Discussion: Beyond Poverty Reduction - The challenge of social cohesion in developing countries
The quest is on for solutions to poverty reduction with the approach of the 2015 deadline for the UN Millenium Development Goals (MDG). Many organizations are exploring new avenues for answers, hoping it can lead to fresh ideas. Among the goals agreed to by the international community more than a decade ago was to halve the number of people suffering from hunger, and for the world's poorest citizens to gain productive employment. Most of the targets are far from being met in most countries, but progress has been made, for instance in Sub Saharan Africa where the proportion of people living on less than USD 1.25 a day declined from 58% to 51% between 1990 and 2005.
Ideas exchange on the internet
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) will hold their annual Global Forum on Development in Paris on April 4-5, 2013. This year, the OECD is exploring more inclusive approaches to tackle the poverty issue by inviting to an open pre-forum discussion online with OECD scholars. All the main conversation topics on the agenda are laid out for everyone to see and contribute. Another interesting approach to online ideas exchange is hosted by Concerned African Scholars, an organization of scholars and students of Africa. Among the many issues explored is the impact of the hundreds of billions of dollars flowing illicitly out of Africa on the slow progress of poverty reduction. The author, Janvier D. Nkurunziza, suggests one key to bringing down poverty would be "the repatriation of the resources which are currently held abroad and not benefiting the continent."
Had Africa had not lost so much resources in the form of illicit financial transfers, it is likely that poverty would have been less acute. The logic is that keeping these resources in Africa would have produced higher rates of investment, allowing African countries to invest in productivity enhancing sectors such as infrastructure, creating jobs, and raising incomes, resulting in lower levels of poverty.
In a TEDx talk in UlaanBataar, Mongolia on "Social Media and Poverty Reduction" in September 2012, Robert Reid, the Resident Country Director of the Millennium Challenge Corporation in Mongolia, highlighted the necessity of a broad public participation in poverty reduction projects, stressing the importance of private sector involvement for sustainable development. "It's important that the involvment of the private sector be considered at the beginning of discussions on how to reduce poverty," he says.
This multistakeholder approach is also a key tenet of the open data movement, which is progressively penetrating the development sphere. The Uganda Open Development Partnership Platform, a civil society organization-led public initiative, is an example of what open data could bring to the debate on poverty reduction:
Open development is where organisations are using information technologies, among other information sharing channels, to provide and share information. Open development enhances transparency and accountability about resources that are available to be invested in development, how those resources are invested and what results they achieve. In the end, all the stakeholders involved in this information sharing chain; the data owners and users benefit from this mutually reinforcing ecosystem
The past two decades has seen decreases in both the number of people living in absolute poverty and the rate of poverty in the developing world. This has resulted in part from rapid economic growth, but also from the adoption of active poverty reduction policies, in particular in the framework of the MDGs.
Even though the objective of reducing poverty remains a priority, other social goals need to be tackled today. In this respect, by focusing on three complementary dimensions – social inclusion, social capital and social mobility – social cohesion represents an important challenge for policy makers. While the adoption and rapid propagation of institutional innovations – such as conditional cash transfers, employment guarantee schemes and social savings accounts – have helped to alleviate poverty in many developing countries, they have also contributed to creating fragmented social systems, which can deepen divisions in society.
What should be the priorities of a renewed social cohesion agenda?
What policy mix best addresses the multi-dimensional nature of social cohesion?
What institutional innovations have enhanced the social inclusion and mobility of vulnerable and discriminated populations?
Is the implementation of universal social programmes achievable in developing countries?