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  • Overview of the Symposium

The economic growth paradigm and GDP, its accompanying measurement tool, have historically dominated development theory and practice. The need to move beyond such an approach, however, is increasingly clear. The recent global economic crisis, the challenge of climate change, on-going overconsumption mirrored by abject poverty, and the increasing role of religion and culture in shaping people’s priorities all suggest that a development paradigm based on unlimited growth is short-sighted, incomplete and, ultimately, unsustainable.

On May 1, 2015, Humber College brought together over 200 development practitioners, students and academics to explore alternatives to the economic growth paradigm. Beyond GDP: Development Alternatives to Growth examined three key themes: i) conceptualizing development as a phenomenon that includes multiple dimensions beyond economic growth, ii) measuring multidimensional development approaches at the national and project levels, and iii) implementing multidimensional development initiatives on the ground.

Opening remarks by the Honourable Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario and former Under-Secretary General of the United Nations, challenged participants to use the symposium as a means to incubate an “idea virus” that moves, grows and infects everyone it touches. She emphasized the pressing need for such an idea virus given the “unfinished business” that characterizes the current state of development in both the Global South and North.

The Honourable Jigmi Y. Thinley, former Prime Minister of Bhutan and keynote speaker at the symposium, engaged participants in an exploration of his country’s Gross National Happiness (GNH) strategy as a holistic development model. He called for an ethical alternative vision to drive societal progress, a vision that arises from an understanding of the multiple dimensions that comprise true wealth. He provided an overview of the strengths and challenges of Bhutan’s GNH strategy as a “multidimensional path to realize a different goal” and offered it as a model for the world to ponder.

Using Bhutan’s experience with GNH as a springboard to think about alternative development models, a series of plenary and break-out sessions explored the three themes of the symposium. David Miller, President and CEO of WWF Canada, facilitated a panel on how development might be better understood and conceptualized as a multidimensional concept. 

Panelists provided provocative presentations from diverse angles on how we might think differently about the nature of development. A roundtable discussion followed, focused on a range of issues that arise when measuring development as a phenomenon that has multiple dimensions. It explored what multidimensional measures might look like and how they might be applied when we move beyond a sole reliance on GDP.

A series of breakout sessions were led by development practitioners involved in implementing multidimensional approaches on the ground. Collectively, the sessions explored what lessons, challenges and successes arise when pursuing such approaches. Individual sessions focused on multidimensional approaches within different sectors, including conflict prevention, transformation and vulnerability; livelihoods; corporate social responsibility; and health development. The symposium closed with Tanjina Mirza, Vice President - International Programs at Plan Canada, engaging participants in thinking about how we might move forward in the post-2015 development era. As the Millennium Development Goals come to an end and are replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals, she challenged participants to continue the conversation about how the global community can more effectively move beyond GDP and the growth paradigm to promote holistic, sustainable and inclusive development.