29.05.2013 - ODG

Why we need to invest more in culture - People's Daily (China)

It is both a driver and an enabler of sustainable development


By Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO

In 2000, the United Nations set eight goals for human development, which included eliminating extreme poverty, achieving universal primary education and promoting gender equality. Less than two years before the deadline in 2015, it is time to take stock of the situation. The progress made is undeniable, extreme poverty has been halved for example, but in all likelihood the goals will not be reached. We must analyse lucidly the difficulties encountered and rectify what needs to be put right, with a view to adopting a new global strategy for sustainable development after 2015.

For UNESCO, culture lies at the heart of the answer, and its role for sustainable development must be clearly integrated into the new development agenda. Gone are the days when the cultural sector was regarded as recreational with a marginal role in development. Events in the world economy have changed the situation. A new creative economy is emerging, driven by creative industries, cultural tourist sites, cinema and music, which create millions of jobs. China, which has a unique cultural heritage, is well aware of this and has long been committed to its promotion, with 41 sites on the UNESCO World Heritage List – including the famous West Lake Cultural Landscape of Hangzhou. China also has a strong regard for its intangible heritage, its traditions, dances and songs, with some 30 elements also protected by UNESCO, ranging from the movable-type printing technique to Kun Qu Opera. This heritage is not a luxury; it represents potential for outreach and development, providing practical tools to sustain growth and create employment in handicrafts, tourism and creative professions. The establishment of a UNESCO creative cities network in China, connecting the cities of Chengdu, Shanghai, Beijing and Hangzhou, shows the potential of creative industries for supporting urban development, by attracting the artists and creative talents that sustain innovation.

This shift is happening throughout the world, for several reasons. Beyond the economic benefits, valuing culture also means respecting societies and valuing their identities, giving them confidence, strengthening social cohesion and releasing a driving force for development. Cultural property is more than a mere commodity: it can be a tool for collective mobilization, inclusion and dialogue in diverse and mixed societies. This is the case in Indonesia, where cultural diversity is seen as a force of renewal and innovation. It is also the case in Brazil, where the Government has just launched the construction of 360 new arts centres to support jobs and restore a sense of dignity to deprived neighbourhoods.

The culture sector is one of the keys to solving some of the development equations of the future. For we must learn from the partial success of the Millennium Development Goals over the past 15 years and measure the costs of having left culture outside of this global strategy. Programmes undertaken by UNESCO show the extent to which the inclusion of cultural diversity can accelerate the results in the fight for causes such as AIDS treatment and prevention, gender equality and access to education. All the social representations of better living, progress and human development take shape in a specific culture and a particular language. Recognizing and valuing cultural backgrounds means enabling individuals to participate fully in the development programmes, as reflected wisely in the Chinese saying: “tell me and I will forget, show me and I will remember, involve me and I will understand”. The inclusion of culture enables this involvement and is just as important as respect for human rights in the pursuit of an effective, inclusive and sustainable development strategy.

This enhancement of culture reflects a reversal of the development paradigm. It is shaping the rules and skills of the new situation. UNESCO’s cultural conventions provide the tools to protect and increase the attractiveness of world heritage sites, enhance cultural diversity and develop crafts professions, creative industries, music and cinema. They should be promoted more widely so that they may be integrated into local policies. This was in part the focus of the UNESCO international congress “Culture: Key to sustainable development” held in Hangzhou from 15 to 17 May 2013. The link between culture and development has been frequently recognized in resolutions at the highest level. The challenge now is to include this link clearly and explicitly in operational policies and the development agenda. China’s experience and support will be crucial to achieving this.

<- Back to:
Back to top