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Culture has many different meanings and definitions. It refers to several ways of life like language, arts, sciences, thought, spirituality, social activity and interactions.

In recent times, there has been a push to link the different dimensions of culture to development. The General Conference of UNESCO created an independent World Commission on Culture and Development to focus on this linkage and the meaning of diversity in culture.


Cultural diversity widens the range of options open to everyone; it is one of the roots of development, understood not simply in terms of economic growth, but also as a means to achieve a more satisfactory intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual existence”  – UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity (Art. 3 – Cultural diversity as a factor in development)


Measuring Cultural Progress

In conjunction with globalization, important political, economic and cultural changes have taken place on local, national and global levels. UNESCO has been a key force that has helped to develop and disseminate updated understandings of culture and its link to progress in the modern and global context of today. [1]

While development is not synonymous with economic growth, it has ability to achieve a more satisfactory intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual existence. In these ways, culture is linked with development, and is of fundamental importance. [2]

Culture is an important element of human well-being, and it can be defined in many ways. As articulated by UNESCO: culture is the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterise a society or a social group. It includes not only the arts and literature, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions and beliefs.

While the relationship between culture and development has been established and widely accepted, the nature of this relationship varies from country to country. One of UNESCO’s concerns is effective public policy-making on matters related to culture. [3]

Consequently culture directly plays an important role in achieving the Millennium Development Goals. José Antonio González Mancebo mentions four areas in which this is the case: economics, social cohesion, environmentally sustainable cultural tourism and building participatory citizenship. Economically, the significance of culture lays in its ability to generate income from creativity and cultural tourism, raising income levels, jobs, and greater opportunities for young people and women, and therewith contributing to achieving Millennium Development Goals.

Along with constructive cultural opportunities generated by the economic development, it is necessary to consider the negative influences of globalisation. Given that it is closely linked with economic development, globalisation requests a special attention as it provides opportunities and also entails risks. It links cultures and enriches the interaction between them, but may also have a detrimental effect on national creative diversity and cultural pluralism.

However, extended cultural contacts between different countries as well as within them, through paintings, films, music as example, can increase cultural opportunities and also generate income and employment growth.

Additional development efforts, including economic expansion, can be integrated with programs that support and help disseminate local cultural ways of expressions, such as, for example, traditional music and dancing. Art is another example of a medium that has the power to stimulate dialogue, participation and understanding between communities. While these are cultural investments, they can ultimately generate financial income.


Initiatives and studies related to culture and its dimensions





  1. Robert Prescott-Allen, The Structure of a Wellbeing Index, Evaluation of the proposed Structure of the Wellbeing Index Developed for debate at the JRC/OECD Workshop, June 2006, Milano
  2. Julio Carranza Valdés, Statistics in the Wake of Challenges Posed by Cultural Diversity in a Globalization Context, Cultural Development Indicators: Towards a new dimension of human well-being, UNESCO Regional Office, La Habana, Cuba, 2002
  3. David Throsby, Culture in Sustainable Development: Insights for the Future Implementation of Art. 13, The Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, Sydney, 14 January 2008

See also