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Members' Activities 2013

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ECOSOC Discussion on the Role of Culture for Achieving the Millennium Development Goals

During the July session of the ECOSOC (UN Economic and Social Council) Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO, participated in the High-level Segment under the title Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) and the Potential of Culture for Promoting Sustainable Development and Achieving the Millennium Development Goals (www.un.org/en/ecosoc/newfunct/amr2013.shtml). The Director General also hosted a breakfast discussion on Culture and Innovation in the Post 2015 Development Agenda (www.un.org/en/ecosoc/julyhls/pdf13/hls_issue_note_unescoci.pdf). Debating about the role of culture at the ECOSOC meeting was significant particularly in the context of the general concern that culture was not recognized in the current MDGs neither as a means to achieve sustainable development, nor as an issue that should be considered in the evaluation of development programmes or as a goal in its own right. Therefore, the presence of UNESCO and the discussion on the role of culture during the ECOSOC assembly should be looked at as a follow-up of a series of debates and discussions that took place prior to the July meeting. Documents adopted at these meetings and published statements called for a more important role of culture as a vital element for achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

In this context, it is worth mentioning that the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon at the General Assembly thematic debate on Culture and Sustainable Development, held in June this year in New York (www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=45156#.UkmmUxW9SUk), acknowledged that "too many well-intended development programmes have failed because they did not take cultural settings into account". He said that in order to mobilize people, we need to understand and embrace their culture.

Ban Ki Moon made an important political statement, but, in reality, he was just one among the many that acknowledged the importance and the role of culture for achieving development on a declaratory level. The cultural sector believes that now is the moment to give culture a more prominent place, and to acknowledge culture as a contributor to the overall development. The cultural sector has not yet managed to convince the general public and decision makers of the importance of culture - it's place, relevance and importance as an agent of sustainable development.

Nina Obuljen, researcher at IRMO and member of the Culturelink Team, participated at the ECOSOC breakfast discussion hosted by Irina Bokova. Following Culturelink's longterm commitment to research and reflection on culture and development, in her intervention Nina Obuljen highlighted three important aspects of the potential of culture for promoting sustainable development, thus contributing to advocating for a more prominent role of culture in future strategic programmes for achieving the MDGs:

The first aspect refers to the potential of local cultural development, investment in cultural tourism, heritage protection, products of arts and crafts even in the least developed countries and even when it is on a very small scale this can help combat poverty and unemployment.

The second group relates to the role of creative industries. Today, everything is turning digital - many services are offered, exchanged and consumed in the digital environment. The basis for this development is found in ideas and innovation emerging from the sector known as creative industries/creative economy, which is why there is a need to think about these realities in a strategic way. We failed to ensure equitable global development of traditional industries in the past, but we might be given another chance to make things better by promoting and developing creative industries.

The third segment refers to international cooperation for development. The debate about culture and development has been going on for more than 30 years, but with the adoption of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions it entered a new phase. This is primarily the case with those articles of the Convention that specifically refer to development and international cooperation, including commitments for granting preferential treatment for artists, cultural goods and services from developing countries in developed countries.

International cooperation and development assistance should not be only about assisting in the territory of a specific country. It should also be about creating space, about raising interest and promoting import of the products and services from developing countries in developed countries so that they find their place in markets other than just their own. In order for this to be achieved, there is a need for cooperation in designing innovative cultural policies. Such cultural policies need to be aligned with other public policies (economic and development policies in particular).

Culturelink will continue to follow, and participate in, the ongoing global discussions and debates. A number of events will take place in the coming months, starting with the Arterial Network third Creative Economy Conference in Cape Town, on 6-9 October, where the role of creative and cultural industries in the past and future development programmes for achieving the MDGs will be discussed. In November in Bali the World Culture in Development Forum will be held, hosted by the President of Indonesia. In January 2014 in Santiago de Chile IFACCA will organize the World Summit on Arts and Culture again focusing on the role of culture in development policies. All of these, and many other meetings and conferences will contribute to the strategic reflection on the stronger position of cultural policies in the overall development policies.