Priority activity areas


The secular moral lens empowers us to view, understand, and reconceive relief and development beyond:

  • utilitarian cost-benefit approaches
  • political economy frameworks, and
  • the prevailing view that human nature is entirely self-interested and self-serving.

A meaningful values-based discourse - leading to results-based positive relief and development outcomes, can be achieved by exposing practitioners to:

  • the sophisticated and pragmatic range of secular moral and ethical frameworks available, and
  • robust ways to measure, evaluate, and weigh the unavoidable trade-offs in normative terms

Such a discourse, if regularly incorporated in relief and development, builds a community of practice committed to achieving increased levels of respect for universal, equal human dignity for all persons everywhere.


Ethical assessment and awareness-raising in a development context opens new and pragmatic opportunities to design, implement, measure, evaluate, and discuss:

  • outputs and outcomes, and
  • means and ends

There is nothing arbitrary, impractical, or superfluous about enlisting the insights, guidance, and recommendations that arise from the application of development ethics to all aspects of international relief and development.


The shared search for better outcomes, more sustainable solutions, and morally-defensible trade-offs would benefit from:

  • people who are trained and experienced in applying secular moral and ethical insights and approaches to development challenges, and
  • development ethics insights – on a case by case basis – to transform dilemmas into opportunities

Consulting services and staff training are provided on any aspect of international relief and development practice, and on any specific policy, program, or project-based activities. We train practitioners at all levels in how to carry out normative aspects of their work – in projects in the field and in the operations of the practitioner’s office. In the process, we assist practitioners to significantly improve the quality of their professional practice.

Risk mitigation

Moral dilemmas are not uncommon in international relief and development, and the range of morally defensible answers may often be uncomfortably narrow.

In most cases, international relief and development ultimately depends on political decision-making affecting the expenditure and distribution of scarce taxpayers' or philanthropic funding. Associated decisions may be hard to reconcile with probable negative—but unavoidable—outcomes for some decisions.

The Center counsels decision-makers in how best to:

  • apply normative parameters to arrive at morally and politically justifiable choices, and
  • articulate these deliberations to assure stakeholders that hard choices were made with appropriate care, diligence, and moral reasoning.

All over the world people are struggling for lives that are worthy of their human dignity.
Martha Nussbaum, American philosopher and Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago

The Center for Values in International Development
1140 Connecticut Ave NW #900
Washington, DC 20036
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