where people are able to develop their full potential, while leading productive and creative lives in accordance with their interests and needs. Development is about the expansion of choices people have in order to lead lives they value. Human wellbeing as the purpose of development has long been emphasized by philosophers, economists and political leaders.
Central to enlarging people's choices is building human capabilities - a variety of things people can be or do in their lives. For human development, the most basic capabilities are to lead healthy and long lives, to be well-educated, to have access to resources necessary for a decent standard of living and to be able to take part in the life of the community. Without these capabilities, many choices are not available, while people have no access to many opportunities.
Human development and human rights have a common vision, which is represented by the search for something else. Wealth was useful for the sake of that something else, the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle said, but was not the good people were seeking. Human freedom, which is vital in the pursuit of capabilities and the realization of rights, is the goal.
The human development approach was partly created as a result of increasing criticism against the development approach prevalent in the 1980s, according to which, national economic growth was closely linked to the expansion of individual human choices. Factors, which made economists recognize the need for a new development model, included growing evidence against the market forces' power to spread economic benefits and put an end to poverty. The continuing spread of social ills even when economic growth was strong and consistent as well as the wave of democratizations witnessed at the beginning of the 1990s, which sparked hopes for people-centered models, also helped them see the need for a new model.
As of 1990, a systematic study of global themes was published in the annual global Human Development Reports under the auspice of the United Nations Development Programme, which applied the human development concept. The foundation for this alternative and broader approach was provided by the work, among other, of Amartya Sen, professor of Economics at Harvard University and Nobel Laureate in Economics in 1998. Pakistani economist Mahbub ul Haq was the founder of the Human Development Report and played a central role in formulating the human development model.
The four basic pillars of human development are equity, sustainability, production and empowerment. Equity is the idea that every person has the right to an education and health care, that there must be fairness for all. Sustainability encompasses the view that every person has the right to earn a living that can sustain him or her, while everyone also has the right to access to goods more evenly distributed among populations. Production is the idea that people need more efficient social programs to be introduced by their governments, while empowerment is the view that people who are powerless, such as women, need to be given power.
Other issues and themes considered central to human development, include social progress, which is about greater access to knowledge, health services and better nutrition, and economics, in view of how important economic growth is so that inequality can be reduced and human development levels improved. Efficiency, regarding the use and availability of recourses, and participation and freedom, which in addition to empowerment include democratic governance, civil and political rights, gender equality and cultural liberty, are also central issues. Human securities, which includes security against hunger, abrupt disruptions such as joblessness, conflict, and other chronic threats, is also considered to be among the central themes in human development.