ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT CENTER
At a conference at the Brookings Institute in February 2014, Shared Societies were defined as communities that strive to establish political and economic inclusion in all countries, so that the highest potential of each individual, regardless of their personal background, can be utilized in order to help nations develop.
Currently, in many developing nations, certain regions or groups of people are neglected when it comes to crafting and implementing policy. This results in social, political and economic inequality, with some groups benefitting from policies as others are left behind. As a result, there is a social capital deficit which may hinder many countries’ progress.
Policymakers the world over face the difficult question of how best to include communities and ensure that minority groups are not negatively impacted by policies that are constructed from a national utilitarian perspective. An example of successfully maneuvering this obstacle comes from the Indian Ocean island nation of Mauritius during the period of Cassam Uteem from 1992-2002.
In a speech to the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, Uteem explained his administration’s policy of working to subsidize all regions of the country. This strays off traditional development policies which focus solely on subsidizing and developing industrial and urban areas. These traditional policies often result in regions remaining underdeveloped or lagging behind in growth. By uniformly subsidizing industrial and rural regions, Uteem aimed for policies to include those living in remote areas as well as in towns in a move towards universal inclusion of all communities, with the hope that the entire country could progress as a whole.
A second policy Uteem implemented was progressive education reform. Uteem’s administration worked to ensure that education was provided for free, ensuring greater accessibility of a uniform curriculum to all communities in the nation. The reformed curriculum is secular and designed to unite students around Mauritius’ history, thus improving collusion amongst communities.
Adult literacy rates in Mauritius have increased by nearly 10% since the time the reforms were enacted, as more people gained access to schooling. This increased literacy rate shows progress and development in Mauritius resulting directly from more inclusive policies.
The antithesis of Mauritius’ success can be seen elsewhere in Asia, in the transitional government of Myanmar. The Economist explains that Myanmar’s government is attempting to carry out a census. However, in a country home to a diverse set of races, the census only presents ethnic-Burman options and neglects the wide range of minority groups that make up 40% of the country’s population.
This method raises suspicion that the government will use the census to make minority groups politically weaker. A census is the most basic means used by a government to allocate its limited resources. Therefore, such an improper census-taking method will reflect on development policies that inevitably neglect the needs of minority groups. At the same time, the census has already sparked ethnic conflicts in the western states. These conflicts have driven many to refugee camps and seriously hindered development.
Other developing countries face similar issues to Myanmar—a crisis of community inclusion in policy that leads to uneven development patterns. These development patterns often create a deeply entrenched inequality.
The idea of shared societies is to allow all communities in the country to play a part in developing the nation, which more evenly disperses the benefits of growth. This builds the future growth potential of the country, as all resources are geared towards progress. Over time, such societies are thus able to sustain long-term development that is all-inclusive and empowering to all communities across the nation.
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