Helen Clark: Statement at the Thematic Debate on Culture and Development

Jun 12, 2013

Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator and UNDG Chair, at the 67th Session of the
UN General Assembly, New York
Statement at the
Thematic Debate on Culture and Development
10 a.m., Wednesday 12 June 2013


I welcome this Thematic Debate on Culture and Development. Thanks to UNESCO’s tireless advocacy and the initiatives of many countries, awareness is growing of the role culture can play as both a driver and an enabler of sustainable and inclusive development.

I speak from personal experience: as Prime Minister of my country, I held the ministerial portfolio for arts, culture, and heritage. I did so because I saw the intrinsic benefits of all three in nurturing creativity and of lifting community pride and confidence, and thus wellbeing, in a positive way. As well I was mindful of the considerable economic benefits which can flow from dynamic cultural sectors in the form of jobs and sustainable growth – generated not least in tourism, the screen industry, the performing and visual arts, new media, and branding and design. It is on these spin offs for inclusive growth and development on which I will focus today.

But as other speakers have noted, we can also think much more broadly about the role of culture in development. Culture is a vital aspect of human development. To live lives they value, people must be free to choose their identity, and thus to define who they are.

With globalisation, our world is shrinking as we become more interconnected than ever before. Commensurate with that, our respect for cultural diversity needs to grow. Indeed, respect for cultural diversity and sustainable development are mutually reinforcing, providing the necessary foundation for peace and harmony which development needs to thrive.

I am pleased that UNDP has been contributing to promotion of the links between culture and development, including as a co-publisher, through the UN Office for South-South Co-operation, with UNCTAD of the 2008 and 2010 Creative Economy reports.

This year’s Creative Economy Report, to be published in September, is co-led by UNDP through the UN office for South-South Co-operation and UNESCO, and will look at initiatives supported by the MDG Achievement Fund, generously funded by the Government of Spain, and by the UNESCO International Fund for Culture and Diversity. The report should be helpful to policy makers looking at how to boost their country’s creative and cultural sectors.

Innovative culture and development programmes were supported in eighteen countries and territories by the MDG Achievement Fund in recent years. A highlight of my time at UNDP was to visit one of these in Kars in eastern Turkey. The rich historic and cultural heritage in the area and its striking beauty were the basis for growing sustainable tourism and related businesses and jobs.

More recently I have visited the UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra in Jordan. It is recognised for its extraordinary cultural significance, and is a major draw card for visitors. To maintain this ancient site and the revenues which flow from it, significant mitigation of disaster risk is needed, which UNDP has been pleased to support, both to maintain the site’s intrinsic values, and to support the very important role it plays in Jordan’s economy.

These are just two of many, many practical examples of where agencies, funds, and programmes in the UN Development Group have worked to boost the contribution of cultural assets to development. The scope of that work is growing: five years ago, “culture” was mentioned in only thirty per cent of UN Development Assistance Frameworks agreed with national counterparts; by last year it was referenced in seventy per cent of UNDAFs.

Through this work, we have learned a lot about the importance of empowering local communities and governments to manage cultural assets and get development leverage from them. We have also seen the power of culture to create green jobs and inclusive and sustainable growth.
Cultural industries make significant contributions to the world’s highly developed economies, generating jobs and incomes from the screen industries, music, entertainment, and more. This is increasingly true in developing countries too – overall their exports of creative goods to the world reached 43 per cent of total global creative industries trade, with an annual growth rate of over thirteen per cent between 2002 and 2008. Contemplate, for example the jobs and revenues generated by India’s Bollywood alone.

More can be done to promote the role of the creative sectors and culture in development. They have good potential to generate more decent work and green jobs, including for those in hitherto excluded and marginalized groups.

Programmes supported by the MDG Achievement Fund supported tens of thousands of artisans and small tourism operators to develop their markets, improve product design and marketability, and access credit. Capacity support was also provided to local and national governments, helping them to generate an enabling environment for cultural and related industries.

Going forward

There is lot to gain from harnessing culture’s development potential. As a sector, culture often loses out to competing priorities; and rigorous data collection and analysis is too often missing from related projects. 

I commend UNESCO’s work on culture and development and am pleased that the UN Development Group has recently formed a task group on this co-led by UNESCO and UNDP. The aim is to ensure that the UNDG is able to align with the growing interest of Member States in culture and development programming.

Working together, Member States and the UN Development Group can promote respect for cultural diversity and assets as enablers of sustainable development.

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