Delivering Inclusive and Sustainable Development – SUMMING UP

By Clem McCartney*

Before referring to the content of the deliberations it is appropriate to refer to the tone of the presentations and discussions, because they facilitated a meaningful debate.


In the main the speakers had come well prepared to tackle the issue posed by the title of the conference – how to deliver “inclusive and sustainable development”.

The tone was very positive and encouraging.  Some of the presentations and comments from the floor were pessimistic about the current situation, with good reason, but they were all positively critical in trying to see ways forward.  The general tone was exploratory, “digging down” into the issues as one person said.  As the confgernece centred in on core challenges, the same issues recurred but at a deeper level of analysis and from different perspectives.

This review therefore takes the same approach rather than dealing with the sessions in chronological order.

What was the trajectory of this exploration?

  • The discussion moved from general principles and macroeconomics to lived experience of the people of the region and the goal of improving that experience for all.
  • It moved from the intentions behind policies to the problems of implementation and failures in the delivery of services.
  • It moved towards recognition of the complexity of the challenges. However there was no attempt to resolve that complexity by simplification and a recurring theme was that solutions had to be multi-faceted and multi-disciplinary in response to that complexity.
  • And it uncovered paradoxes which may guide the way forward


The paradoxes lead us to the content of the deliberations at the conference.

  • We were reminded that in a number of countries in the region, and beyond, there was a paradox between the positive indicators of social progress – economic growth, high levels of education, low infant mortality, etc., and tensions and conflict which had undermined the stability of the state and in some case had led to violence.
  • Equally we were told of states that are clearly failing their people – there is an absence of a social compact, corruption, low tax compliance, low social expenditure on social protection, health and education, and, not surprisingly, internal tension is high.
  • But we were also told of states that seem to have all the indicators that would suggest failure and yet they have not failed.

There is something problematic in many societies that is not being identified.  What is being missed?

One problem may be the indicators which are being used.  The conference was told that the National Planning Commission of India prefers to use multiple indicators (29) rather than a single index because some will pick up trends that others miss.

There is also an issue of what should be measured.  What constitutes a good quality of life?  We were told that current aspirations to achieve the levels of material wealth and consumption of the international elite are not realistic.  Nor, it could be said, do they actually deliver contentment.   There was some recognition of focusing more on measures of wellbeing and happiness (as is used for example in assessing the quality of life in Butan) but that is a topic still to be fully explored.


The conference was asked what was meant by inclusive development but the question was never answered directly.  However the speakers touched on elements that are necessary and taken together they may indicate the requirements of an inclusive society:

  • Fulfilling employment: while there is a lot of unemployment in the region the greater problem is underemployment and the lack of opportunity to have fulfilling and meaning work.  Therefore there is a need for better education, greater integration of the marginalised into the mainstream economy and support for small scale enterprises.  In this way the marginalised people are not only more satisfied but they become contributors to economic progress and not a drain on the state.
  • Recognition. acceptance and inclusion: One telling phrase was used by one speaker who spoke of migrant workers who contribute significantly to the local economy but are told “don’t show your face after dark.  It is important that peoples’ grievances are recognised even if it proves difficult to deal with them.  It was also pointed out that these grievances are often made more stark by the existence of great inequality within one area and conspicuous consumption – what might be called “provocative inequality”
  • Opportunities: Many people find that they have no opportunity to fulfil their aspirations.  They are blocked by poverty and prejudice on grounds of religion, ethnicity, cast or language.  This is why access to education and employment are important but it also requires a change of attitude in the wider community to accepted and respected marginalised communities and individuals and facilitate their participation in society.
  • A stake in society: The marginalised have no influence and feel their contribution is of no importance.  Therefore it is not surprising that they have no commitment to the society and therefore make no contribution to maintaining the existing order which does not work for them and may even try to undermine it.
  • Voice: People need to be able to express themselves and be head but this is often not possible.  Their views are not taken into account and their interests are not protected.

Some speakers categorised in other ways human needs that need to be addressed.  One spoke of the need for appreciation, autonomy, status, role and affiliation, and another identified political, economic, social and cultural recognition.  The Commitments of the Shared Societies Project were also referred to as elements which needed to be addressed in achieving a Shared or Inclusive Society

It was noted that often youth and women are most excluded and in different ways there exclusion particularly undermines society: women because they provide the foundation for the family and community and cannot do that if they are ignored; and young people because they are more likely to act out their frustrations.


Understanding what people need, helps to identify solutions.  The conference did not unearth specific solutions but did develop ideas that point the way forward.

Voice means participation.  A number of speakers identified democracy as a basic requirement.  But some reservations were expressed, as democracy is not always meaningful, and often does not really give people influence or a sense that they are involved.  One person spoke of “democracy that delivers” which is a tagline of the Club de Madrid.

Functioning democracy requires parties that are themselves democratic, active citizens, collective action and devolution to local communities through structures such as panchayats.

It was argued that democracy is not only important in its own right, but participation is more likely to lead to people-oriented polices and programmes.  They are therefore more likely to be responsive to the real needs and concerns of people.  It is not sufficient to rely on the good will and good intentions of policy makers.  The problem of failure of delivery in the implementation of programmes was a recurring theme and it was noted that this requires accountable to ensure effective delivery.  One speaker talked of how modern systems of deliver distance people for the process of deliver and people power becomes weakened.

The conference was reminded that politicians are seldom under pressure to implement policies which are likely to lead to inclusive and sustainable development and the problems of reforming energy prices was given as one example.  An interesting challenge was raised as to whether it is possible to have a social inclusion trajectory running along side corruption and elitism.  The difficulty may be that corruption also is closely related to influence and patronage so that again the voice of the marginalised and the public at large is squeezed out.

As well as voice, economy democracy and economic participation is needed.  Various measures were identified.  It was noted that there is capital available in the region but it is important to make initiatives that are inclusive and sustainable more attractive and to ensure that resources flow towards the countries and the people that are most disadvantaged.  Micro credits were also mentioned as a means to facilitate economic participation by new start up entrepreneurs from marginalised communities.  Collective action also plays a part.

Social protection schemes seems to make an appropriate contribution to a more inclusive society and they are widespread in the region (in India for example) but the conference was told that they had not had a significant impact on the levels of poverty.  They were also criticised for tackling the symptoms of the problem (lack of family income) with out tackling the underlying causes of the problem.  A couple of people talked about the way social protection is delivered and advocated conditional cash transfers but there was little time for an in-depth discussion of the merits of different approaches.

It was felt that the level of regional cooperation does not aid development in the region.  It was argued that South Asia is the world least integrated region which goes in the face of global trends.  There could be greater trade between states and greater flow of investment across the region.  It was acknowledged that the smaller states in the region are threatened by the size of the Indian economy and it is the responsibility of India to address that issue and ally the fears of its neighbours.

National priorities reflect the underlying national orientation and various tensions were highlighted:

  • development or inclusion
  • materialism or sustainable lifestyles
  • closed or open societies
  • control or empowerment model
  • security model or social engagement model

The conference title implies that inclusion and sustainability are compatible with the right kind of development and even complement each other, governments more often argue that development precedes inclusion and will lead to inclusion.  It has already been noted that current materialist aspirations are not realistic and but policy seems to accept that goal which can certainly not include everyone.

One striking phrase was “the illusion of inclusion”:  there is a rhetoric supporting inclusion but no real commitment.  It was also noted that inclusion implies “noise” with people articulating their demands and there is a reaction to squash it, but that noise is part of the process of development

So there is a tension between open, empowering and social engaged societies and closed, controlling and security oriented approaches.  The latter is more common in the region but is likely to build up increasing exclusion, pressure and tension.

While it was acknowledged that there are factors which facilitate growth other than economic policies, there was discussion of appropriate economic polices to achieve a macroeconomic system favourable to inclusive and sustainable growth. At a global level it was suggested that it will be necessary to change the governance of the global financial institutions as they weighted against the interests of developing economies.  It was also suggested that the lending capacities of the World Bank needs to be increased.  In terms of the operation of the international market, the conference was warned of the threat of protectionism as many developed countries feel the pressure of low growth and unemployment.  On the other hand it was suggested that these factors will make the developed economies unattractive to investors and there will be available capital which could be encouraged to come to the region if the region demonstrated its attractiveness.

Reference has already been made to the contribution of increased regional cooperation.  It will be important to promote greater consumption of the production of regional neighbours and direct investment towards neighbours, particularly in the face of the potential threat of increased protectionism.

In relation to national economic policy it was stated by a number of speakers that growth was a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for achieving greater inclusion, because it proved the resources for financing appropriate policies.   One caveat is that in the region significant and consistent growth has been achieved in some countries while the problems of marginalisation persist and some countries with lower growth have been able to maintain services such as health and education.  So the nexus between growth and development is complicated and will requite a longer discussion than was possible during this conference.


There were in fact a number of conversations that were started but will require a fuller discussion to reach a resolution.  It is hoped that the conference has started a debate which can become a regional debate leading to new strategies for inclusive and sustainable growth in South Asia.  Those questions include:

  • What is inclusive and sustainable development?
  • Is a growth strategy a necessary part of inclusive and sustainable development and what form should it take?
  • Can progress be made best through incremental change or structural change?
  • How can the perpetuation of polarised identities be avoided?
  • What are the political obstacles to translating ideas to achieve inclusive and sustainable development into policy and practice?

*Clem McCartney is the Content Coordinator of the Shared Societies Project

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