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U.N. Human Development Report lead author discusses state of the world

Pedro Conceição, director of the United Nations Development Programme’s Human Development Report Office, shared insights from Human Development Report findings during a fireside chat at Duke.

Is the world in crisis? This question served as the theme for a fireside chat with Pedro Conceição, director of the Human Development Report Office (HDRO) at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and lead author of the Human Development Report, and Anirudh Krishna, Edgar Thompson Distinguished Professor of Public Policy in Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy.

The event, hosted by the Duke Center for International Development (DCID) and the South-North Scholars on March 22, explored findings from the UNDP’s Human Development Reports, the most recent of which states, “We live in a world of worry.”


“Human development is about expanding the richness of human life rather than simply the richness of the economy,” the HDRO explains on its website. Instead of looking solely at economic growth to assess the development of a country, the UNDP uses the human development approach, focusing on people and their opportunities and choices.

For the first time in the 32 years that the UNDP has been calculating it, the Human Development Index – which measures a nation’s health, education and standard of living – has declined globally for two years in a row. The multiple crises of the past couple of years are halting progress on human development.

The 2021-22 Human Development Report “Uncertain Times, Unsettled Lives: Shaping our Future in a Transforming World,” explains that the world is now faced with an emerging “uncertainty complex,” caused by the desta­bilizing planetary pressures and inequalities of the Anthro­pocene, the pursuit of sweeping societal transformations to ease those pressures, and the widespread and intensi­fying polarization.

“One of the issues that we identified in the report established that people are insecure,” Conceição shared. “Six out of every seven people felt insecure about several aspects of their life.”

The perception of insecurity is linked to a lack of trust. We established a correlation between people feeling insecure and people trusting in others less, Conceição explained. “Less than one in three people trust another. It’s the lowest value of all contrast on record.”

Acknowledging rising inequalities, growing political polarization and mistrust, along with the looming climate crisis, Krishna asked if Conceição sees any rays of hope.

“The good news is that we’re doing most of this to ourselves,” Conceição answered. “This is not inevitable. A lot of the challenges that we’re confronting, both on this context of the way in which we are relating between our planet and the problems of political polarization, are of our own making. It’s not like an asteroid is coming our way and we are powerless. We can make different choices.”

Conceição says the Human Development Reports convey messages of hope and possibility. “It’s the premise of human development that people can eventually figure it out and expand and enlarge human development.”

“To me, one of the most important concepts Dr. Conceiçao hit on was that the climate crisis can be fought in any sector, including business, finance and civil service,” said Durga Sreenivasan ’25, a member of the South-North Scholars.

Anirudh Krishna, Charlie Zong ’23, Durga Sreenivasan ’25, Pedro Conceição, Terry Uranbold ’24
From left: Dr. Anirudh Krishna, Charlie Zong ’23, Durga Sreenivasan ’25, Dr. Pedro Conceição, Terry Uranbold ’24


Conceição shared he’s encouraged by the role of young people, explaining they are “an important asset” and “bring a sense of renewed commitment and purpose to an ideal.”

“I think that young people, typically, are more able to express multiplicity of identities that then enables for a greater space of convergence and collaboration,” Conceição said.

He encouraged the audience of more than 100 students to volunteer and connect with the United Nations’ work, engage in dialogue, and utilize the potential of digital communication, which can be transformational if harnessed in the right way.

“Young people, whether at Duke or around the world, aren’t just a useful perspective on global challenges,” said Charlie Zong ’23, co-founder of South-North Scholars. “The lives we lead and the networks we form are already deciding what outcomes are possible.

“What stood out to me about our conversation with Dr. Conceiçao was the two-way flow of insights that revealed how deeply he understands this important reality. It’s what motivated us to create South-North Scholars, the first global network on sustainable development by and for students, and why we look forward to engaging with DCID and the United Nations to help develop future global leaders.”

“Our expansive discussion with Dr. Conceiçao provided many insights into the workings of the United Nations and many ways we can battle the climate crisis,” added Tsedensodnom “Terry” Uranbold ’24, co-founder of South-North Network. “Having worked with the United Nations on supporting Sustainable Development Goals in Mongolia before, I was able to discuss with Dr. Conceiçao about all the innovative ways we could further expand the work in Mongolia and beyond.”


The fireside chat was part of a two-day campus visit organized by DCID. While visiting Duke University, Conceição met with students in the Master of International Development Policy and Master of Public Policy programs for a discussion on careers with impact institutions like the United Nations, as well as with doctoral students and faculty members about UNDP research and data access.

Pedro Conceição speaking and standing in front of a class
Pedro Conceição speaks in Dr. Bermeo's Economic Growth and Development class.

Conceição also spoke in the Migration Policy and Development class, taught by DCID Lecturing Fellow Kerilyn Schewel, and the Economic Growth and Development class, taught by Associate Professor of Public Policy and Political Science Sarah Bermeo. He discussed the importance of agency, how climate change is likely to impact migration patterns, and showcased the Human Climate Horizons platform, which visualizes the hyperlocal human impacts of climate change and the effects on human security across the world.

About South-North Scholars

South-North Scholars, a network based at Duke University and Duke Kunshan University, provides students and recent graduates around the world with the global knowledge and connections needed to launch thoughtful careers solving humanity’s critical development challenges. Follow South-North Scholars on LinkedIn for updates.

About Duke Center for International Development

The Duke Center for International Development (DCID), a unit within Duke University’s Sanford School of Public Policy, advances international development policy and practice through interdisciplinary approaches to post-graduate education, mid-career training, international advising and research.