UNESCO Social and Human Sciences
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International Conference on Poverty and Social Exclusion
San José, Costa Rica
28-30 January 1997


In the framework of the 'Management of Social Transformations' (MOST) programme of UNESCO, the National Commission of Costa Rica for UNESCO, the Netherlands National Commission for UNESCO, the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO) (Costa Rica) and the University of Utrecht (Netherlands) with the assistance of the Ministry of Foreign Relations and Culture and the Office of Dona Josette Althmann Figueres, the First Lady of Costa Rica, organized a conference entitled 'Poverty and Social Exclusion' in San José, Costa Rica, from 28 to 30 January 1997.

This Conference brought together fourteen Latin American experts on poverty. It was also attended by a representative from the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA), who presented a paper, and by four well-known European researchers in this area. The quality of the conference papers and the subsequent discussions was very high.

The First Lady of Costa Rica, Dona Altmann de Figueres, opened the Conference and a keynote speech was given by the second Vice-President of Costa Rica, who presented the country's national programme against poverty.

Apart from the experts who presented papers, the Conference was attended by 40 to 50 representatives from governmental and non-governmental organizations in Costa Rica and Central America who participated actively in the discussions. Representatives of CEPAL, the World Bank, UNICEF and UNESCO also attended the Conference.

The Conference had good publicity coverage from the Costa Rican press and television as well as by the Dutch Radio Nederland.

The Conference has resulted in a document which contains conclusions and recommendations of an innovative character. One of the important conclusions is that economic affluence resulting from neo-liberalistic politics on the macrolevel, not only in Latin America but also in Europe, no longer trickles down, as it did in earlier decades, to the wider population but remains in the hands of a very few. In fact, in Latin America, poverty increased from 30% in the 1980s to about 60% in recent years. In Europe, the number of poor people has presently risen to 50 million. For Africa, it was again obvious that the situation remains problematic and that the change of regime in South Africa does not stimulate economic development of the surrounding countries at the present time. Today's world is confronted with poverty as a major social problem. It was argued that in this perspective the existing paradigms are exhausted on the level of theory and research as well as on that of policy-making and practices. What is needed is a new interdiscipliary paradigm. Therefore, the final document of the Conference proposes a programme of futher research within the framework of the MOST programme, it recommends the creation of a network of researchers and policy-makers in the area of poverty studies and it proposes to create a databank on policy studies, practical projects, research groups and best practices.

Other recommendations, which were discussed but were not included in the document because it was decided to focus on the MOST programme, were:

1. the development of an early warning system with respect to the risk of countries and/or social classes being stricken by poverty, with the help of indicators, not of poverty as such, as this is already well covered, but of trends which may lead to poverty;

2. the development of a programme for the preservation of the 'social heritage' of mankind, that is to say of present and past examples of good practice;

3. the establishment of a UNESCO Chair, linked with a UNESCO Unitwin network on social transformations and process of inclusion and exclusion in Costa Rica, i.e. at FLACSO.

The results of the Conference will be presented by the Dutch representative at the meeting of the MOST Intergovernmental Council in June 1997 and the Netherlands and Costa Rica will together present the results of the Conference at the Twenty-ninth session of the UNESCO General Conference in October/November 1997.

The Conference papers will be published in Spanish and made available at the UNESCO General Conference and a state of the art overview of the issue will be presented as a MOST policy paper.

As a follow-up to this meeting an international conference on poverty will be organized by the Netherlands National Commission in September 1997. A further publication with a selection of contributions to both conferences will be published on the Internet via the MOST Clearing House and in book format.

Pobreza, Exclusión y Política Social edited by Rafael Menjívar Larín, Dirk Kruijt, Lieteke van Vucht Tijssen, 1997 (Spanish)

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