I am sure economists and aid workers will be able to tell us hundreds of theories, if not thousands: corrupted institutions, lack of human rights, inequality of income and opportunities, poor health & education, and so on.
What I am going to do next is just to share some reflections that I had during some of my stays abroad. Definitely these reflections will be much more humble than any theory we could find in an interesting book or journal.
Attitudes. Although many times forgotten, I think this could play an important role in development. I will explain this with something I was lucky to see:
I was in Trinidad, Cuba. I was just sitting down in a bench, in a plaza, talking to whoever would approach me. Suddenly, the night came, and I was out there alone still in the bench, just enjoying the feeling of being in that town. Two kids, around 10 years old, were passing by when...suddenly...one of them tripped on a stone and fell down.
What was the reaction of the other kid, his friend? Laugh out laudly of course. The boy in the floor was so angry, that he just stood up and started kicking his friend´s ass angrily. Both boys ran away: one making fun, the other one kicking.
Me, as a Latin American (I am from Mexico), this was a normal reaction that any kid would have done. So I wasn´t impressed about anything.
However...some years later...I was in Tokyo, Japan. Just by big coincidence, I was lucky enough to witness the same scene; although of course this time weren´t a couple of cuban boys in Tokyo streets, but a couple of Japanese boys.
In case we forgot the cuban story, I will repeat it again, but this time we can imagine two Japanese boys, around 10 years old, going to school. Both of them had that particular uniform that all kids have in Japan, that makes them look like little sailors. And with those small yellow backpacks.
Anyway, one of the kids tripped on a stone and fell down. What was the reaction of his friend? To laugh like the Cuban guy, or like the Mexican would´ve done it? Nope...it was totally different. The boy that was still standing asked his friend: Daijoobu (are you ok?)?. While he was saying these words, he was stretching his hand to his little friend. The boy in the floor took the hand, said he was ok, and stood up. Both of them continued walking to their school talking. None of them was kicking asses or making fun.
The difference between both situations is very clearly. If this difference of attitude can boost development or not, I don´t know. But for sure I think can be an important factor. While the Latin Americans tend to laugh when the other person is in trouble, the Japanese tend to give a hand.
Maybe if we all change our attitudes a little bit, can make a little bit of development.