Back to the Future:


Projects & Project Management

to Meet Basic Human & Social Needs

or Malthus and Maslow Revisited!



By David L Pells

Addison, Texas, USA


In the northern hemisphere, this is harvest time, the Autumn season when crops are harvested, children return to schools, thanksgiving celebrations are held and families begin preparations for the winter months.  Shopping for food and clothing is common; elections are held; governments reconvene; routines are renewed throughout modern society.  This is the world that many of us live and work in.  But it is not the reality for much of the world’s population.

According to a report from the US General Accountability Office on 29 October 2009, the number of undernourished people worldwide now exceeds 1 billion.  According to the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization, in sub-Saharan Africa 1 out of every 3 persons is undernourished or starving.  [1]  While the UN, the World Bank, many governments and many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are trying to address global hunger, the problem is not being solved very rapidly, and not quickly enough for those who are starving.  Is this due to rapid population growth (e.g. Malthusian projections?), lack of global coordination, regional politics, or other reasons?

Population growth and acute poverty result in more than just hunger; many people are homeless or otherwise without shelter.  Many do not have clothing, healthcare for themselves or their children, personal safety or security, education and other basic services.  For a huge percentage of the global population, basic human needs are going unmet.  The developed world is beginning to help, but developing economies and nations continue to struggle with these twin problems – population growth and poverty. For some countries, population growth is leveling out, as education has become more available, as birth control increases and fertility rates decline, women enter the work force, and standards of living begin to increase – however slightly.  According to The Economist news magazine, fertility rates are dropping rapidly in some parts of the world and “the population problem is solving itself”. [2]

So what does this have to do with project management?

Over the last 18 months, I have given a lot of thought to new industries where projects and project management are bound to grow, representing future opportunities for project management and project managers.  Several of those exciting new areas of application have been featured in previous editorials in this publication, for example, nanotechnology [3], future energy [4], earth sciences and climate control [5].

It has now occurred to me, however, that much older industries might actually offer even bigger opportunities for project management to grow and to have a major impact on society.  That is, industries that provide basic human products and services such as agriculture, food production, water, housing, basic medical care, basic energy, education and other basic services represent enormous future demand for projects and project management.  In order to address the needs of 20-30% of the world’s population, massive investments in these industries will be required.  Literally all of that investment is likely to be in the form of programs and projects, many financed by international institutions and governmental bodies.  All 1of those programs and projects will need PM.

In order to fully appreciate this topic, however, some historical perspective is needed and some global trends revisited.


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Editor’s note: Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English.  Original publication acknowledged; authors retain copyright.  This paper was originally published in the PM World Today eJournal in November 2009.  It is republished here with the author’s permission.

How to cite this paper: Pells, D. L. (2023, 2009). Back to the Future: Projects & Project Management to Meet Basic Human & Social Needs or Malthus and Maslow Revisited! Originally published in PM World Today in November 2009, republished in the PM World Journal, Vol. XII, Issue IV, April 2023. Available online at https://pmworldjournal.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/04/pmwj128-Apr2023-Pells-projects-and-pm-to-meet-basic-human-needs-2nd-ed-1.pdf

About the Author

David L. Pells

Managing Editor, PMWJ
Managing Director, PMWL


 David L. Pells, PMI Fellow, HonFAPM, ISIPM, PMA, is Managing Editor and publisher of the PM World Journal (www.pmworldjournal.com) and Managing Director of the PM World Library (www.pmworldlibrary.net). David is an internationally recognized leader in the field of professional project management with more than 40 years of experience on a variety of programs and projects, including engineering, construction, energy, defense, transit, technology and nuclear security, and project sizes ranging from thousands to billions of dollars. He occasionally acts as project management advisor for U.S. national laboratories and international programs, and currently serves as an independent advisor for a major U.S. national security program.

David Pells has been an active professional leader in the United States since the 1980s, as founder and president of several PMI chapters, founder of PMI’s first SIG (Project Earth), and member of the PMI board of directors twice.  He was founder and chair of the Global Project Management Forum (1995-2000), an annual meeting of leaders of PM associations from around the world. David was awarded PMI’s Person of the Year award in 1998 and Fellow Award, PMI’s highest honor, in 1999. He is also an Honorary Fellow of the Association for Project Management (APM) in the UK; the Instituto Italiano di Project Management (ISIMP) in Italy; and Project Management Associates (PMA) in India.

Former managing editor of PM World Today, he is the creator, editor and publisher of the PM World Journal (ISSN: 2330-4880).  David has a BA in Business Administration from the University of Washington and an MBA from Idaho State University in the USA.  He has published widely and spoken at conferences and events worldwide.  David lives near Dallas, Texas and can be contacted at editor@pmworldjournal.com.

To see other works by David Pells, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/david-l-pells/