Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2017

Document Type

Thesis

Type of Thesis

Departmental Honors

Department

International Affairs

First Advisor

Robert Wyrod

Second Advisor

Douglas Snyder

Third Advisor

Caroline Conzelman

Fourth Advisor

Lucy Chester

Abstract

Abstract

The effectiveness of development work has traditionally been measured through economic indicators such as Gross Domestic Product. However, GDP and other macro-measures of economic growth are inadequate to assess the positive impacts of development projects among those meant to benefit. In my thesis I argue that in order for development work to have a positive impact, development agencies must act through local lenses of “living well”. Living well is a concept that provides a more holistic approach to measuring development by taking into account not only economic principles but more anthropological notions of wellbeing tied to local community and cultural values. I use a specific case study of a microfinance organization in Ghana, Balloon Ventures, to address my key question, Can development work be economically effective and simultaneously promote happiness and well being in a deeper sense? I examine the experience of local entrepreneurs working with Western volunteers to understand how development work can best incorporate local definitions of living well. Ultimately I argue that living well relies on self-determination, or the ability of local people to decide how, when, and where to “develop,” and how to evaluate the impacts. While scholars can analyze the effectiveness of development work and explore notions of living well, the true value of development work is dependent on how well organizations respect local autonomy and leadership in defining their own visions of wellbeing.