Social development refers to the integration of improvements in human welfare with economic development and widespread participation in the process and benefits of development. While the notion of social development provides a useful complement to economic-oriented development, it has been criticized as utopian, wide-ranging, and theoretically underdeveloped. After summarizing major conceptualizations of social development, this paper focuses on a particular social development issue—investment in human development. Specifically, investment in human development refers to investments in basic needs such as nutrition, primary health care, and basic housing; and investments in human capital in the form of primary education and skills training. In addition to the intrinsic value of the fulfillment of basic human needs and increases in human capital, we suggest that investments in human development have substantial social and economic returns.
Certainly this is not the only way to conceptualize social development, but it is an approach that may be productive. Given the state of theoretical underdevelopment in the field of social development, the process of specifying testable propositions as demonstrated in this paper might serve as a model for the systematic investigation of other social development issues. Testable propositions are building blocks that can bring discipline and greater research productivity to social development scholarship.