The Family and Development


“The family is the driving force behind social progress and development,” declared Her Highness SheikhaMozabint Nasser of Qatar. The Doha Declaration elaborates: “The family is not only the fundamental group unit of society but is also the fundamental agent for sustainable, social, economic and cultural development.”

We offer two powerful books that explore the multi-faceted aspects of the family’s central and indispensable role in development. Edited by Susan Roylance with a total of over 40 contributing authors, Family Capital and the SDGs: Implementing the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, and The Family and the MDGs: Using Family Capital to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals, are essential resources for policymakers and delegates. The books may be fully accessed and downloaded from our dedicated website, where you can also find abridged translations and can select articles according to the corresponding Sustainable Development Goal.

Foreword to Family Capital and the SDGs

To discover the key to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, you have to look beyond what the Goals themselves say. But you don’t have to look far.

It was not that long ago that UN Secretary-General, then Kofi Annan, declared the family to be “a vital partner” in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. His statement was soon echoed by Bangladesh Ambassador Iftekhar Chowdhury: “The attainment of every Millennium Development Goal must begin with the family. The family is the main instrument of societal transformation.”

These are hardly isolated statements. Qatar’s SheikhaMoza Bint Nasser referred to the family as “the driving force” behind “social progress and development,” while the Doha Declaration, drafted by delegates from around the world, holds the family to be “the fundamental agent for sustainable social, economic and cultural development.”

The implication for the Sustainable Development Goals is unmistakable. Their attainment likewise begins and ends with the family, which, says the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, “is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.”

The words merit close attention, according to Professor Richard Wilkins. “As reflected in the precise and elegant terms of the Universal Declaration, the family is not merely a construct of human will or imagination,” but “has a profoundly important connection to nature… begin[ning] with the realities of reproduction” and “extend[ing] to the forces that shape civilization itself…. The family, in short, is the ‘natural and fundamental group unit of society.’”

This language from the Universal Declaration resounds through more than a hundred national constitutions with their varied descriptions of the family as society’s fundamental unit, element, cornerstone, or foundation; or, in language more evocative of life and growth, as the basic cell or fundamental nucleus of civilization. Why it is so was explained in an address to the General Assembly on the 10th anniversary of the International Year of the Family:

“The family [is] the foundation of the social order, the bedrock of nations, and the bastion of civilization,… a universal and irreplaceable community, rooted in human nature…. As the cradle of life and love for each new generation, the family is the primary source of personal identity, self-esteem, and support for children. It is also the first and foremost school of life, uniquely suited to teach children integrity, character, morals, responsibility, service, and wisdom…. The state’s foremost obligation… is to respect, defend, and protect the family as an institution.”

Little wonder that the family is the great determinant of development, as seen most clearly in those societies most in need of development. The Regional Conference on the Family in Africa declared:

“[As] the basic and most fundamental unit of society, a dynamic unit engaged in an intertwined process of individual and group development,… the African family [is] at the core of society [and] needs to be strengthened as part of Africa’s development process…. The centrality, uniqueness and indispensability of the family in society [are] unquestionable.”

In the case of Asia, the family’s decisive role was obvious to Nobel laureate Gary Becker. Notwithstanding the recent “revolutionary alterations” affecting societies around the world, noted Becker, Asians have managed to maintain “a strong reliance on the family. I think there is a connection there—not yet proven by economists, but I believe some day it will be proven that there is a connection—between the rapidity of the Asian economic growth and the fact that they have had this very powerful attachment to the family.”

Always and everywhere it is the same: “The family is the ultimate foundation of every civilization known to history,” observed historian Will Durant. Perhaps Alex Haley said it best: “The family is our refuge and our springboard; nourished on it, we can advance to new horizons. In every conceivable manner, the family is link to our past, bridge to our future.”

How does the family provide the bridge to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals? This book provides definitive and timely answers as we seek to transform our world for a brighter future. Read on.