UNESCO - United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

07/29/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 07/30/2021 05:31

Cutting Edge | The Infinite Reservoir: Cultural diversity for shaping the future we want

'Development without culture is growth without a soul'

Traditional development policies, tethered to economic growth, were initially guided by the belief that an increase in prosperity would increase human well-being and reduce poverty. By the 1990s, it was clear that a purely growth-oriented approach had deepened economic and social divides within and between countries, thereby jeopardizing social inclusion and the evolution of peaceful and sustainable societies. Burgeoning ecological destruction was leading to worse natural catastrophes and increased global uncertainty. There was a conscious shift towards 'human development', based on the work of Amartya Sen, placing emphasis on widening individuals' choices and expanding freedoms. Within the United Nations system, the Human Development Index was introduced to take into account dimensions such as health and education.

Yet, individuals are not isolated atoms; they work together, cooperate and interact in many ways. It is culture that connects them with one another and makes the development of the individual possible. It is also culture that defines how people relate to the natural environment. It is in this sense that all forms of development, including human development, ultimately are determined by cultural factors. When culture is thus understood as the basis of development, the very notion of cultural policy has to be considerably broadened.

Any policy for development must be profoundly sensitive to and inspired by culture itself. Far from being confined to arts and heritage, participants at the 1982 World Conference on Cultural Policies, Mondiacult, defined culture as: 'the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group, not limited to the arts and letters, and including modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs.' Our Creative Diversity, a report produced by the World Commission on Culture and Development in 1995, stated that 'if the communities of the world are to improve their human development options they must first be empowered to define their futures in terms of who they have been, what they are today and what they ultimately want to be.' Twenty years later, the 2030 Agenda whose, motto is 'the future we want' would echo this spirit.

Culture is 'the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group, not limited to the arts and letters, and including modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs.'

World Conference on Cultural Policies, Mondiacult, 1982

Whilst reaffirming a broad definition of culture, the 2001 UNESCO Declaration on Cultural Diversity gave policy direction to such cultural pluralism for the flourishing of creative capacities that sustain public life. It stated that 'policies for the inclusion and participation of all citizens are guarantees of social cohesion, the vitality of civil society and peace' and that this was best achieved within a democratic framework. Indeed, 'cultural diversity should be defined as the capacity to maintain the dynamic of change in all of us, whether individuals or group' posited the UNESCO 2009 World Report: Investing in Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue, adding a key dimension to the value of pluralism for resilience. Differences between cultures should therefore not be regarded as something to be feared, but as a fundamental trait which enriches us and which should prompt us to engage with the breadth of 'spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features' of the world.

The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, an inspirational agenda 'for the people by the people' adopted in 2015, reflects the evolution of development models that aim to place social considerations on a par with economic ones, and explicitly recognises the power of culture - the first time this role was so clearly defined in an international development agenda. Member States affirmed that 'we acknowledge the natural and cultural diversity of the world and recognize that all cultures and civilizations can contribute to, and are crucial enablers of, sustainable development.' Furthermore, countries pledged to 'foster intercultural understanding, tolerance, mutual respect and an ethic of global citizenship and shared responsibility'.

Culture, being a fundamental trait, does not have a stand-alone goal, but a transversal role contributing to all 17 of the Sustainable Development Goals. Culture is explicitly referenced in relation to education, notably its role in creating the conditions that are conducive to an appreciation of cultural diversity, valorizing all cultures equally in the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Culture also contributes to sustainable tourism that is respectful of local culture, and to the protection of cultural and natural heritage to render human settlements more inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.

Unity in Diversity

The use of culture as the main driver of national visions for development is nothing new. National cultural policies emerged in the late 18th century with the large public museums in Europe. By the 1960s, culture was a rallying call for newly independent countries and the engine of nation-building projects. For example, policies in the Arab States focused on the role of culture for creating identity and building unity. Similarly, in the Caribbean, culture became an important tool of emancipation for the majority of the population that had formerly been enslaved, as coming to terms with one's past is the only way to build the future. In Latin America, cultural priorities were shaped by the political needs of the 1980s and 1990s, when the socio-cultural effects of the transition to democracy were starting to be felt. As a result, cultural policies tended to put greater emphasis on the fight against poverty and exclusion, by reinforcing cultural rights.

For many states, the protection of cultural diversity itself has long been at the heart of many states' visions for their long-term prosperity. For example, since its independence in 1949, Indonesia has adopted the national motto 'Unity in Diversity' based on a 15th century Javanese mantra capturing a shared identity despite the diverse cultures and ethnicities of the 17,000 islands of the archipelago. Similarly, in the Pacific emerging from colonial rule, Samoa's 1960 constitution is grounded on both 'Christian principles and Samoan custom and tradition', in recognition of its past. Over time, other countries have expanded their public policies to embrace the multiple identities of their population. Bolivia was perhaps the first country in 1967 to pass a law providing legal protection of its national folklore, expanding the definition of cultural law (to what we now consider to be intangible cultural heritage), while the 1987 Constitution of Haiti upgraded Haitian Creole to the status of official language alongside French in recognition of its population's heritage.

Indeed, old models of assimilation for nation-building, in which all groups were made homogenous, proved to be neither desirable nor feasible in the pursuit of more inclusive societies. Furthermore, a country's culture is not static. On the contrary, it is dynamic and continually evolving reflecting its history, mores, institutions and attitudes, its social movements, conflicts, migrations and struggles, and the configurations of political power, internally and in the world at large. The world's first national multicultural legislation appeared in Canada only in 1988 when the new Multiculturalism Act recognised cultural diversity as a fundamental feature of Canadian society. The act also recognizes Canada's multicultural heritage, enshrines Aboriginal rights, allows languages other than the official languages, English and French, to be used, and protects minorities' rights to enjoy their cultures.

More recent national cultural policies also value the diversity of culture. For example, Jamaica's 2003 National Cultural Policy laments that 'formal processes have emphasized our European past far more than our African, Indian, Chinese and other heritage,' and states that 'there is the need, especially in the intangible cultural heritage, to focus on the significance of traditional knowledge in the consolidation of communities and the wellness of the general society.' In Chile, following an unprecedented process of Indigenous Consultation carried out with the participation of the nine native peoples and Afro-descendant tribes, the Ministry of Cultures, Arts and Heritage was established in 2017. Referring to 'cultures', in the plural form, marked an important shift not only in recognizing the country's cultural diversity but also creating policy mechanisms to ensure their flourishing. Furthermore, the country began working on a new constitution in July 2021 with a 155-member body representative of the whole country. Whilst a challenge, the diversity of the body - half of whom are women, a minimum of 17 who are indigenous and the youngest being 21 - is seen as a great strength to ensure a more just future in a country of deep inequalities.

Furthermore, at the international level, there have been groundbreaking policy developments, such as the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, established in 2002 as a consultative body of the UN, which was a milestone in the recognition, protection and promotion of cultural diversity, and a great achievement in cultural rights. The adoption of the UNESCO 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO Member States was equally visionary in achieving in more inclusive definition of cultural heritage. It valorised local traditions and know-how, and not just physical manifestations of heritage. Furthermore, it acknowledged that intangible cultural heritage is shared heritage, not bound to a particular territory, and that it is transformed over time.

The Ministry is governed by the principles of cultural diversity, democracy and participation, cultural recognition of indigenous peoples, respect for the freedom of creation and social valuation of creators and cultural practitioners, as well as recognition of territorial cultures, respect for the rights of cultural practitioners and creators, and historical memory.

-Ministry of Cultures, Arts and Heritage of Chile

Culture: the dynamic for change

Cultural diversity - harnessed appropriately - nurtures dialogue and mutual understanding and develops new models of citizenship, by providing access to meaningful knowledge. Local cultural codes can be a source of social cohesion and peace, including in countries that have experienced social strife. Chad's national development plan aims to reinforce 'national cohesion through cultural rehabilitation and the restoration of ancestral values'. Pakistan's 2018 cultural policy, for example, recognises cultural diversity as a 'unifying bond' to overcome inter-communal tensions. Mauritius - a kaleidoscope of ethnic and religious groups - attributes its high ranking in the Global Peace Index to respect for cultural diversity. In its 2019 Voluntary National Review (VNR), submitted to the United Nations as part of monitoring towards the Sustainable Development Goals, it states that the country 'is a sovereign democratic state island of approximately 1.3 million people of different race, culture and faith, living in a spirit of unity, mutual respect and tolerance. These values have upheld the process of nation building.'

As well as a vehicle for social cohesion, cultural diversity is a source for sustainable livelihoods and economic growth, drawing on unique intangible cultural heritage and a diversity of cultural expressions. Morocco's Vision 2020, for instance, aims to consolidate cultural tourism by organizing festivals dedicated to the arts and artistic heritage expressions. Meanwhile, Panama's initiative called 'Ruta Afro', a touristic route linking the Afro-Panamanians communities, not only gives their culture more visibility but also provides employment opportunities. Brunei Darussalam's One Village One Product policy focuses on community-based cultural tourism through the promotion of handicrafts and intangible cultural heritage. Peru is also capitalising on cultural diversity through the recently launched Pact for Culture to boost its culture sector, aimed at protecting the country's heritage, as well as promoting its cultural industries.

Culture also defines how people relate to nature and their physical environment, to the earth and to the cosmos. The indigenous Quechua cosmovision centred on humanity as an integral part of the natural and social environment - 'sumak kawsay' or 'well-being' - was integrated into the Constitution of Ecuador in 2008, making it the first country to recognize rights to nature in its constitution. In the Pacific Small Island Developing States, cultural heritage is characterised by strong interlinkages between people and nature, which is mainly expressed through intangible cultural heritage. The Federated States of Micronesia, for example, highlights in its 2020 VNR how this sense of guardianship of some of the richest biodiversity in the world, coupled with strong and diverse traditions, positions the country to conserve both natural heritage and social heritage simultaneously. Hungary too, in its 2012 Constitution, couples culture and the environment, aiming for the 'preservation and protection of material, intellectual and natural resources' for future generations: one of only a few documents around the world that articulates the principles of the rights of future generations to this legacy.

Local and indigenous knowledge is, in fact, increasingly vital to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss, as the cultures of the world's 350 million indigenous peoples worldwide are inextricably linked to the natural world. Indigenous knowledge, although relatively new to climate science, has been long recognized as a key source of information and insight in domains such as agroforestry, traditional medicine, biodiversity conservation, impact assessment, and natural disaster preparedness and response. Both the 1992 Convention on Biodiversity and the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement call upon states to respect, preserve, maintain and draw upon traditional and indigenous knowledge for relevant socio-economic and environmental policies.

Furthermore, a large percentage of the world's 7,000 language are indigenous, each of which reflects a unique world view and knowledge system. The objective of the Decade of Indigenous Languages 2022-2023 is to protect and promote these languages. In recognition that indigenous peoples hold a rich diversity of living heritage, including practices, representations, expressions, knowledge and skills, the UNESCO 2003 Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage provides an in-road for indigenous peoples to shape the international heritage discourse and ensure that their experiences are taken into account.

Cities, museums and media: hubs for cultural diversity and global citizenship

Cities, museums and media help shape and expand new knowledge but also enhance ways of living together. They are privileged spaces for the appreciation of cultural diversity. By 2050, 70% of the global population will live in cities, where the greatest diversity can be found. The mixing of lifestyles and forms of expression can be both a source of creation and innovation. Consolidating social integration with respect for ethnic and cultural diversity, and yet encouraging them to blossom, is a major public policy challenge. Mirroring global development trends, throughout the 1980s, in Western Europe and North America, urban cultural policies were designed to serve mainly economic objectives.

The UN-endorsed 2016 New Urban Agenda fully acknowledges that 'culture and cultural diversity are sources of enrichment for humankind and provide an important contribution to the sustainable development of cities, human settlements and citizens, empowering them to play an active and unique role in development initiatives.' In fact, culture, creativity, heritage and pluralism are referred to some 35 times in the Agenda. The diversity of the urban context has led to the burgeoning of new actors, particularly in civil society. It has opened up new cultural spaces and opportunities to celebrate cultural diversity, for example, through festivals. Furthermore, new ideas, concepts and tools - such as Creative Cities and the Historic Urban Landscape - have emerged, enriching approaches for more liveable places.

It is also culture that defines a city as what the ancient Romans called the 'civitas' - a coherent social complex, the collective body of citizens, as suggested in UNESCO's 2016 publication Culture: Urban Future. Physical cultural heritage provides multiple layers of meaning whilst cultural expressions provide vehicles for collective identity. The 2011 UNESCO Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape encourages local decision-makers to adopt participatory planning and stakeholder consultations on what values to protect for transmission to future generations and to determine the attributes that carry these values. The UNESCO Creative Cities Network - through its seven creative fields - reinforces the dialogue that is indispensable for development. The Creative Cities are searching for innovative solutions to meet the needs of the most vulnerable populations, including housing, mobility, access to public space and cultural life. For example, in the Medina of Tunis - a World Heritage site, and a Creative City of Crafts and Folk Art - the Association for the Protection of the Tunis Medina has co-designed with the local authorities an ambitious programme to reclaim slum housing and restore historical buildings. The annual Crafts Fair and the Medina Festival also attract tens of thousands of visitors per year in celebration of the medina's cultural diversity.

Furthermore, 'public spaces can create the environment to dispel the myths and destructive stereotypes associated with migration by fostering public debate about the varied and overwhelmingly positive contributions of migrants to the local communities,' as noted in the 2016 Barcelona Declaration on Public Spaces. A cultural approach to urban planning renews notions of the 'right to the city' for the common good. To tackle racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia and other societal ills resulting from social transformations including rapid urbanization, human mobility, and rising inequalities, UNESCO launched the International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities in 2004. The seven reginal and national coalitions collaborate to advance inclusive urban development free from all forms of discrimination through policymaking, capacity-building to awareness-raising activities. An example of an event that brings people together in the public space is UN Jazz Day, initiated by UNESCO, which celebrates jazz and its origins in the battle for human rights and civil rights in US, as well as its roots in Africa and the Caribbean.

The world's 104,000 museums are also of 'great importance for all societies, for intercultural dialogue among peoples, for social cohesion, and for sustainable development, society and as a factor in social integration and cohesion', as highlighted in the UNESCO 2015 Recommendation concerning the protection and promotion of museums and collections, their diversity and their role in society. Yet, some studies suggest that they are not always welcoming to diverse populations due to ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation and identity, socioeconomic background, education level, physical ability, political affiliation and religious beliefs. For example, a 2017 study in the US found that racially and ethnically diverse visitors, as well as young people, were more likely to believe that cultural organizations were 'not for people like me'. Many museums can invest more in their potential to promote cultural diversity and in valorising the diversity of cultures.

Some museums around the world are coming up with innovative ways to reach marginalised populations, fulfilling their role as public spaces for reflection and debate on historical, social, cultural and scientific issues. A project in Edo Museum of West African Art, in Benin City in Southern Nigeria, due to open in 2025, intends to develop a shared understanding of the cultural heritage of the sub-region, contributing to the continent's 'cultural renaissance'. Opened in 1982, the National Museum of Popular Cultures in Mexico's stated purpose is to be 'an open door to the cultural diversity of ancestral traditions and new proposals of cultural manifestations… that promote respect for the cultural pluralism that characterizes our country.' Meanwhile, France has developed a model of mobile and low-cost digital museums called 'micro-folies' to improve social accessibility, whilst the Norway National Museum Network for Minorities and Cultural Diversity brings together over 20 museums to organize travelling exhibitions or the training of people of minority backgrounds to increase access to culture and inclusion of minorities in the respective institutions.

Media and digital technologies are also vehicles for sharing cultural content. The UNESCO 2018 Re|Shaping Cultural Policies report found that watching television and listening to radio are such widespread cultural activities that they are indispensable to inform people about diverse cultural expressions and to ensure their human right to cultural participation. Yet, there is a risk of concentration of media and a homogenization of expressions, leaving many voiceless. Therefore, it is vital to develop media pluralism, by expanding access and ensuring regulatory frameworks that help create media which are representative of evolving societies. Furthermore, promoting media literacy training and developing cultural literacy is vital, particularly for professionals to become sensitive to diversity and avoid the pitfalls of discriminating, stigmatising and stereotyping.

Global internet use penetration now stands at 53.6%, which means that nearly half of the world is still unable to partake in global online conversations, particularly women and people with disabilities, undermining fundamental rights. Furthermore, there is a vast linguistic divide in cyberspace today - with 77% of the internet in just 10 languages - that will only exacerbate the digital divide, as individuals and communities are marginalized. The UNESCO 2003 Recommendation concerning the Promotion and Use of Multilingualism and Universal Access to Cyberspace proposes measures fostering universal access to digital resources and services, and facilitating the preservation of their cultural and language diversity. Through algorithms, there is also a danger that, far from expanding choices, digital technologies and artificial intelligence can lead to a homogenization of access to cultural expressions.

UNESCO is leading a global discussion on how to address issues around transparency, accountability and privacy on artificial intelligence. A global framework for regulating artificial intelligence containing action-oriented policy chapters on a variety issues, including culture, is set to be adopted later this year. The positive news is that communities are also using digital platforms to share and transmit their intangible heritage, as was particularly observed during the pandemic.

The ultimate renewable resource

Throughout the ages, culture has been the deep reservoir of innovation and creativity: the ultimate renewable resource. Yet, now more than any other time in history, the challenges we face are interlocked, multifaceted and indisputably global. Fragmented communities, rising inequalities, contemporary complex forms of conflict, coupled with the climate crisis and technological transformation are causing such upheaval that societies will only be able to overcome global challenges through enhanced diversification and tapping into cultural diversity, which is only possible if all cultures are equally valued.

In the globalised world, the modern State is resolutely and irreversibly multicultural. To ensure unity in diversity and avoid social fragmentation and tensions, public policies must build inclusive societies - embracing the diversity of all citizens regardless of race, origin and gender - while ensuring respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in a democratic environment. Institutional developments at country-level over the past decade - including new ministries of culture and the protection of cultural diversity in legal documents, such as constitutions - bears witness to this aspiration of many societies. Therefore, it is imperative for the State to guarantee respect for cultural diversity by designing policies that valorize cultural diversity as a positive resource for progress and not instrumentalised to sow division.

Harnessing cultural diversity requires for States to adapt their policy instruments and build more comprehensive policies, encompassing the wider policy spectrum. By reviewing their policy tools and instruments, countries would be better adapted to today's multicultural societies that are knowledge-driven by creating the conditions that are conducive to mobilizing the ingenuity of all segments of society. Furthermore, this approach would provide opportunities for all citizens to engage and to contribute, building true global citizenship by equipping individuals with the capacities to make change in the society in which they live and for them to expand their development pathways.

Ensuring a flourishing of culture will propel new, more human-centred, models of economies and societies that build on and invest in human capabilities. When you invest in culture, you invest in human capital. Harnessing the power of culture is not limited to economic models but across the public policy spectrum from education, health, digital development, ecological transition and employment. Greater interdependence, but also diversification, are necessary for sustainable development. The spirit of the 2030 Agenda is that one size does not fit all. Only culture can bridge the gap between global ambitions and local solutions, as culture offers new platforms for dialogue between decision-makers and citizens. 2021 marks the first steps on the road to the UN Decade of Action to boost progress toward the achievement of the SDGs. Back in 1994, The World Commission on Culture and Development decried that 'our social and political imagination has not kept pace with our scientific and technological imagination.' This observation is now more pertinent than ever. Now is the time to place culture at the heart of development strategies, using our creative diversity.