Wednesday, 20 July 2016

WORLD: How to fix the ''fragility'' within Countries?

In past decades, it used to be common parlance to refer to parts of our planet as different ''worlds''. There was the 'First World', the mostly capitalist, mostly Western countries of the developed world; there was the 'Second World', comprising mostly the industrialized communist nations; and there was the 'Third World', a term still heard occasionally in reference to poor countries.

These worlds appeared, and many ways were, analytically and culturally distinct. There were problems of developed countries and problems of developing countries--'their' problems and 'our' problems. To address these problems, the global development community needed people with completely separate types of expertise and experience.

That time is ending. Increasingly, societies worldwide face their own versions of the same problems, merely to different degrees. Developed and developing countries alike are struggling with disparities between the ''haves'' and ''have-nots'', job growth that cannot keep up with population growth and technological change, and challenges of political, social, and economic inclusion. 

Today different 'worlds' are as likely to be separated by city blocks or subway stops as by portions of the globe. It may be that the challenges of certain neighborhoods in Paris are more similar to those in Kinshasa and Rio de Janeiro than those only a few miles way.

This change is occurring for a largely positive reason.  According to a July 2015 Pew Research Center report on 111 countries, 783 million people were living on $10 to $ 20 per day in 2011, compared with 398 million in 2001--an increase that nearly doubled the world's middle-income population in just one decade. To be sure, too many people remain in poverty worldwide, and many of those who are now 'middle-income' are on the lower end of that spectrum, but the progress is significant, nonetheless.

As the world's 'middle-income' population rises, international development agencies are turning their attention to 'fragile-states'---an increasingly small number of societies wracked by lawlessness, intense violence, and extreme poverty. The challenges of these states are both real and, as the current global refugee crisis illustrates, immense. This focus on 'fragile states' and the human suffering they create is understandable. However, it risks diverting attention from another serious but less headline-grabbing problem: the fragility that exists within societies worldwide---the pockets of politically, socially, and economically marginalized groups that continue to fall further behind as other reap growth's rewards.

The Paris/Brussels/Nice attacks were horrific, but over the long term, the story may be as much about the alienation of Muslims living in Paris/Brussels/Nice outer suburbs as it is about the attack itself. Nigeria may have been one the world's fastest-growing major economies and may have captured media attention for the global success of its 'Nollywood films'--which account for almost 1.5% of Nigeria's economy..but the challenge of economic, political and social marginalization is intense even beyond the country's poorer and predominantly Muslim northern provinces. In the United States, the media and public consciousness have long since moved on from the riots in Ferguson, Missouri, Dallas and Baltimore, but the underlying economic and social conditions that produced those upheavals are still present.

The problems that arise from these pockets of fragility challenge citizens everywhere to find new ways of thinking. How should we, as members of a global community, think about international development when there as as many differences within countries, and even within cities, as across them? How should the approach of developed countries change when developed countries themselves are struggling with many of the same issues as the countries they are trying to help? This has always been true to some extent, of course, but the gap between the type of problems experienced by developed countries, on the one hand, and developing countries, on the other hand, is narrowing.

A first step is to knock down barriers between domestic organizations focused on issues of economic and social justice and those focused on international development. Despite the fact that many of these organizations increasingly focus on the same types of problems( job creation, substance abuse, access to justice, social exclusion, and the like), there is a staggering lack of contact--let alone learning--among them. The situation is only reinforced by funding streams, staffing, organizations networks, and university curricula.

A second step is to focus more on peer-to peer learning and partnerships across countries that are grappling with similar challenges of social inclusion, job creation, and injustice. Learning from peers is one of the most effective methods of enhancing the capabilities of those striving to advance social development.

A third step is to focus international development more on human development and less on infrastructure like dams and roads that will increasingly be financed by the private sector on countries focused on advancing economic interests rather than a development agenda. A focus on human development emphasizes the need to reduce disparities and build social cohesion, particularly through actions but both governments and civil society that reduce social violence and entrenched discrimination.

A fourth step is to focus on overcoming the economic, ethnic, racial, gender, geographic, and digital divides that drive marginalization. Doing so will require a much broader range of actors than traditional international development engages. These include private-sector employers, universities, technology companies, civil society organizations and municipal and provincial governments. The role of foreign governments and other outsiders seeking to advance international development will be to use their investments as catalyzing force to spur participation in ad hoc coalitions formed to address particular challenges. It will also require a renewed focus on civil society,which will be difficult given global crises and competing priorities. 

A fifth and forward-looking step is to focus on youth. International development spending tends to focus on young children rather the world's 1.2 billion youth ages 15 to 24, 87% of whom live in developing countries. However, youth who lack economic opportunities and feel socially and politically marginalized are both a threat to the future of societies across developing countries and developed countries and an under-tapped resource and opportunity. They, more than any other social group, are the determinants of fragility--or resilience.

Most importantly, countries like the Unites States can redouble their efforts to address their own inner fragility--unemployment, social marginalization, and injustice. This is the right thing to do for their own citizens, their own economies, and their own consciences. In the United States, it will also allow the country to lead by example and live up to the most positive visions of America as 'city' on a hill and the most positive interpretations of American exceptionalism.

The biggest change that must occur is a change of mindset. This new mindset will require boldness of vision and action coupled with a new emphasis on humility, a renewed spirit of partnership, and a new willingness to learn as well as teach. The potential is to learn effective global strategies and develop collaborative new ways to address common problems together.

This potential offers natural leadership roles for the United States--a nation that is among the most naturally self-critical, the most well-structured for self-correction and improvement, and the most ideologically suited for a focus on opportunity, inclusion, and human potential. The risk of not addressing the fragility within nations continuing to decay internally, in similar ways, apart. The risk is allowing the seeds of the next crises to take root.

By Guylain Gustave Moke
Investigative Journalist
Political Analyst/Writer
World Affairs Expert

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