Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Development experts tout innovative social policies at UNDP roundtable

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) held a roundtable discussion today entitled “Reducing Poverty and Deepening Citizenship: Innovative Social Policy for Strengthening Democracies.” The panelists were political economist and author Francis Fukuyama and U.N. Assistant Secretary-General Rebeca Grynspan, who also directs UNDP’s Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean. The discussion was moderated by David Yang, the senior advisor of the UNDP Washington office.

Fukuyama began by discussing how world leaders such as Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are elected because they offer social programs that appeal to the poor. He said that there is currently a backlash against the third wave of globalization due to the fact that it does not offer the social programs needed by the people. In contrast to this, however, he used the example of Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who was elected over the populist candidate because Calderon sponsored social programs.

Grynspan used her expertise in Latin America to address how social policy can be used to bridge poverty. She said that economic growth needs to be stable in order to bridge inequality and poverty. In the past, Latin American countries would focus on either social development or economic development, which is part of the reason it has taken so long for the region to recover from the economic crisis twenty-five years ago, she argued. Grynspan said the focus of social policy should not be “poverty today, but poverty tomorrow.” She also recommended that in creating social and economic policies, it is necessary to be inclusive, rather than creating segregated programs only for the poor.

The panelists both discussed how inequalities affect the standard of education people receive. Fukuyama used the example of how the lack of a good education system in countries such as Egypt causes parents to send their children to madrasas, or Islamic religious schools. Grynspan said that gaps in the education system, such as funding primary but not secondary schools, highlight why new policies need to include social components.

In discussing establishing democracies, Fukuyama said that there needs to be new, innovative social programs, rather than a return to the bad social policies of the past. He added that democracies have to be representative, and input from the public is absolutely critical for their success. Grynspan reiterated this point by addressing the importance of including the middle class in social programs, because they can serve as a voice for the poor. In talking about the role of democracy promoters, Fukuyama said it is necessary to understand that there is no “one size fits all approach.”


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