Category Archives: social cohesion

Assessing networked risks through the measurement of Social Capital – first lessons from the World Social Capital Monitor

This post has been contributed by Alexander Dill of the Basel Institute of Commons and Economics

Can trust, solidarity, helpfulness and friendliness have an impact on economic outcomes by lowering the costs for externalities such as security, peace and environmental damage? If the answer is yes, these supposedly ‘soft’ social goods should be given more attention.

The intuitive importance of the concept of “social capital” has long been recognised, but efforts to define and measure it have been less successful. In 1999, then Chief Economist of the World Bank, Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz launched the Social Capital Initiative (with contributions from two other Nobel laureates: Amartya Sen and Elinor Ostrom), which led to a detailed 27-page household questionnaire being administered in a number of countries, but the complexity of the concept continued to be an obstacle to the meaningful application of results to policy and programme interventions.

So which are the aspects of social capital that should be made a priority for measurement? Social capital can be seen as relationships and social networks within groups (‘bonding’ social capital) or as social relationships, values and perceptions across ethnical, political and religious groups, also known as ‘bridging’ social capital. Bridging social capital can be seen to underpin such concepts as trust, solidarity and friendliness, and it is these phenomena which could be the most valuable to underpin the functioning of democratic, stable and resilient societies. More trusting and cooperative societies are likely to have to spend less on transaction costs and externalities.
This is why the World Social Capital Monitor started measuring eight indicators of bridging Social Capital in 36 languages and 141 countries, that serve to assess networked risks and to lowering the costs of externalities. Now the social climate, the willingness to co-finance public goods by austerity measures and taxes, the willingness to invest in local cooperatives and SME, trust, helpfulness, friendliness and hospitality can be locally scored on a ladder between 10 (high/excellent) and 1 (low/poor). You can test it yourself by scoring your town on on any Smartphone, PC or tablet.

From former surveys e.g. on trust by the WHO in 2012 (deviation 2.41 on the same ladder) we could expect a high deviation. But the deviation given by the Trust Your Place survey was much lower. In Cambodia the citizens of 18 provinces only differed by 1.5 points on average when they scored their bridging Social Capital. The poorest province of Kandal had better scores than the capital Phnom Penh. To better understand the Global distribution of Social Capital we may have a look at a comparison of interpersonal trust in four countries.

Dill Blog Image

Source: Social Capital Assessment, Basel Institute of Commons and Economics, 2012/2016

In Japan, high societal trust allowed to recover after the double disasters of the earthquake and Fukushima in 2012. The Basel Institute therefore published the results to argue against a downgrade of Japan in rating. In Ukraine in 2012 however, interpersonal trust was entirely down – and ended in the decline of economy and society in 2014 and the loss of Crimea and Donbass. At the time most of the analysts published positive outlooks on Ukraine and saw the country to becoming a candidate for the EU.

In Afghanistan trust with a score of 4.95 is the worst of the eight indicators of Social Capital but at the same level as in many Western countries.
So the level of trust can indicate high political and economic risks (Ukraine) as well as societal stability (Japan, Cambodia) and a promising base for reconciliation in a country being in war for decades (Afghanistan).

Related links

Basel Institute of Commons and Economics

Wiki article on ‘Social Capital’

The week in review

Week in review 09.12.2011
Hello, glad you could join us for the Wikiprogress week in review – a handful of headlines that have caught our eyes over the last week. You can find all news articles and blog posts on the progress community in the  Wikiprogress Community Portal

On measuring progress
Government drafts ‘happiness indicators’ to supplement economic data  (The Japan Times 06.12.2011)
At the Asia-Pacific Conference on Measuring Well-Being and Fostering the Progress of Societies, Japan’s Cabinet Office announced a set of indicators designed to gauge well-being based on three major factors — socioeconomic conditions, physical and mental health, and relationships.
See more and contribute to the Wikiprogress article on The Asia-Pacific Conference on Measuring Well-Being and Fostering the Progress of Societies

On inequality
OECD inequality report: how do different countries compare?  (Guardian Data Blog 05.12.2011)
The OECD report on inequality: Divided We Stand: Why Inequality Keeps Rising, released this week shows a rise in the share of top-income recipients in total gross income over the last 30 years in all countries.
Read more and contribute to the Wikiprogress article on inequality

On UK happiness
Richard Layard: And so begins the strange era of feel-good politics… (The Independent 07.12.2011)
Leading progress thinker, Richard Layard, writes about the future of basing policy on how it affects the well-being of the people. He argues that the value lies not in finding the average happiness of the nation, but in what causes people to be happy or unhappy.
See more and contribute to the Wikiprogress article on measuring happiness in the UK

On gender equality

Women and Work – This house believes that a woman’s place is at work (Economist Debate)
Defending the motion in this week’s Economist debate is Linda Basch (President of National Council for Research on Women), who argues work is right for families, communities, the economy and women. Against this motion is Christina Hoff Summers (American Enterprise Institute), who believes women should not have an assigned place and questions what is wrong with the 5 million American women who are fulltime mothers.
See more and contribute to the Wikigender article on women and work.

On growth in India
Putting Growth in its Place (Outlook, November)
Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze co-author this essay on growth and development in India stressing that growth should be a means to development but not an end in itself. India is a unique case, even after 20 years of growth it is still among the world’s poorest nations.
See more and contribute to the Wikiprogress article on progress in India

In the Spotlight: Global Corruption Perception Index reflects Arab Spring unrest
That’s all from us this week. We hope you tune in the same time next week. In the meantime, if anything interesting passes your desk that you would like to see in the next Wikiprogress week in review, please tweet it to us  @Wikiprogress  or post it on our  Facebook page.  

Yours in progress,

Philippa Lysaght

Covering the “missing middle” in social protection

by Juan R. de Laiglesia from the OECD Development Centre 
Providing social protection to the informal middle classes will foster social cohesion, and doesn’t cost the earth.

As citizens across the globe demand new economic models, the OECD’s newly released Perspectives on Global Development 2012 puts social cohesion on the table as a broader social development objective. Social cohesion compounds inclusiveness, equal opportunity and a sense of belonging to society, of shared destinies. Strong growth in a large part of the developing world has transformed the ways development challenges can be addressed. 

The final declaration of the 4th High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness held in Busan last week reminds us that poverty and inequality remain a central challenge in global development.  The OECD’s Perspectives on Global Development 2012 find that 83 countries more than doubled OECD per capita growth rates over the past decade. You would be right to think that faster than 1.8% growth is hardly impressive; but in fact 49 countries grew at more than 3.75%. In the 1990s, only 12 countries managed that.

How growth has changed the picture

First, the poor no longer live mostly in poor countries. Research by Andy Sumner,  at the Institute for Development Studies , finds that 70% of the world’s poor live in middle income countries. Two decades ago, 93% of the poor lived in Low Income Countries. This means that most of the poor live in countries where per capita incomes are above USD 2.75 a day, and more in purchasing parity terms. In other words, more countries can use redistributive instruments – from taxes to transfers to health provision – to eradicate poverty. Indeed, countries such as India or China have up-scaled social protection interventions in recent years.

Second, millions have been lifted out of poverty as average incomes have increased and emerged as a new – but vulnerable ­– middle class. As a result, half of the 2bn-strong global middle class live in emerging economies. But make no mistake, this middle class is unlike Western stereotypes of a couple with two children, a dog and one or two cars.  The emerging middle classes are vulnerable: many remain only just above the poverty line and do not have a stock of capital that would allow them to buffer major shocks such as illness nor to whether the changes in fortunes which come with old age. In Latin America, less than 10% of households have mortgage loans, and less than half of them are middle-class. Many in the emerging middle classes work informally. And yet, not being poor, they have the capacity to save and contribute to social insurance. Social protection plays a key role in buttressing their middle class status and preventing them from slipping back into poverty.

Social protection redux

Is this a job for social protection? In the past few years, the discourse around the role of social protection in development has changed dramatically. Through the work of the OECD’s Development Assistance Committee, the donor community has clearly stated the role of social protection in making growth pro-poor. Last month, the Social Protection Floor Advisory Group, chaired by Michelle Bachelet released its report entitled Social Protection Floor for a Fair and Inclusive Globalization. Social protection has moved from being viewed as merely a “safety net” built of targeted assistance to the poor to a key instrument in building fairer societies.

The past ten years have seen a true “quiet revolution” in social protection in the developing world. The rapid introduction of means-tested cash benefits has greatly increased the scale of social protection. South Africa’s Child Support Grant, introduced in 1998 covered 7.7 million children by 2008, China’s Minimum Living Subsidy Scheme (DiBao) was introduced in 1997 and reached 57 million households by 2007. The very popular conditional cash transfer (CCT) programmes in Mexico (Oportunidades) and Brazil (Bolsa Família) reach respectively 5 and 12.5 million households or about a quarter of the population in each country. The beauty of this quantum leap is that it has been made using home-grown instruments, tried and tested across developing countries. Often these new programmes coexist with contribution-based social security systems that cover formal employees.

The “missing middle”: a challenge for social cohesion

Put together, contribution-based social security and means-tested social protection for the poor leave a “missing middle” in social protection coverage. Indeed, research at the OECD Development Centre shows that the majority of middle-class workers in emerging economies such as Brazil  or Mexico are not formal employees.  Contributory pensions are open to independent workers and informal employees – those without contracts – but in practice only a minority participate in them. In the case of Brazil only 15% of the self-employed and 9% of informal employees in the middle income quintiles contribute to pensions systems.
Providing adequate instruments for the informal middle classes to insure or manage risk matters for social cohesion. First because today’s vulnerable middle class can become tomorrow’s poor. Many in the emerging middle classes lie close to the poverty line and can fall back in downturns. Second, it is a matter of horizontal equity. Social protection is a form of institutionalized solidarity: excluding certain categories from social protection deprives them of risk management instruments which are usually not available in the private market. Moreover, it runs the risk of alienating that segment of society. Finally, the middle classes have an important role to play in shaping the politics of poverty reduction. How likely are the informal middle classes to side with the poor on redistribution issues if they do not partake in the system that protects the poor?

Extending protection: more than one way forward

Social protection can be extended to cover the informal middle classes in several ways. Unbundling health, pensions and the other functions of social security helps, because they can be priced and provided separately. Contributory pensions and Unemployment Insurance Savings Accounts as implemented in Chile are examples of such unbundling. Certain instruments, like UISAs (compulsory savings accounts from which withdrawals are made during unemployment spells) can be extended to informal workers. Since they pool little risk across workers, they do not entail cross-subsidies or generate incentives to stay out of formal work. Subsidising contributions to the social security system is also possible – for example by governments’ matching deposits into retirement accounts. Matching-defined contribution pensions following that model are being implemented in Mexico, Colombia and Peru. Universal entitlements are also used today across the developing world, especially for basic healthcare and pension income.  In all cases, the key is to break the dichotomy between a social protection system for formal workers and one – or none – for informal workers. Such duality reinforces the segmentation between labour markets and contributes to deepen the fault line between formal and informal workers.

At stake is building a social protection system that not only alleviates poverty, but empowers citizens to build up and protect human capital and to participate in networks of organised solidarity. The past decade saw the emergence of a number of innovative instruments in social protection, born and bred in the South. Making inclusive systems out of these and other innovations remains work in progress.

The week in review

The week in review 25.11.2011
Hello, glad you could join us for the Wikiprogress week in review – a handful of headlines that have caught our eyes over the last week. You can find all news articles and blog posts on the progress community in the  Wikiprogress Community Portal. 

Looking forward
The World in 2012 (The Economist 22.11.2011)
Next Friday the Economist will be hosting ‘The World in 2012’, a conference that will discuss the trends, issues and ideas that will shape the year ahead. In the lead up to the conference, @The Economist is asking for ideas via twitter on important themes of 2012.

On happiness
Balloons for Bhutan (Jonathan Harris)
Bhutan is internationally recognised for their use of Gross National Happiness as the primary measure for national well-being. In his latest artwork Balloons for Bhutan, artist and statistician Jonathan Harris visualizes 599 accounts of happiness in Bhutan in an effort to capture ‘a portrait of happiness in the last Himalayan Kingdom’
See more and contribute to the Wikiprogress article on Gross National Happiness

On inequality
The launch of Perspectives on Global Development 2012 has received a lot of media attention this week. This Guardian article highlights the importance of emerging economies such as China, India and South Africa addressing issues of inequality caused by two decades of rapid economic growth.
See more and contribute to the Wikiprogress article on social cohesion

On gender equality
Launched on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, this 16 day campaign aims to trigger action and raise awareness across the word.
See more and contribute to the Wikigender article on violence against women

That’s all from us this week. We hope you tune in the same time next week. In the meantime, if anything interesting passes your desk that you would like to see in the next Wikiprogress week in review, please tweet it to us @Wikiprogress or post it on our Facebook page. 

Yours in Progress,

Philippa Lysaght

Social cohesion: making it happen

Today’s post originally appeared on the OECD Insights Blog and is from Anne-Lise Prigent, editor in charge of development publications at OECD Publishing

A famous Deng Xiaoping quote goes : “Let some people get rich first”. Yet, in Spring 2011, the Beijing city authorities banned all outdoor advertisement of luxury goods on the grounds that they might contribute to a “politically unhealthy environment”.
The trouble with growth is that inequalities tend to rise with it. Growth does not necessarily translate into better life satisfaction – far from it, as the experience of Thailand or Tunisia shows. What happens when the fruits of growth are not shared, when people feel that income inequalities are rising and food prices soaring? Well, that’s when the so-called “politically unhealthy environment” sets in.
Millions voiced their frustration during the Arab Spring. From Tahrir square to the streets of Tunis, a huge emerging middle class showed that it has a tremendous capacity to mobilize people. It demands governments that are open and transparent, as well as more and better services. How can governments answer these demands? How can they go about redistributing the fruits of growth?
A new policy agenda is needed: one that focuses not only on growth but also on openness, fairness and inclusion. Social cohesion needs to be at the centre of policy making. Failing this, we may (re)enter a vicious circle where inequalities create a sense of injustice, which in turn can lead to (mass) protest and sometimes violence. As a result, social peace and stability, as well as long-term growth, may be jeopardized.
How can governments foster social cohesion? Perspectives on Global Development: Social Cohesion in a Shifting World from the OECD Development Centre, answers this. With this latest report, the Development Centre again proves that it is engaged with the world we live in, whether discussing tax revenues or the merits of football as a factor of social cohesion: having a sense of community can make a difference. That, along with equality of opportunities is what social cohesion is all about.
The report first shows how the world has undergone a shift of historical significance over the past decade, with the centre of economic gravity moving towards the East and South. The figures speak for themselves: in 2000, OECD countries represented around 60% of global GDP but by 2010 this was down to 51%, and it will be only 43% by 2030. In fast-growing economies, per capita growth rate was more than double that of high-income OECD countries over the last decade.
It is precisely this shifting wealth that opens a window of opportunity for development and social cohesion. In fast-growing economies, fiscal revenues rose from 20% of GDP on average in 2000 to 27% in 2008. These countries now have the (fiscal) resources to finance social policies that can make the difference – or, can they?
This report argues that public policies can make a difference. OECD countries with initially high income inequalities manage to redistribute income through taxes and transfers. The challenge is to leave no one behind. A cohesive society reduces inequality between groups and ensures that all citizens – the poor, the middle-earners, and the rich – are socially included.
Over the last decade, hundreds of millions of people were lifted out of poverty. This report argues that the emerging middle class should not be ignored either. Today, nearly 1 billion out of the 2 billion people living on 10 to 100 dollars a day in the world – the global middle class – live in fast-growing countries. This number is projected to exceed 3 billion in 2030.
The emerging middle class is a critical economic and social actor because of its potential as an engine of growth, particularly in the largest developing countries such as China and India. Its contribution to social cohesion can be high, and its expectations are sharply rising. What is needed is a social contract between citizens and the state, which entails more and better services in exchange for paying taxes. This would foster a virtuous circle that boosts social cohesion as well as growth. Citizens are more willing to pay taxes in societies where they feel a sense of belonging. Fiscal policy is thus a good place to start.
As the report highlights, fiscal, social and employment policies should go hand in hand. With recent innovations in social protection, the poorest are covered by social assistance and the wealthy by either contribution-based or private alternatives. Yet, a considerable number of (informal) middle-class workers are stuck in the uncomfortable “missing middle” of coverage. More comprehensive social protection systems should protect all sections of the population.
Stronger labour market institutions are also needed. They should aim to create more “good” jobs and reduce the duality in labour markets – between standard and non-standard contracts or between formal and informal workers. This will be critical in reducing inequalities and fostering social cohesion.
A series of cross-cutting issues have to be addressed coherently as well, including education, gender equality, food policy, the integration of immigrants, and institutions.
As Albert Einstein once said, “Reality is merely an illusion, although a very persistent one”. Ignoring people’s desires and the reality in which they live is perilous. Technocratically good policies that do that just won’t work and giving space to dissenting voices is essential to the creation of a sustainable, socially cohesive society.
Social cohesion is a means for development as well as an end in itself. What if social cohesion were the 21st century’s holy grail? A holy grail that can only be attained with some long-term vision and commitment – and a smile. Failing that, there might be rough times ahead.
Useful links

The “era of opening up”, a new word for “users” and a “good talking to”

Greetings from rainy and cold Brussels where I am attending an international conference on “Internet and Societies, new innovation paths” at the European Commission.

It is organised by the PARADISO initiative which aims at exploring how societies might evolve or co-evolve in the future and makes recommendations on how ICT and the Future Internet contributes to a better future.

This is a little different crowd than I usually see at these kinds of international conferences and the discussions are definitely lively. Here are a few of the highlights:

Today, in the afternoon session, there was Lynn St. Amour, President and CEO of The Internet Society who made a plea for all companies and governments to move over the IPv6 so that more IP addresses can be created.  She asked us all to check with our IT departments as this is a key issue that is limiting equal access to the internet globally. She also asked (and many of the researchers in the room agreed) that we seek a better term for the word “users” for those who interact with the Internet. I agree. That word doesn’t really encompass how people interact anymore. I’m trying to think of one word with one syllable….anyone? She also doesn’t see the security issue as all encompassing as some (even in the room) do. She thinks there is an element of risk in innovation and if we lock down the internet or its information because it might not be safe, we may miss out on the possibility that others can build on that.

Speaking of openness, Ashok Jhunjhunwala, Member of Prime Minister’s Scientific Advisory Committee, India gave an impassioned speech on the power of the Internet in India. He said, “We are in an era of opening up”. I like that. He went on to say that the Internet provides cohesion, education, doctors and diversity. However, he warned that people can get lost on the internet and lose sight of reality. Among the problems with bringing the majority of the Indian population online is due to languages. He did say that using voice over the internet in local languages is proving to be successful. He reflected on whether governance can ever be fair and decentralised and whether Asia will define the Internet differently than the West. He is thinking on issues of “private lives” and with constant connectivity, it seems to be disappearing. Then he made a funny reference to Americans who send emails and expect a reply in 10 minutes even when its 2am in Delhi. He also agreed that the term “users” doesn’t suit and we must find ways to increase engagement on the Internet.

Another lively speech was given by Ruben Nelson, Executive Director, Foresight Canada. He says that internet and societies are co-evolving like a marriage. One cannot exist without the other both are responsible for what happens in the future. In his talk he gave us a “good talking to” by saying that the modern/industrial imagination is:
• Too fragmented

• Too short term

• Too shallow (in terms of thinking through difficult concepts)

• Too arrogant

In this context, he questions the concept of sustainability. Instead, he suggests that we should change and fix this nonsense rather than holding on to it in hopes that maybe we will get away with it. Applause.

So today, a lot of big thinking on the future of the internet and the relationship with societies. Tomorrow at this conference, I will talk about the Wikiprogress and Wikigender road and where they fit into all this as platforms for citizen engagement.

I think we can look forward to the recommendations that this crowd will put out soon. Stay tuned to Wikiprogress for updates.


PS: Trevor, are we on IPv6?

The UK riots and social exclusion: Let’s focus on a well society.

The UK’s Coalition Government has done many things since coming to power to try to distinguish itself from the last administration, one of which has been the decision to try and measure community well-being as a way of informing policy decisions.  The Prime Minister, ministers, the Office of National Statistics, commentators and just about everyone else have found it difficult to come to some consensus on what well-being is.  Where everyone can agree is that last month’s riots in many English cities are about as far away from community well-being as you’d ever want to be.

So why have some communities been left looking like war zones? Well-being theory can help identify some of the main issues and hopefully inform the response to what is a very complex problem.

The new economics foundation has developed the Five Ways to Well-being as a self help guide to promote increased individual well-being[1]. The rioters may indeed have the means to keep connected with the people around them, but something is stopping these individuals from learning more, nurturing their curiosity and feeling that doing something for their community is worthwhile in itself.  Similarly, Professor Martin Seligman’s recipe to Flourish[2]  notes the importance of relationships in an individual’s life, like the Five Ways to Well-being.  The other ingredients in Professor Seligman’s recipe include getting involved in something that brings positive meaning to your life or developing a sense of achievement.

Many commentators have highlighted the role that gangs have played in the riots.  Gang culture can bring meaning, achievement and relationships to their members, like any club or social network.  Being in a gang can make you feel very good about yourself and draw you closer to your peers, while insulating you from conditions on the ‘outside.’  This goes to the heart of the very subjective nature of well-being, where gang members would probably report that at least their short-term quality of life has been improved by gang membership and newly acquired material goods.  Those who have suffered at the hands of the criminal rioters would strongly disagree.  It is this mismatch that illustrates perfectly why public policy needs to focus on community well-being rather than individual short term happiness or merriment. 

MacDonald[3] has written about social exclusion, noting that the young adults in his research were very much part of a local community, but that the characteristics of that community, and the behaviours and attitudes required to be socially included within it, could be the very things that made those young people excluded from wider society. Again, like gang membership, this suggests that aspects of wellbeing are setting specific.

Lles Cymru Wellbeing Wales has worked with a number of organisations with the Exploring Sustainable Well-being Toolkit – which has a model of sustainable well-being at its core (See figure 1).  We would argue that the complex underlying problems uncovered by the recent riots need to be viewed through the lens of sustainable well-being in order to help work out what’s going on, rather than narrowly focusing on individuals and their ‘feckless mothers’.  We would also advocate asking people where they are as the first step in informing future policy decisions.  This information would give a real sense of the community’s well-being and help decision makers understand what the issues are at the sharp end of government policy delivery.  Even better, evidence demonstrates that this approach can galvanise a community to get involved and make a positive difference – streets full of volunteers clearing up after the riots illustrate the potential.

Figure 1

All of this might sound a bit fluffy and in sharp contrast to the scenes of destruction played out on the news.  But NEF’s work is founded on the 2008 Foresight Programme’s Mental Capital and Wellbeing Project and Professor Seligman has been commissioned by the United States Army to deliver the world’s most psychologically fit Army under the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness programme.  These principles are applicable to this situation and there is evidence to demonstrate the successes of this approach.

US Democrat congresswomen Patricia Schroeder spent 24 years in the House of Representatives focusing on family and work related issues.  She is quoted as saying “you measure a government on how few people need help.” I would say that a lot of people need a lot of help based on recent events.

Finally, as a father, its distressing to read so many comments about unemployable and worthless youths.  Surely we need to move on from thinking about everyone’s contribution to society in purely economic terms.  We’re currently stuck in the rut of assessing social progress and government success by focusing on the country’s economic activity.  To get more economic growth, we all have to be more ‘economically efficient.’  As a result, if you don’t get the grades, you don’t get the career and have less value to society. That’s going to make a lot of people very scared. It is no surprise that the key focus of the riots was on looting the goods that our society values as the symbols of economic power. At a time when we have a greater gap between the poorest and wealthiest in society than ever before, we also have a media that offers us constant reminders of what flexing that economic power looks like.

The fact of the matter is that promoting constant economic growth is difficult to manage and focuses on the wrong things – just ask the Chancellor.  According to Robert Kennedy in 1968, using economic growth to mark our society’s progress ends up measuring “everything … except that which makes life worthwhile”.  I hope we can avoid knee jerk reactions or clever sound bites in response to the riots and continue to look at how best to promote more well-being for all of our communities.  Recent evidence suggests this approach is needed more than ever.

Article was written by Dafydd Thomas from Wikiprogress Correspondent, Wellbeing Wales Network.

[2] Seligman M (2011) Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, Free Press.
[3] Macdonald, R & J. Marsh (2005) Disconnected Youth? Growing Up In Britain’s Poor Neighbourhoods, Palgrave Macmillan.

Thoughts on data, progress and a crisis

I, like most of you, have been watching the footage from Japan. While the New Zealand earthquake fades from memory I suddenly remember those horrific floods in Pakistan that are all but a distant memory to the western media. Then what about Ivory Coast and Libya as well? Sometimes I really wonder how the world can possibly progress if disaster after disaster keeps occurring. Ok, before you stop reading because I am being really depressing, there is a point to this. Data.
Yesterday, I attended an OECD Development Centre seminar on “Social Cohesion, Inequality and Economic Crises” with Sir Anthony Atkinson of Nuffield College, Oxford. He was talking about two crises that have come upon us in recent years: the banking crises and the consumption crises. He and Salvatore Morelli are working on a piece of research on how/whether different kinds of crises affect inequality in societies or vice versa. The camp which argues that growing inequality increases the risk of crises includes Chiefs Economist Stiglitz and Rajan. Whereas Krugman (2009) argues that rising inequality is does not increase the risk of a crisis.
What was most interesting to me was the issue of “the data challenge”. In order to actually argue this out, there has to be reliable data of which there are not. In order to analyse this Atkinson notes that you need a long run of years as crises (the kind he was talking about) are rare events, up to date distributional data which is lacking, the ability to download annual series on a number of countries (currently very difficult technically to do), consistent data (currently data on inequality have to be patched together from a variety of sources or just left out if missing) just to name a few. Also, in the choice of countries for study, any country that had had a major war was just left out. Would it not be interesting to look at a conflict country to see whether inequality was an issue? Data on violence in Liberia for example can be found here on the UNFPA’s website on shelter, jobs, loss of life and violence against women. But, Liberia and many other post conflict countries are left out of many studies because there was a war there. Unless, it is a particular study on “post conflict society”, you will not see very much from this crowd. It is really difficult to get data for sure. UNFPA talks about the challenges of collecting data on the ground. I have lived in Liberia and been to Lofa country on several occasions. I can tell you that they are not kidding.
So, if the data is so hard to collect and more subjective measures or non official data are not really trusted as much as those of national accounts systems (though that is also under fire as of recently see the Stiglitz report and the Global Project on Measuring the Progress of Societies), what is to be done about it? I am really thinking in terms of crisis data here. With information communication technologies today, there should be a way to be able to continue to collect data on a society uninterrupted. Sure, Ushahidi and others are working on this but this kind of data hasn’t made it to the peer review journal set (wikileaks?). I think we are in another crisis…a data one. Data on populations in wars and natural disasters is important and these countries should not be left out because of an IT or management problem while in crisis. Fast Company has a good article on this here which asks “so is that what Pakistan needs? An external service specializing in the collection and coordination of data, rather than relying on its own internal government resources?” Whatever the case, there has to be regular ease of communication between data collected on the ground, have it recorded “on the record”, disseminated and used in studies like Atkinson and Morrelli’s and beyond. Perhaps then we will really be able to say with some certainty where we are in terms of social cohesion or inequality or any other dimension of progress by applying better evidence for conflict countries, countries in a crisis like Japan and Pakistan and all others.
These are just some of my thoughts while watching Japan gets through this. I would be interested to hear yours.

Angela Hariche

Well-being for all: Is “shared social responsibility” the solution?

Ever heard about “shared social responsibility” (SSR)? I hadn’t, I have to confess. “Corporate Social Responsibility” (CSR) rings a bell, but what SSR stands for I had no clue, at least since yesterday. I am just back in the office from a two day mission to Brussels where I participated in a co-organized event by the Council of Europe and the EU commission on: Shared social responsibility – securing trust and sustainable social cohesion in a context of transition”. The conference objectives was to discuss the draft of a “European Charter on shared social responsibilities” portrayed as “an alternative to the status quo…..creating a framework for developing action strategies that can provide everyone with an acceptable degree of control over their lives in a context of co-decided priorities”. Uff!

In a more simpler language I understood that this means get us citizens engaged to become more involved in dealing with all sorts of issues in a “transition” context, while transition stands for all sorts of problems, challenges and evils European societies are facing today. From a marketing point of view the concept is quite appealing: the “social” addresses the concerns of the more social democratic public while “responsibility” nicely resonates with the more liberal folks. And who would oppose to any “sharing”?

Three questions immediately come to mind:

First, why do we need this charter and why now? Listening to the president of the EU commission, José Barrosso, the current model of European growth and welfare is broken and needs urgently to be revitalized. In fact, I was very surprised how many speakers highlighted their worries with contemporary Europe: low growth, fierce competition, high inequalities, high youth un-employment, social exclusion ….. an impressive laundry list of all the malaises was discussed. But, is this really a good starting point for a new vision? Where is the positive entry point? You can – at least I felt – hardly build a new, inspiring vision only on fear, anxiety and weakness. Luckily, at the end of the two day conference, the American Harvard professor Peter A. Hall reminded us of the many strengthens Europe can still rely on, notably its long tradition of sharing common values relating to social cohesion and solidarity.

Secondly, what’s new and where is the beef? Have we not had more than 20 years of debate on the social economy, third sector, voluntary organizations and corporate social responsibilities? After two days of debate, I am now more convinced that there is indeed something pecuniary about putting out a new vision today. The crisis has amplified some of the structural problems in Europe, leading to an immense piling up of public debt with public authorities having more and more difficulties to perform basic functions. Europe urgently needs a vision – beyond the day-to-day management of the Euro crisis and competitive pact design – which can bind together different strata of the population. Does this remind us of the concept of “Big Society” currently discussed in the UK? Yes it does – it was said though, that the current debate is too focussed on “shifting responsibilities” and not on “sharing”, which has a different slant.

How to make it work? Jean Lambert, member of the European Parliament, questioned whether the different stakeholders are already ready to take up this new role of “responsibility”. Do the different stakeholders have the time and the skills to get involved – where is the space where the different actors could meet and discuss, she asked in her intervention? It is very clear that for an active engagement of other stakeholders than the state, such as businesses and civil society organizations, the purpose and outcomes of consultations need to be clear.

To boost and scale up the engagement of local citizens in the spirit of a “shared social responsibility” will take some time and effort and the state needs to be acting as a key actor to allow the other stakeholders to flourish. Social networks are not only a source for personal well-being and risk sharing but can also lead to spin-offs for the whole society, breeding social innovations. Peter Hall called it the “social multiplier effect”. Governments need to check if their policies are supporting and not damaging the social fabric of societies and social connectives. This network capital should be activated and harnessed to make social cohesion work through shared social responsibilities.

In a nutshell, the idea of sharing social responsibilities is inspiring; not only for Europe but also beyond. The difficult question is how to make it work in societies where different strata of the population opt out – is the Facebook generation interested in taking its share of “social responsibility” one might, for instance, ask.

What will be the future of this charter? It is far too early to say if its final fate is to end up on the shelf of European member states or if it helps to set out the fundament of a new vision for Europe and therefore will shape a new political and social agenda, a new “ethical imperative” (Hall). I personally wish for the latter. Is SSR the solution to foster well-being for all? Certainly not, but it is a compelling framework to be used as a guidance for public policy making, for designing a modern form of stakeholder relation based on the principles of deliberative processes and accountability as well as for fostering social cohesion in a continent struggling to find its place in a shifting world context.