Perspectives on social cohesion – the glue that holds society together

Perspectives on social cohesion—the glue that holds society together (UN Photo/Logan Abassi)

“It is now the time to invest in a social cohesion agenda. There are a lot of countries which have more resources, even though the general economic picture is dark and getting more uncertain and complicated,” said Dr. Johannes Jütting, head of the Poverty Reduction and Social Development Team from OECD on 27 January in New York.

The seminar on “Social cohesion in a shifting world”, chaired by DESA’s Development Policy Analysis Division’s Rob Vos and UNDP’s Eva Jespersen, gave an overview of the report “Perspectives in Global Development 2012: Social Cohesion in a Shifting World”, published by the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

The OECD Perspectives on Global Development (PGD) is part of a new series of publications from the OECD Development Centre. Each edition identifies, analyses and provides workable policy solutions for a pressing global development challenge. The previous edition published in 2010, “Shifting Wealth,” examined the impact of the rise of large emerging economies on development, inequality and poverty. The shifting wealth and widespread mobilization of citizens calling for justice across the world in 2011 opens up opportunities to discuss importance for social cohesion in fast-growing developing countries.

A cohesive society is one where people are protected against life risks, trust their neighbors and the institutions of the state and can work towards a better future for themselves and their families. Fostering social cohesion is about striving for greater inclusiveness, more civic participation and creating opportunities for upward mobility. It is the glue that holds society together.

For the analysis, social cohesion is built around three key values:  social inclusion, social capital and social mobility. Social inclusion refers to the degree to which all citizens can participate on equal footing in the economic, social and political life, including whether people are protected in times of need. Social capital refers to trust between people and in institutions and the sense of belonging to a society. Social mobility refers to equality of opportunity to get ahead.

How can governments promote social cohesion? The structural transformation of economies brought about by integration into the world economy offers various unprecedented possibilities to foster social cohesion.

“Policies can make a difference” argues Dr. Jütting. New resources are now available and could be invested in social development through better health care, education, social protection and other services. Governments have to rethink social and economic policies to ensure that all citizens have a voice, by fostering civic participation and strengthening democratic institutions.

Furthermore, promoting social cohesion requires the joint involvement and active collaboration of all stakeholders of a society – government, businesses, and civil society to jointly address collective action. “Social cohesion is an end but also a useful means. To go so far without social cohesion, it would be very difficult to maintain the long term growth process,” argued Dr. Jütting.

In the concluding remarks, Mr. Vos underscores “The real question is how we should move forward and what does this mean to social cohesion around the globe? The report is timely as we start the discussion on the post-2015 Development Agenda where we have to take into account both these shifting trends in the global economy and how to address them as a part of our development agenda.”

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