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From extreme poverty to human slavery to environmental pollution to civil wars – there are many complex and perplexing issues of our day that are challenging to comprehend and even tougher to solve. In a world where the rich are increasingly separated and insulated from the ugliness of this world, it can be a daunting challenge for sustainable development practitioners to grab the attention of the public for the purpose of gaining political action, financial support, or garnering human compassion.

Developtainment can turn the concerns of sustainable development into ideas the average person can comprehend and act upon. Developtainment is meant to shift the action focus from elites to the public. Developtainment – the use of entertainment to communicate and inspire action for sustainable development – is coming into its own in our digital age. It’s an idea that holds incredible potential for affecting change and creating and better world.

Etymology of developtainment[edit]

The term developtainment is defined by entertainment that is designed specifically to promote sustainable development, whether it be sustainable development related to environmental, social, economic, or cultural objectives. Developtainment can take many forms, from film to video games, television shows to magazines, social media to music, provided the aim is to raise awareness and directly encourage action that is in the public interest, today and for future generations. The goal is to raise the precepts and issues of sustainable development from the musty basement of theory and academic thinking into the light to capture the attention of the public at large. The term developtainment was first coined in 2011 by Ibrahim Alturki, Founder and CEO of Wafi International (a sustainable development consultancy firm in the MEANA region), and an advisor to some of the biggest donors in Saudi Arabia (with endowments totalling more than $35 billion). By developing the concept of developtainment, aims to accomplish the following:

  • Inspire the media to seek out an awareness return on investment (AROI)
  • Motivate philanthropists to achieve a social return on investment (SROI)
  • Encourage government organizations to attain SROI and a return on social happiness (ROSH)
  • Moves investors to reach for financial return on investment (ROI) and SROI

The theory behind developtainment[edit]

While at first blush it may seem like the world of sustainable development and the world of entertainment are two opposing poles along the same continuum, one quintessentially hedonistic and the other quintessentially socialistic, in fact, the two are totally different dimensions that can easily coexist and complement each other to achieve mutually beneficial purposes. Entertainment seeks to create enjoyment while sustainable development seeks to create a better world. Both of these goals can be accomplished in tandem by creating a dynamic overlap between them both. It is at this intersection that we find developtainment. In many ways, developtainment is a similar concept to edutainment, which is a use of entertainment to convey an educational message. Edutainment has been around since the 1970s, having been used for subjects ranging from sexually transmitted diseases to substance abuse to natural wonders by groups such as the National Geographic Society and The Walt Disney Company. In fact, beyond this modern take on edutainment, entertainment has been used for thousands of years as a means of raising knowledge levels on a diverse range of topics. Yet, although developtainment encompasses a strong educational element, it is more than that – it is action that results in promoting a more sustainable world. Though developtainment is a new concept, in some ways, we may find a hint of developtainment in the storytelling of generations past meant to convey sustainable principles to both young and old. Consider the Wizard of Oz tale that functions as a debate about monetary expansion. Or the South American parable of the hummingbird determined to put out a raging fire despite impossible odds, encouraging listeners to do something rather than sitting idle.[1]

Each of these stories has two things in common: It draws the listener or the reader in by telling a tale, and it enlightens the participant by sharing a moral that emphasizes sustainability and encourage real action to change the outcome. Based on this model, as a type of value-based entertainment, developtainment should meet two criteria:

  1. Developtainment should amuse, humour, delight, engage, and otherwise capture the attention of the participants.
  2. Developtainment should increase awareness, provide practical knowledge, and give hands-on opportunities to participants to promote sustainable development principles and practices.

Our theory of developtainment is two-pronged, founded on the belief that combining entertainment with a message of sustainability will be more effective than traditional promotional methods for transferring an interest and concern about sustainable development from high-level development personnel and the elite to the public interest. And that ultimately, developtainment will result in actions that transform our world in tangible, sustainable ways.


  1. ^ Yahgulanaas , Michael (2008). Flight Of The Hummingbird. Greystone Books. ISBN 978-1553653721.