A presentation by Olu Alake to the seminar on Culture & Sustainable Development, held by the Ministries of Culture and of Planning, Budget & Management as part of the EU-Brazil Sector Dialogues on 21 – 22 May 2013, at Fundacao Cultural Palmares’ Auditorium, Brasilia.
“It is axiomatic that development in any country must proceed simultaneously in all areas of its life. As a country advances economically, equivalent progress must be made in the creation of more highly developed social and political institutions as well…” – Emperor Haile Selassie I (1966)
Case Study 1: Jo N’gala – Culture in Poverty Alleviation.
Allow me the pleasure of introducing to you Jo N’Gala. Jo is a musician from Cameroon, who migrated to London a few years ago. Unfamiliar with the arts scene in the country, Jo was introduced to Cultural Co-operation, an arts and heritage education charity with a mission to “unite people through high quality engagement with the world’s cultural heritage”. Cultural Co-operation runs an Artist Network to facilitate creative collaborations and provide professional support to connect artists excluded to each other and the arts mainstream, and consists of over 300 artists from 80 countries. At the Network, Jo found friendship, a sense of camaraderie with other artists, many of whom he went on to collaborate with professionally, and more importantly, the Network provided opportunities for him to find his feet in his new place of residence.
Joe has recently created his own drum set, a quite unique instrument, he has named the Idio-drum. He just came back from Cameroon, where he has set up a factory which is now employing young people to manufacture the drum set, which he hopes will soon be exporting to countries all over the world. Joe is back in London, working as an artist and with young people, training them on music and cultural entrepreneurial skills.
This example highlights many of the issues which are at the heart of the conversation about culture, diversity and development. Joe is not an isolated case: Cultural Co-operation is a small organisation borne out of the passions of its founder Prakash Daswani and his unstinting belief that there is an awesome power in arts and culture to bring people, communities and societies together in love, peace and harmony, and in the process improve their social as well as economic wellbeing, and can point to several hundred stories similar to Jo’s in its 25 year history.
Too often, we speak of development in this increasingly complex globalised world as a monolithic set of theories and precepts which are beneficently endowed on the poor and powerless by those with more material resources and political leverage. In so doing, we are ignoring at our peril the issues of how people are really living their lives today, mainly in our urban centres, but also increasingly everywhere else. Thanks to modern mass media and contemporary communication systems, the gaps between the urban and rural, the local and global, the regional, national and transnational, are constantly shrinking.
Movement within and between boundaries, is while not easier, certainly taken far more for granted than it has been at any point in our recent history. Diversity is all around us – from the transnationality of the origins of our clothes, to the ubiquity of our musical preferences, the homogenisation of how we consume news and information, and to the people with whom we meet, work, play, love on a daily basis. We can’t choose to ignore it, nor do we need to create it – diversity just is.
Yet, it is surprising that the intrinsic value of culture’s role in the sustainable development effort is still subject to often perplexing debate or oversight. In the most basic of terms, development is about what is or should be done to enable people have a better life, and culture is about how people live their lives. As my grandmother always said, “This world is simple, it is people who are complicated!”
Perhaps one of the main causes of the confusion is the terminology itself, and the different ways in which culture and indeed, cultural diversity is defined in the public sphere. Defining Culture is still one of the easiest ways to start an argument in intellectual circles.
Social development has interestingly been largely defined in transformative terms, The World Bank in particular, referring to it in specific terms of transforming institutions, expounds “…equitable and sustainable development requires tailored responses to a country’s social context and the needs and priorities of poor people…social development is a process of transforming institutions for greater inclusion, cohesion and sustainability with the goal of empowering poor and marginalised men and women”. They further refer to institutions as “the set of formal and informal rules, norms and values that operate within societies”. Therefore, the World Bank is in effect stating that social development is a process of transforming the lives of people on the economic and social margins of society by challenging and reforming the cultures in their societies.
The World Summit for Social Development (Copenhagen 1995) defined the objective of social development in general, and social integration in particular, as the creation of “a society for all”. Similarly, the three operational principles by which the World Bank has guided its approach to social development are Inclusion, Cohesion and Accountability. James Wolfensohn, President of the World Bank, has declared that without concomitant social development there cannot be satisfactory economic development (Wolfensohn,1996). Various recent lines of research have concluded that it is essential to get away from economistic-type reductionist approaches and instead incorporate the political, institutional and cultural dimensions into development thinking. Enrique V.Iglesias, President of the IDB, has expressed the view that development can only be approached in an integral manner, as approaches that address only a single aspect simply do not work (Iglesias, 1997).
It is therefore obvious that the key message to the development community over the past 20 years has been the need to place people first in development processes. As people are innately diverse, inhabiting and being occupied by a range of differences that define who we are and our place in the world, we cannot therefore discuss development without diversity.
Agenda 21’s important report on ‘Local Policies for Cultural Diversity’ synthesised three main domains of cultural diversity, i.e. diversity as size and scale of a dynamic system within the cultural ecology; diversity as involvement of a diversity of actors (public, NGO, private) in the local cultural system, and diversity in anthropological/ethnic terms, which is referring to where people are from, how they are identified or identify themselves and their place and space within a society.
To my mind, there is a distinct nexus between all these – and indeed any other – definitions of culture and it’s mischievous little brother, cultural diversity, – and that is people. Indeed, one of the most important features of the recent Rio+20 conference is found in the way it centres people at the heart of development, rather than institutions or instruments which has been the focal point of too many previous gatherings. Article 6 of the outcome document categorically states that “people are at the centre of sustainable development”. In recognising this, the conference also recognised in Article 56 that there are “different approaches, visions, models and tools available to each country”. Most significant of all is how culture is referred to, especially in recognition of the vital importance of cultural diversity, acknowledging in Article 41 the very existence of diversity and recognising that all cultures and civilisations can contribute to sustainable development, in articles 130 and 131 the importance of investing in cultural tourism and in Article 58, the importance of supporting the preservation of Indigenous Peoples.
It is important to acknowledge that Rio+20 did not happen in isolation – indeed, there was a lot about that summit which would have been frankly, discouraging for cultural practitioners. Over the past 10 years there has been a concerted effort to recognise culture as an integral part of the sustainable development effort, which Rio+20 did not fully appreciate. In this sense, the seminal work of Agenda 21 cannot be understated. UNESCO and the World Bank have increasingly re-assessed their development work in acknowledgement of the incontrovertible and vital role that culture plays in successful development efforts, and have been working on outcome measures that can better equip practitioners to evidence the impact that is being made. There has especially been an acceleration of efforts since 2010, as it became increasingly obvious that meeting the Millennium Development Goals would frankly not be possible without understanding the critical ways in which culture fosters sustainable development and incorporates these lessons in ongoing efforts. Culture is now recognised as being both a driver and an enabler of sustainable development.
Even then, the temptation is still to valorise culture’s contribution to development in simple economic terms. While cultural and creative industries represent one of the fastest-growing sectors of the global economy, the role that culture plays in leading development in non-financial ways including greater social cohesion, innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship for communities and individuals is probably far more important. In many countries across the world, and especially in cities, we are seeing cultural factors influence lifestyles, behaviour, consumption patterns and generation of community action. One of my favourite examples of this is found in Nigeria, a country Brazil has very close historical, and social ties to, with the incredible development and growth of the local film industry, Nollywood.
From an absolute zero base just 15 years ago, this industry has expanded into being the world’s second largest film industry, generating over $286million to the Nigerian economy, despite it being estimated that this represents the half of the profits not lost to piracy. Thousands of new titles are being released every year, and these are being consumed and enjoyed not just in Nigeria, but also all over the world by people from very diverse backgrounds and not just the Nigerian Diaspora.
However, in celebrating Nollywood, the social impact has been vastly under-recognised. I was marvelling on the streets of Nairobi on the other side of Africa about how many shops there were selling Nollywood films, when my Kenyan friend explained how Nollywood is not just big business, but actually changing society. Fashion styles from Lagos are now being transmitted through the films to influence dress-sense all over the continent. And more importantly, so are attitudes. Apparently, East African men are now complaining about their women being so influenced by Nollywood that they have adopted a Lagos-woman mindset: more assertive, more entrepreneurial, and more independent!
Similarly, by indirectly as well as directly engaging with broad social themes, Nollywood has resulted in a resurgence of local indigenous knowledge systems across Africa (which can admittedly present its own set of challenges as well as opportunities), as well as environmental awareness and education. In its global context, the ubiquity of Nollywood in homes across ethnic and racial divides has resulted in a reappraisal of convictions held and assumptions made about Nigeria and Nigerians. So apart from the economic impact of creating new jobs (it is estimated that each film employs 130 people), there is a broader narrative being developed about how Nollywood is being a driver for real global social change.
With the world changing so much, yet in some depressing ways staying the same, it is important for governments to understand and appreciate the way cultural diversity in all its manifestations is shaping their jurisdictions, and accordingly they must plan to utilise it in a positive and inclusive manner. Executing existing strategies which were based on limited paradigms will not be sufficient for them to reach their development goals and they must think more deeply about the opportunities and risks presented by evolving trends.
One of the key evolving trends is in demographic shifts, which are transforming the global workforce and changing the cultural character and composition of many of our cities. Governments and institutions can choose to expend precious energy on futile efforts to preserve an imagined socio-cultural status quo or embrace the change that cultural diversity is presenting and use its transformative power to deliver developmental interventions that are much more relevant to peoples’ actual needs and yield positive sustainable outcomes.
It is of course naive to present cultural diversity as a domain without its own inherent challenges. Depending on your perspective, the reality of ethnic and religious diversity can be as much of a problem as it is a solution. Permitting the co-existence of difference in an environment without sufficient social glue will result in non-interaction, and the development of parallel lives which can have devastating social consequences. It is imperative that governments seriously consider how best they do this at a local, regional and national level, and indeed in rhetoric and policies used on the international stage.
Where cultural diversity is seen as a problem, it should also be seen that it is the solution as well – learning from other cultures facilitates intercultural dialogue, prevents and resolves conflicts, promotes creativity which provides new models for development, and thus creates platforms for effective sustainability.
Bernardo Kliksberg (1999) was an early advocate of more recognition and utilisation of culture in sustainable development. In his 1999 paper, he quoted Hirschman
(1984), who asserted something in this respect which is still worthy of our attention. He notes that social capital is the only form of capital which is not reduced or depleted with use but, on the contrary, increases: love or responsible civic behaviour are not fixed or limited resources, as other factors of production may be, but are resources that grow with use rather than diminishing. Kliksberg recognized this in his action research across Latin America when he noted that the participation process has had “an enormous impact on the ability of citizens to respond to challenges in an organized manner, as a community, and on their capacity to work together to improve the quality of the public administration and, hence, their quality of life”.
Kilksberg identified three main factors that enabled social capital to be a facilitator for development. These are:
Firstly, the strategies employed need to be based on “the use of non-traditional forms of capital, by promoting the entry into action of forces which were latent in the social groups” i.e. use the best of what people have. This resulted in the communities utilising their own problem-solving capacities and a climate of mutual confidence was built up. Adewale Ajadi (2012) refers to this as ‘Mo-lo’, one of the key principles he developed in an African-centred model of transformative leadership;.
- A second common feature was the adoption of a totally non-traditional organizational design i.e. the organized participation of the community;
- A third distinctive feature of the three cases studied is that, underlying the mobilization of social capital and culture and the designs for open and
democratic management, there was a value-based conception which was of decisive importance. The values maintained served as a continuous source of guidance and at the same time powerfully motivated the behaviour of the communities concerned and transmitted the inspiring vision of the final goals to those at whom the efforts were directed.
Social capital and culture can be formidable levers of development if the right conditions are created. In contrast, ignoring or destroying them makes the path to development much more difficult.
We only need to look at how young people nowadays are consuming, utilising and indeed creating culture in this increasingly socially complex globalised world. My daughter is 12 years old and attends a school in a very diverse part of West London – in her class of 26 students, the girls are of 22 different national origins. She can now greet in Persian, Somali, Spanish, French, Hindi, Cantonese, Arabic and Portuguese. In discussions with her, the idea of a homogenised cultural existence is unimaginable. While this may be anathema to those on the right of the political spectrum, these young ladies are in fact going to be the ones best equipped to deal with the world we are moving into. We don’t need to cross borders to be across the world anymore, because the world is coming to us and at us in new and different ways every day.
And as the world changes and is expressed in the lived realities of young people, so the artforms they create also tell a story. The first great musical child of Globalisation has been Hip-Hop. From the backstreets of New York, there is now an active hip-hop scene in every urban centre across the world. Through the turn-tabling, graffiti and rapping elements of that genre, a subculture has become a global phenomenon, inspiring a whole generation of young people into creativity and entrepreneurialism, and providing a locus for a collective youth sense of identity which is not necessarily bound by the strict ethno-religious fault-lines that have so preoccupied older generations.
One of the key ways in which the world is changing is in migration which despite protectionist immigration rules in Europe and the US is on the increase and is probably now irreversible, which is a good thing – as long as the potential of such moves are harnessed. This harnessing can only be done by enabling people to benefit from the best that the new arrivals bring with them to create a ‘higher high’ for the settled populace.
Case study 2: Gaio de Lima
Gaio, a Carioca musician, arrived in London 5 years ago. He has since set up Clube de Choro UK, which has a mission to spread Brazilian choro music across the UK. Central to this is the roda, where people of all backgrounds, nationalities, faiths or music genres are encouraged to gather around in a traditional way and make improvised music together. This monthly club night has rapidly expanded in the past year, and now regularly attracts over 400 people of different national, ethnic and faith backgrounds.
The Choro nights consists of music, with regular special guest artists from the cream of Brazilian music such as Marcos Sacramento, authentic Brazilian food, history lesson snippets, et al, to provide as authentic an holistic Brazilian experience as they could possibly get without flying 5,000 miles. Gaio researches and offers a selection of material that appeals to artists from a wide cross-section of genres – jazz, folk, contemporary, world music – which facilitates cultural engagement. Through strategically working with universities, he is also helping to nurture the next generation of musicians and as one of the students on a recent course of his stated: “Spending an hour with him discussing not just the instruments such as the cavaquinho, but also getting context such as the impact of Brazil’s social stratification on making music which would have taken years of reading and research, has been incredibly enlightening for me”.
Gaio has collaborated with artists from all over the world by using his music to create a safe space for collaboration, dialogue and friendship. The success of this venture to promote Brazilian music in England has not only brought people from around the world together in London, it is employing people and has also enabled Gaio the economic and technical resources to set up and support a music school for disadvantaged children in his native Rio heartland.
Mobilising culture for social development is vital for every day contemporary living, and it is particularly important in post-conflict areas. When one thinks of such areas, minds tend to turn to the places that CNN and global news conglomerates concentrate on and have created a narrative about. It should however be acknowledged that all urban centres are potential or real sites of intense social and economic conflict, and one of the key advantages of globalised cultural diversity is how global lessons can present us with local opportunities.
In recovering from the genocide in Rwanda, we can see how the government there has mobilised communities in their own redevelopment effort, using traditional jurisprudence and social systems to administer restitutionary measures and worked with local artists to deal with trauma and pain, as well as raise awareness of the new cultural orientation. The success of these cultural measures has provided a platform on which the country’s economy has now been revived, so much so that Rwanda is now rated as one of the world’s fastest growing economies.
In the summer of 2011, the streets of London erupted in a spasm of violence as a result of the murder of a young Black man by Police. This triggered a three day period of unrest which the country had not seen the like of for several decades, and devastated one of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods. Out of the negativity of that incident and the questionable management of the aftermath, has come a resurgence of creativity and development of a local creative industry hub. In this case, there is actually a direct counterpoint of approaches – the government has invested in creative industries and skills development of young people but also has approved the construction of a multimillion pound luxury fashion hub which will accelerate the gentrification and irrevocably change the character and composition of the area.
Culture has a particularly crucial role to play in how we utilise and negotiate public spaces. Our cultural institutions need to themselves recognise that they are well placed to provide what Reverend Sivin Kit of the Bangsar Lutheran Church call ‘safe spaces for dangerous conversations’, where controversial histories and sensitivities – be that slavery, colonialism or xenophobia – can be engaged appropriately, with structure, care and a sense of shared purpose. Such spaces allow for a mix of heterogeneous perspectives to co-exist alongside one another, for unheard voices to be listened to, and for new forms of conversation to emerge.
One of the obstructions to cultural diversity being more effective in local development is the unyielding nature of the power dynamic that manifests itself in various ways. There is a vital need for us to further explore and understand the questions of power and cultural relativism, who determines the modules development interventions take, and the cultural assumptions and notions that are made by development practitioners. This power dynamic results in the intractable elitism of culture we find in so many countries and local authorities, and is indicative of a fundamental democratic deficit in such societies. When the governance, audiences, staff and producers of culture in our public spaces are not representative or reflective of their societies (local, regional and ultimately national), there is a fundamental democratic deficit there which is impeding the social development and therefore prosperity and economic, spiritual and social well-being of that society.
It is to ensure that there is a more powerful utilisation of culture in the development of democratic structures and a sense of shared citizenship that the notion of a creative citizenship is gaining currency. An interesting project exploring this notion in the UK is called Creative Citizens and seeks to explore three manifestations of creative citizenship i.e. Hyperlocal publishing groups, which is a blog-based way of producing and consuming neighbourhood news; Community-led design, which is increasingly deployed as a means of ensuring that new buildings and other products reflect the needs, creativity and aspirations of the people who will use them; and Creative networks, which take many forms but explores the value-creation that arises between relatively formal communities and the growing highly informal networks of individual creative citizens, mainly built around online communications platforms.
For development efforts to work, it is vital that the citizens participate fully. Cultural Diversity provides us with tools for ensuring an addressing of the democratic deficits that non-participation is a manifestation of. In England, there has been a plethora of activities and projects aimed at ensuring better representativeness in the arts and heritage sectors: from audience development and community engagement initiatives, to governance and workforce diversity programmes. It is essential for the cultural health of a society that people see themselves reflected in cultural institutions and in the stories that are told there, as this empowers them to be effective stakeholders and curators in the making of the modern history they are a part of.
Cultural institutions have to understand and acknowledge their role in challenging the notion of an unquestioned national or local identity. This will help to prevent the primacy of what the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls the ‘danger of the single story’, where when you “show people as one thing…over and over again, that is what they become…”
In the preamble to this seminar, there was an invitation to consider the argument that culture’s contribution to sustainable development, social cohesion and inclusion is only possible when accompanied by public policies that take account of the full cultural dimension and respect diversity; or that cultural action contributes to development when based on participation and promotion of equal opportunities for citizens. There is no distinction for me – both approaches are necessary and mutually reinforce each other. We need the public policies that respect diversity, and we need the expansion and development of the critical creative mind. We also need the tools that will enable communities in all their manifest diversity to connect better together. Such a better community connection will facilitate the development of new forms of engagement and democratic governance for local decision-making and move development practitioners away from the paternalistic tendency to ‘do for’ rather than ‘do with’ communities.
For us to successfully utilise culture in development, we need to have cultural intelligence, cultural competence and intercultural communication skills; in other words, we need to know what we do and do not know about others, we need to be able to interact effectively with people from backgrounds other than our own, and we need to be able to find the language that articulates our goodwill, good intent and integrity across those differences. One of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal, albeit still contested and indeed still in the process of better definition, is the adoption of a rights-based approach. Cultural rights finds its legitimacy underpinning in Article 47 of the 1948 UN Declaration on Human Rights:
- Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share scientific advancement and its benefits.
- Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic protection”
Different from other human rights that seek equal treatment to all, cultural rights ‘foster the richness of difference’ (Laaksonen 2006). Stephen Marks (2003) says that “while other human rights are essential to human survival, to bodily integrity, and to material existence, cultural rights are much more than accessory rights. It is not an exaggeration to say that cultural rights guarantee to individuals and to culturally defined groups their sense of meaning…”
Adopting a rights-based approach to development is “…essential since it provides the normative framework for parameters in which any activity by public administration should be conducted to policy-making. The ambit of cultural rights is larger than themes related to artistic expression and creativity, and therefore illustrates the necessity of finding defining mechanisms to uphold and promote social responsibility and ways of assuring participation, access to culture, the right to express and interprete culture, and preservation and education as principles in policy-making…” (Laaksonen 2006).
In cultural planning processes, it is therefore important to understand the need to have a strategic, integrated rights-based approach to cultural policy and resources at all levels and ensure that the planning process is located within a wider policy framework which dissects various associated agendas and incorporates social cohesion and inclusion and cultural diversity as necessary prerequisites for sustainable development.
In development debates about the vital role culture plays in development, there has been a drive to include culture as a recognised fourth pillar of development. While there is at the very least, a symbolic significance of such recognition, there have to be some concerns that given the inherent dysfunctionality of bureaucratic processes and capitalistic institutions’ visceral instinct for self-preservation, it is important that culture is not just recognised in its own right, but actively underpins the other pillars of development. Every policy initiative – economic, environmental, social development – should have to answer the fundamental Cultural Question: What is the cultural impact on the intended beneficiaries? How will it impact on culture and how can culture contribute to its intended success? Taking such a proactive approach to integrating culture into the existing development conversation will be truly trasnformational.
Case study 3: Nawroz Oramari
Nawroz Oramari is a renowned Kurdish singer. He is a refugee who fled from Turkey after the Kurdish genocide. His music is still banned in several countries and in Turkey, it was until recently illegal to sing in the Kurdish language. Nawroz says his only crime was to sing in his native tongue, a crime so terrible he had to flee from everything and everyone he held dear to find sanctuary in London. Nawroz joined the Cultural Co-operation Artist Network and became a very popular and inspirational figure, helping several other artists to find their voice and place in society and also raised awareness about the situation in his homeland.
Nawroz has not been performing for some time. Instead of public performances, he sings in his bathroom – for the good acoustics – and records new songs which are very politically charged, which he then posts on his facebook page. He had no idea about the reach of those songs, until one day he was watching the news during the Arab spring uprising, and he heard the people on the streets singing his songs…
Culture is simultaneously a state of being and a process of becoming. Understanding and respecting the diversity that is now and will continue to be a constitutent of society is paramount to the sustainable development effort. This requires an active, creative citizenship, premised on a rights-based approach. Public policies should not just be influenced but also co-produced by its intended beneficiaries. It is imperative to re-emphasise that when we talk about culture and cultural diversity we are not really talking about institutions and governments– we are talking about people. People like Jo N’Gala, Gaio de Lima and Nawroz Oramari, people—centred organisations such as Cultural Co-operation, all have demonstrated how culture, and their own innate cultural diversity, has made the world a better place, enabled but not directed by public policy. Indeed, the case studies referred to in this paper depict the multifarious impact of culture on the social development effort – as facilitating poverty alleviation, as a means of promoting intercultural dialogue and interaction, and as a source of enlightenment and empowerment.
The role of public policy should be facilitative rather than directive. True development and the effective mobilisation of culture therein, requires genuine bottom-up action. The primary role of governments and institutions in this effort is therefore, surely to help establish the infrastructural and legislative framework. Speak to the people, understand their needs, genuinely co-produce the enabling infrastructure with them and then get out of their way!
The 21st century is a time where effective leadership is greatly dependent on qualitative participation. It is far more about sharing power with people i.e. giving the work to the people rather than exercising power over them. And more importantly, the 21st century doesn’t belong to us – it belongs to the ones to whom these discussions make little sense, because they are already living the change that we are trying to create. Our duty and responsibility is to enable these young people to fully live that life, and enrich ourselves in the here and now as well.
 World Bank Strategy & Implementation Paper: ‘Empowering People by Transforming Institutions – Social Development in World Bank Operations’
 UN System Task Team on the Post-2015 UN Development Agenda.
 Ernst & Young, ‘Tracking Global Trends: How six global trends are changing the business world’ (2010).
 Adewale Ajadi: Omoluwabi 2.0 A Code of Transformation in 21st Century Nigeria
 Social capital and culture: master keys to development – Bernardo Kliksberg
 IMF’s World Economic Outlook 2012.