From an economic perspective, work enables people to earn a livelihood and achieve economic security. But from a human development perspective, it also allows people to enhance their capabilities by providing them with acquired skills and knowledge. Income from work helps workers achieve a better standard of living and allows them to have better access to health and education- critical ingredients to enhancing capabilities. Work also provides people with expanded opportunities and choices in their economic and social lives. It allows workers to participate fully in society while affording them a sense of dignity and worth. And work that involves caring for others builds social cohesion and strengthens bonds within families and communities. To contribute to human development, work needsto be productive, worthwhile and meaningful- and to unleash human potential, creativity and spirit.
The notion of work is broader and deeper than jobs or employment. Jobs provide income and support human dignity, participation and economic security. But the jobs framework is restrictive. It fails to capture many kinds of work that are more flexible and open-ended, including care work, voluntary work and creative expression, such as writing or painting- all of which are important for human development.
Human development is a process of enlarging people’s choices, so it is closely bound with work.The positive relationship between work and human development goes both ways. Human development is affected by work through many channels, all of which canbe mutually reinforcing:
Income and livelihood: People work primarily to achieve a decent standard of living. In market-based economies they generally do so through wage or self-employment. In moretraditional and subsistence economies they sustain their livelihoods through specific cycles of activities. Work can also be a majorfactor in ensuring that economic growth is equitable and poverty-reducing.
Security:Through work people can build a secure basis for their lives, enabling them to make long-term decisions and establish priorities and choices. They can also sustainstable households, particularly if they use their income prudently on food and nutritionfor their family, on education and health for their children, or for savings.
Women’s empowerment: Women who earnincome from work often achieve greater economic autonomy and decision making power within families, workplaces and communities.They also gain confidence, security and flexibility.
Participation and voice:By interacting with others through work, people learn to participatein collective decision making and gain a voice. Workers also encounter new ideas and information and interact with people of different backgrounds and can engage more extensively in civic issues.
Dignity and recognition:Good work is recognized by co-workers, peers and others and provides a sense of accomplishment, self-respect and social identity. People have historically defined and named themselves by their occupation:
Creativity and innovation:Work unleashes human creativity and has generated countless innovations that have revolutionized many aspects of human life- asin health, education, communications and environmental sustainability.
Health:Healthier workers have longer and more productive working lives and can explore more options at home and abroad.
Knowledge and skills: Better educated and trained workers can do more diverse work- andto a higher standard- and be more creative and innovative.
Awareness:Workers who can participate more fully in their communities will be able to negotiate at work for better conditions and higher labor standards, which in turn will make industries more efficient and competitive.
In the work- human development nexus volunteerism, as well as creativity and innovation,warrants particular attention.Volunteerism, by its nature, reflects agencyand the capability to choose. Volunteers benefit from their work, either because they value altruism or through the personal enrichment they gain from community involvement.Volunteer work also tends to have substantial social value. Participation in volunteer activities can enable people to contribute to their communities and the public good in ways that markets or public institutions may not.
Volunteers can be great innovators, forging the way towards new ways of working and organizing workers, paid and unpaid. Wangari Maathai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, mobilized grassroots movements to promote sustainable development, democracy,women’s rights and peace. Her legacy has been influential in preparing the Post-2015 Development Agenda.
Volunteer organizations can create bridges between political, geographical and cultural realities and can coordinate international efforts and solidarity to pursue humanitarian causes.Among others, the International Committee of the Red Cross, devoted to protecting human life and health, has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize three times: in 1917, 1944 and1963. Similarly, Medecins Sans Frontieres,which won the prize in 1999, mobilizes doctors and nurses to address health emergencies around the globe. In all these ways volunteerism promotes cross-cutting approaches for human development.
Work is critical to human existence and human development. Work has contributed considerablyto impressive human development achievements over the years, but a large amount of human potential remains unused- because people are out of work, engaged in vulnerable work or working but still in poverty. Many younger people are out of work, and women face lower wages and opportunities for paidwork while bearing a disproportionate burden of unpaid care work. The world is deprived of their contributions, creativity and innovation.Creating opportunities to put the work potentials of all people to use could further accelerate human progress, help overcome the remaining human development deficits and address emerging human development challenges.
Mohammed Mamun Rashid
Programme Manager- Civic Engagement of Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB)