Fundamental human needs and human-scale development

Human scale development is a response to the neoliberalist and structuralist hierarchical development systems in which decisions are made at the top and are directed downwards instead of democratic decisions. It focuses on development by the people and for the people and is founded upon three pillars: fundamental human needs, increasing self-reliance and a balanced interdependence of people with their environment. This system of development gives people a platform for community organizing and democratic decision making to empower people to take part in the planning process to ensure it meets their needs. The fundamental human needs of Max-Neef form the basis of this alternative development system. The following 3 statements are taken as a starting point:

  1. Development is about people and not about things. When it comes to people and not just about things, the gross national product (GNP) cannot be taken as an indicator. Instead it has to be related to the quality of life (QOL). Quality of life depends on the possibilities people have to adequately satisfy their fundamental human needs.
  2. Fundamental human needs are finite, limited in number, and classifiable. This is in contrast to the traditional idea that there are many human needs, and that they are insatiable.
  3. Fundamental human needs are the same in all cultures and in all historical periods.


According to Max Neef the fundamental needs of humans are:

  • Subsistence
  • Protection
  • Affection
  • Understanding
  • Participation
  • Leisure
  • Creation
  • Identity
  • Freedom
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