Some Reflection of Commission for Social Development 52nd Session

Today is the third day of the Commission for Social Development and despite yet another snow storm in New York the UN is open. Today’s agenda focuses on the United Nations plans and programmes of action pertaining to the situation of social groups – persons with disabilities, youth, aging and the family.  It is the 20th anniversary of the International Year of the Family.  If you are interested in following specifically any of these groups because your ministry is centered around building capacity and creating enabling and empowering environments for any of these groups please look at the Secretary Generals Reports as they relate to your specific social group.  You can access the documents here in English, Spanish and French.

Tomorrow Friday there will be a high level panel on the social drivers of sustainable development.  The concept note is in English, French and Spanish Concept note   A few points that I would like draw your attention to.  The new development agenda known as the ‘Post 2015 Development Agenda’ seeks the integration of  economic growth, social justice and environmental stewardship. The discussion of sustainable development has tended to focus on environmental sustainability while neglecting the social dimension. Integration calls for clarifying what the social dimensions are and how they can be addressed.  The concept note in paragraph two refers to social conditions that influence processes of change.  Another term is ‘social drivers’.  What are these ‘social drivers’ in your experience?   They are social structures that shape people’s behavior and opportunities.  These social structures also affect the capacity of individuals and groups to influence change.   Social drivers are about how individuals and groups respond and adapt to circumstances, including how they cope and organize in defense of their interests or their rights. Remember the ‘Arab Spring’, or the ‘Occupy’ movement.  Yesterday I heard Mr Abdul-Kareem Al Eryani, former PM of Yemen, Club de Madrid Member remembering how the Arab Spring began in Tunisia which was one of the best countries in the region economically. Marginalized people were the leaders and women took a significant role.  There was a 10 month period of national dialogue.  Mr Abdul-Kareem Al Eryani noted that when human dignity is violated people are not content. Economic development without social development leads to conflict and tension.   The former Prime Minister went on to say that sustainable development must be balanced with good governance and implementation of human rights.  The Club of Madrid promote the idea of ‘shared societies’. Social development is as critical as economic development.  The mega programmes of the 20th century based on ‘trickle down effect’ to end poverty have not worked. People have not been empowered.

What about class, ethnicity, gender and location (rural vs urban) both informal and formal institutions, including the norms and values that pattern behaviour, and the way people and organizations interact in networks. Here I think back to the panel I moderated at the Civil Society forum and the experience shared my Mr. Jose Nunez  (See posting on February 11 and the presentation of Fabio Palacio posted on February 12)  Some tweets of February 11 quoting from Jose Nunez illustrate the point.  “Just accessing social protection can be disempowering because of ‘put downs’…  Giving people money is not enough …it’s not transformative… I believe that without empowerment we cannot end poverty…True empowerment is about how you carry yourself not how much you own… Empowerment is not about making more money or having more power than someone else.”

In our Good Shepherd Statement to the Commission for Social Development we quoted the following definition of empowerment “Empowerment happens when individuals and organized groups are able to imagine their world differently and to realize that vision by changing relations of power that have kept them in poverty, restricted their voice and deprived them of their autonomy.” (Rosalind Eyben’s paper in Pathways Policy Paper Brighton, 2011)  This definition places empowerment squarely in the minds and hearts of persons and communities living in poverty, seeking a proper balance between enhancing their own sense of agency and making the structural changes to institutions and policies that are needed for emancipation. What do you think of the three aspect of power, ‘power within’, ‘power to’, and ‘power with’ as elaborated in our statement?  How do we facilitate structural and systemic change?  Our direction statement of 2009 called us to  “confront unjust systems and take a “corporate stance” when appropriate.”

See paragraph 52 of Pope Francis’s Apostolic Exhortation Click here Page 44 “In our time humanity is experiencing a turning point in its history, as we can see from the advances being made in so many fields.  We can only praise the steps being taken to improve people’s welfare in areas such as health care, education and communications.  At the same time we have to remember that the majority of our contemporaries are barely living from day to day, with dire consequences.  A number of diseases are spreading.  The hearts of many people are gripped by fear and desperation, even inn the so-called rich countries.  The joy of living frequently fades, lack of respect for others and violence are on the rise, and inequality is increasingly evident.  it is a struggle to live and, often, to live with precious little dignity.  This epochal change has been set in motion by the enormous qualitative, quantitative, rapid and cumulative advances occurring in the sciences and in technology, and by their instant application in different areas of nature and life. We are in an age of knowledge and information, which has led to new and often anonymous kinds of power.”

The commission for Social Development and the Post 2015 Development Agenda in its multiple discussions are desiring to analyze and  understand these ‘anonymous kinds of power’ that have created growing inequalities and the empowerment of peoples.

IMG_1967Read the statement of the Chair of the NGO Committee for Social Development (Margaret Mayce) to the Commission.  Access statement by clicking here  See in particular page 4 and I quote “In a globalized world too often driven by economic and financial engines, it is easy to lose sight of people, and of the Planet which serves as our one, common home.  When wealth and power are sought as ends unto themselves, there is a the danger that society can be reduced to a collection of nameless, faceless individuals, and the common good is reduced to fit the outcome achievable by private, for profit firms.   The market based approach to development has tended to concentrate wealth in the hands of a few, while countless numbers of our brothers and sisters have seen their economic power, and their real power to influence decisions that affect their lives diminish.  In this regard we turn to the words of Pope Francis, who spoke of “the scandal of poverty in a world of plenty as a piercing moral challenge for the whole human community.”  He continues, “A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table…there must be a new stimulus to international activity on behalf of the poor, inspired by something more than mere goodwill, or worse, promised which all to often have not been kept.” 

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