Social Cohesion in a Shifting World  
GDN-OECD Development Centre Joint Policy Dialogue, New Delhi

Economic development in the last two decades has been characterized by a major realignment of the global economy towards emerging and developing countries – a phenomenon dubbed ‘shifting wealth’, and well documented in the first edition of the OECD Development Centre’s Perspectives on Global Development report. Economic and social transformations during a period of fast growth, however, bring new stresses and strains with which governments have to cope – rising income inequalities, structural transformation, and the need to meet citizens’ rising expectations of standards of living and access to opportunity, as an emerging middle class increasingly, compares itself with peers in advanced economies. But higher incomes, better health and improved education do not automatically translate into higher life satisfaction. In this context, strengthening social cohesion becomes a critical policy objective.

The recently held joint Policy Dialogue between Global Development Network (GDN) and the OECD Development Centre, on 15 October 2012, in New Delhi provided an opportunity to hear and discuss perspectives on global development with relation to ‘Social Cohesion in a Shifting World’ – the 2nd edition of the report.

Speakers at the Dialogue included Mario Pezzini, Director of the OECD Development Centre; Shailaja Chandra, Vice President of Initiatives for Change-Centre for Governance, a think tank which supports policy research and social reform; Silvia Hernández Sánchez, Deputy Minister of National Planning and Economic Policy, Costa Rica; and Alan Hirsch, Deputy Director General, Economic Policy, Department of Monitoring and Evaluation, Presidency of South Africa, who discussed the report in the context of their regions.

Chaired by GDN President Pierre Jacquet, the discourse afforded an occasion to explore how policies need to be reassessed and reshaped so as to build cohesive societies by fostering social inclusion, social capital and social mobility, the headline indicators of assessment of the state of social cohesion in a country.

Mario Pezzini opened the discussion by elaborating on the afore-mentioned indicators and presenting an overview of the OECD Report. He remarked that fostering social cohesion is a long term goal, because it involves not only caring for the excluded, but also shaping opportunities and affecting key policy changes. These include fiscal and tax design, migration, employment, social protection, education reforms, and gender equality, amongst others, through civil participation, capacity and accountability. “The thrust should not only be on what you do, but also on how you do it”, asserted Mario Pezzini.

Shailaja Chandra mentioned that in a country as diverse as India through language, religion, ethnicity and class, social cohesiveness is a crucial factor in ensuring that the country progresses as a whole. However, rampant corruption, gender inequality, poverty and illiteracy are a serious impediment in promoting social cohesiveness given the country’s already diverse population. She asserted that the government has to, on a case-by-case basis work out strategies and programs that can effectively and efficiently address these problems so that more people get included in the government’s development schemes, thereby contributing to social cohesiveness through social inclusion.

Costa Rica has done reasonably well with respect to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). But to ensure long term and greater social cohesion, Silvia Hernández Sánchez highlighted that social cohesion should be a critical policy objective at both territorial and local level. As a next step, she stressed on the need for forging a global partnership for development to ensure social cohesiveness at the country and global level. Her recommendations included the promotion of green planning for cities and the involvement of large segments of the society, including civil society, private sector and academia. The latter, she stressed, would help build trust and shared ownership, leading to balanced benefits.

Alan Hirsch presented his views in relation to South Africa. In many respects, and as one of the leaders amongst developing countries, South African achievements after only 18 years of democracy are impressive. Nevertheless, South Africa has, over the years, displayed symptoms of weak social cohesion through violent protests, for instance the recent Marikana miner’s strike. Rising unemployment and income disparities, and hostility towards immigrants from other parts of Africa have further added to the predicament. Alan Hirsch asserted on the “need to directly confront the threats to social cohesion and eliminate them at source” as governments which ignore questions of social cohesion risk having to face social instability and undertake ineffective policy interventions.

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