Archive for SSP related Analysis

Fostering Inclusion and Empowerment: The contribution of Women in Nagaland

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Promoting equality and social inclusion in Nagaland, India is the goal of Kheshili Chishi of the Indigenous Women´s Forum for North-East India (IWFNEI) who hosted a workshop on the role of women in peace building between tribal groups and the promotion and protection of indigenous rights for women. Speaking fervently about empowerment and the exercising of rights, Chishi focused on peace building not only in times of conflict but at all times, saying, “Simply talking is not enough unless you put yourself into action. Each one of us has to shoulder the responsibility.

Furthermore, the workshop stressed the need for equal access to healthcare and work, emphasizing the importance of women´s political participation. In doing so, the workshop also related heavily to SSP´s commitments on institutional arrangements, service provisions, and inter-community development, and is a practical example of the ideas emerging from the Women and Shared Societies Working Group on the active role women can play in overcoming intergroup conflict, all focused on creating greater social cohesion.

For more information, the full article from the Morung Express News can be found here.

Ethnic diversity as a positive element for the provision of public goods in Zambia


The ‘diversity debit’ hypothesis, developed in a famous article by Easterly and Levine in 1997 argues that ethnic diversity has a negative impact on social, economic, and political outcomes. According to this theory there is a negative relationship between ethnic diversity and public goods provision, due to different aspects related to the heterogeneity of the society such as: variety in ethnic group’s preference; less contribution to public goods; difficulties in solving problems that require collective action; or difficulties in governance when the elites are formed by diverse ethnic groups. The consequences of these negative relationships were in most cases low schooling and insufficient infrastructure, as well as political instability, underdeveloped financial systems, distorted foreign exchange markets, and high government deficits.

The study “Ethnic heterogeneity and public goods provision in Zambia” published by the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University (UNU-WIDER)[1], challenges the ‘diversity debit’ hypothesis as it shows that ethnic fractionalization is not clearly associated with the under-provision of public goods. Instead they argued that diversity can have a rather positive relationship with key welfare outcomes. According to the authors, instead of posing the question: ‘Why does ethnic diversity undermine public goods provision,’ we should ask ourselves why does it not?

According to the study, ethnic diversity does not necessarily undermine public goods provision in those cases when ‘diversity’ is not equivalent to ‘division’. They argue that division, rather than diversity per se, is what drives the diversity debit hypothesis. Studies in those places where ethnic identity is comparatively stronger than national identity show that is in those cases when we can clearly see remarkable inequalities in public goods provisions.

Regarding the case of Zambia, in order to understand why and how diversity does not necessarily undermine public good provision is important to look at different factors such as internal migration or the role of political institutions.

The paper shows that internal migration (namely, urbanization) in Zambia is relevant to understand this issue. Between 1964 and 1990, the urban population in the country increased from 10.5 to 39.4 per cent. Those who choose to move around the country instead of staying within an ethnic enclave are likely to me more tolerant and highly educated and thus less reluctant to diversity. As a consequence, internal mobility and urbanization will result in variations of ethnic heterogeneity and in the construction of diverse communities at a sub-national level.

The findings of this study on the case of Zambia, challenging the widely accepted ‘diversity debit’ hypothesis and showing that division rather than diversity undermines the equal access to public goods provision, connects closely with the vision of the Shared Societies Project and the findings of the Working Group on the Economics of Shared Societies[i] together with the work of other researchers [ii]. Thus, the findings of this study, showing that there can be a robust positive association between diversity and key welfare outcomes resonate with the view of the Shared Societies Project: diversity is not an obstacle for justice and fair distribution of opportunities and public services, in the contrary, it can be a strength and can foster the well-being of a society, provided that all sections of the community feel at home and are able to contribute to the society.

This study shows that division, rather than diversity, is what fosters some of the main problems and inequalities in the provision of public goods. Academics and policy-makers should look at this case in order to find yet another example of the importance of inclusion in order to build truly just and shared societies.


[1] Rachel M. Gisselquist, Stefan Leiderer and Miguel Niño Zarazúa: Ethnic heterogeneity and public goods provision in Zambia, WIDER Working Paper 2014/162



[ii] Alesina, A. and E. La Ferrara (2005) Ethnic Diversity and Economic Performance, Journal of Economic Literature 43, 3, pp. 762-800

“Birnir, J and D Waguespack “Economic Policy and Relevant Ethnic Groups.” Party Politics. 17(2): 243-260

Hall,R.and C.Jones (1999) Why do Some Countries Produce So Much More Output per Worker than Others?  The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 114, 1,pp.83-86


Promoting Shared Spaces in Israel


The Club de Madrid has been collaborating with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) within the context of our Shared Societies Project for some years through the work of its New York office on global development issues and with global intergovernmental institutions.  We have collaborated with them at the United Nations and co-hosted meetings at the World Bank and International Monetary Fund from which we developed the Shared Societies Global Agenda to Promote Long-Term Inclusive and Sustainable Growth. So we follow with interest the Stiftung’s work at country level and look forward to opportunities to collaborate.

Using a perspective similar to the Shared Societies Project, FES-Israel is engaged in public information and peace and social dialogue projects that reinforce political, economical, social and cultural ties between Israel and its neighbours and provides platforms for exchange for Jewish-Arab networks. Another common feature with the Share Societies Project lies in the FES-Israel’s effort to strengthen civil society and to promote pluralism and mutual acceptance, by organizing majority-minority dialogue and empowering disadvantaged segments of the Arab community, as well as immigrants from the former Soviet Union and Ethiopia, and other groups.

We noticed a recent piece of action research conducted by FES-Israel: “Local Decision Making – Involving Residents in Municipal Affairs in Akko”. It was part of comprehensive research by the Jewish-Arab Center at University of  Haifa entitled “Akko as a Shared Space”, and its main goal was to promote and strengthen the relationship between Jews and Arabs living in the same city. The research’s objectives were to shed light on the impact of residents’ participation in local decision-making processes, to improve the local processes of decision making and, finally, to improve the residents’ quality of life, particularly the relations between Jews and Arabs.

This project is just one example of FES-Israel’s commitment to strengthening German-Israeli relations, remembering the past and promoting global social justice and democracy. It employs dialogue and debate through public events and encounter programs, political and socio-economic research and analysis, civic education and leadership training and political consulting in order to achieve their goals and missions. To this end, FES works closely with local partner organizations to jointly develop projects in the spirit of democracy, gender equality and peaceful co-existence.

Promoting “Shared Spaces” is a timely initiative towards supporting the global efforts to continue to seek the best approaches to building a Shared Society.

Peaceful Values: A lesson from indigenous communities


Homo homini lupus/man is a wolf to his fellow man. This statement, made by Thomas Hobbes, gives a profound reflection on human nature. Men are aggressive according to their more basic instincts, but not everybody agrees.

There are many indigenous communities that make us reconsider this view about our, supposed, innate violent conduct. We can find a big number of peoples that live peacefully even though they are diverse and with different customs, as Douglas P Fry explains in his book “War, Peace, and Human Nature: The Convergence of Evolutionary and Cultural Views”.

Social cohesion is the cornerstone of the cohabitation of these communities. For example, in the Upper Xingu River (Brazil) ten different tribes live in peace and they do not know conflict among each other. They are heterogeneous but this is not a reason to trigger violent behaviors, unlike the Hobbesian theory; they have the capacity to respect themselves and each other and keep peace.

These people speak four different languages and have their own traditions but they have found the way to live together within their diversity. We can learn a very important lesson from them, and it is that they have decided to focus on the things that make them feel as a single community, respecting their particular traditions and gathering to create collective activities, such as participating in the same feasts, trading with each other allowing marriage among members of the different groups, etc.

The findings of this and other studies resonate with a core assumption of the Shared Societies Project: the right kind of values, policies, structures and institutions foster and encourage cooperative attitudes and relationships between peoples so that they treat each other with respect and dignity.  Other values, policies, structures and institutions encourage attitudes which are divisive and exclusive and treat others as less worthy of consideration than people from one’s own group.

People like those in the Upper Xingu River have created such a system instinctively and through experience, but in many of our societies we need to take active purposeful steps to shift towards the creation of a Shared Society.  That is why we identified the Ten Commitments which cover the aspects of society which can contribute to a society in which it comes naturally to treat others with respect and dignity and change those aspects which encourage us to exclude and disparage others who we think are different from us.  By making these ten commitments we can build a society in which everyone feels valued and at home and where they can make a full and active contribution to the development of the community.

We would not be surprised to discover that the peoples of the Upper Xingu river already share those commitments.  They are an example of good leadership for other multicultural societies.  Policies seeking the inclusion of varied identities will lead to the inclusion of all the groups and to the creation of a feeling of unity and belonging to that same community.

Policy-makers should take as an example these communities and their way to govern their society. Many of the challenges that states have to face nowadays are related with exclusion of certain groups on account of their religious beliefs, race, sexual orientation, gender, etc. This makes these communities impoverished at all levels.

Inclusion of distinct groups would provide a cultural as well as an economic enrichment, as the Shared Societies Project argues, inasmuch as an inclusive society would realise the skills of all its citizens, without discrimination of any kind, making communities bloom with the contribution of all their members, developing economic growth in which all participate and that will help it to be sustainable.

Myanmar faces Buddhist-Muslim Ethnic Tensions in its Transition to Democracy

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Tensions in Myanmar’s Rakhine State and other regions have manifested in violent outbreaks in the past two years since June 2012, calling international attention to the high level of ethnic tension between the Muslim Rohingya and the Buddhist majority.

A recent Report of the Thailand-based human rights organization Fortify Rights, directed by Matthew Smith, Policies of Persecution: Ending Abusive State Policies Against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar claiming to disclose the legal documents used to discriminate against Rohingya and other ethnic minorities. The release of this report comes at a delicate time, as Myanmar braces for its first national census in thirty years.

The report is based on twelve internal government documents detailing “restrictions on movement, marriage, childbirth and other aspects of everyday life,” eight of which delineate official policies targeting Rohingya, the group says. These include three Rakhine State regional orders and five addenda to those orders. Fortify Rights claims that although these were produced between 1993 and 2008, years of military dictatorship in Myanmar, their policies remain in effect today. The four other documents relating to Muslim citizens outside Rakhine State are not presented in the report but the organization claims that they are dated 2013 and “instructive as background findings.”

In a press release Smith claims that,

“The government is systematically persecuting Rohingya on the basis of ethnicity, religion, and at times gender.”

Fortify Rights maintains that the Rohingya population of 1.33 million is largely stateless and deprived of basic human rights, and that the Burmese government denies the existence of a Rohingya ethnicity. The organization also adds that the government tends to frame issues relating to the population as matters of national security, overpopulation and illegal immigration.

While the government has made efforts to stop further outbreaks of violence in the country through ceasefire agreements with armed minority groups, and the international community has acknowledged violence and displacement, the report explains that there has been a failure to address the “devastating systematic abuses perpetrated against the Rohingya on a daily basis.” In other words, Fortify Rights asserts that because it is a normalized phenomenon authorized by legal documents, everyday social exclusion often fails to draw international attention.  

The documents put forth by Fortify Rights can provide a basis for negotiation on which Myanmar can focus on an equitable society. Institutions and legal framework as safeguards for the protection of individuals’ rights and the governmental obligation to maintain these institutions are pillars of the commitments of the Shared Societies Project. Discrimination and exclusion that derives in some way from legal documents and institutions can be fought through legal and institutional means.

“I don’t understand”


Club de Madrid is partnering with Partnership for Change for the 2015 General Assembly/Annual conference, and they have adopted the Shared Societies Approach as a framing concept for its work.

In their last conference in Oslo on 15th May this year they devoted one stream throughout the day to Shared Societies.  Participants from Club de Madrid, the UN agencies, Search for Common Ground, the business community and Norwegian civil society explored what this concept really means.

The discussions spend some time considering the distinction between, on the one hand, tolerating people different from our selves but trying to mould them to be just like us, and on the other hand really being open to the other, welcoming them, respecting their dignity, and valuing them in their own identity.  The latter of course builds a Shared Society and helps the other person to feel at home and confident to take their share of the responsibility for the community.

One person told a nice story which captured the distinction.

An immigrant came into a library in Oslo and asked the librarian “What height am I?”  The librarian told him and he went away.  The next day a number of other immigrants came in and asked the same question “What height am I?”

It turned out that they had been registering with a doctor and had been asked this question.  They did not know the answer or even what the question meant, but they did not feel confident enough to ask for an explanation.  But they knew the library was a place to get information and that the staff would be understanding and accepting.  The librarian had conveyed their respect for the dignity of the other person, which the health centre had not been able to convey.  I am sure that the health service staff were kind and caring and that the individual would receive good treatment.  But if they are to use the services of the health centre there needs to be this extra dimensions which is harder to define and harder to apply.  At its root it means connecting to the person as a person, not a client or number, and showing we are willing to listen even in the midst of our busy routine.

There is a message in this for the drafters of the new Sustainable Development Goals. It is not simply identifying targets for the desirable level of service: the number of schools or health clinics or the access to jobs.  The actual provision is important but it only achieves the goal when people can use the services in a confident self-defining way.  We know too many stories of new health centres which were established in remote areas, but were not used because the planners had not listened to the local community and take into account their culture and values and provided the service in a culturally sensitive way.

This is why the Members of the Club de Madrid are advocating the importance of including a goal on good governance and, within that, the importance of the participation of those affected in planning and implementing policies.  Such a goal is not a means to judge states on their current standards of governance but to ensure that they provide the services they themselves want to provide for their citizens in ways that make them effective.  And that no one walks away because they do not feel able to say “I do not understand” or “I do not feel comfortable”.

Photo Credit: Hatford Public Library


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