Ismail Serageldin


Investing in Culture: A View from the World Bank

 30/03/1998 | Remarks Delivered at UNESCO Symposium on Culture and Development, Stockholm, Sweden

Mr. Chairman, Mr. Director-General,

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,


I bring you greetings from Mr. James D. Wolfensohn, President of The World bank, a man of culture and champion of development, who has moved the Bank more on these issues in two years that it has ever been. I hope that in these brief remarks, I can do justice to the breadth of his vision, and to the commitment of my colleagues on the issues of mainstreaming our concern for culture in our drive for poverty reduction, empowerment and inclusion. Indeed, I have just been named to a new position, as Vice President for Special Programs, with a primary focus on the issues of Culture and Development. The first time ever that such a post was created at the World Bank.


For us, as for you, culture is the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterize a society or social group. It includes not only arts and letters, but also modes of life, the fundamental rights of the human being, value systems, traditions, and beliefs.


And how does this relate the specificity of each society and the sweeping currents of globalization? To education and technology? to knowledge and science? These are topics well documented in the background papers for this conference, and appropriately addressed in the proposed action plan. We share in these analyses and have made a few contributions of our own in promoting this approach.

 The Position of the World Bank:


Let me at the outset declare the complete support of the World Bank to the thrust of this action program, even if we have some minor suggestions to make here and there.


We are here to help you translate it into action!


Let me outline the three areas where the Bank will be active:



      • Conceptual analyses
      , on the contributions of cultural expression to empowerment and linking diversity with the challenge of inclusion. But, we will also be putting special emphasis on the economic justification of investments in culture, recognizing its intrinsic existence value, its public goods character and the positive externalities that it brings. That is essential. Remember that in environmental economics, the valuation of environmental assets, including the intrinsic existence value of biodiversity, was a major help in getting the countries of the world to agree to the creation of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) which has just been replenished at some $2.7 billion.




    • We intend to support, financially and technically, in alliance with others, the protection of the cultural heritage of the past as well as the expression of local culture of today, for that will be the heritage of tomorrow. Even more important, it is the wellspring of creativity and the foundation of identity, without which we are all like amnesiacs not knowing where we go, because we do not know who we are or where we came from.




    • We intend to work in partnerships with each and everyone of you, in reinforced networks of the committed, so that the whole of our efforts is more than the sum of the parts.




Let me say a word about each:

 Conceptual constructs:


Conceptually, if we recognize the unique and the specific that so enriches us, we must also recognize the universal that binds us all in a common humanity.


Yet, in many parts of the world, the defense of "tradition" and cultural specificity is used as a mantra to legitimate the oppression of women and the perpetuation of intolerance and obscurantism. The pretense of "authenticity" is used to vitiate the new, and to stifle creativity.


Let us recognize that the claims of cultural specificity that would deprive women of their basic human rights, or mutilate them in the name of convention, should not be given sanction.


Let us recognize that no society has progressed without making a major effort at empowering its women, through education and the end of discrimination.


So the approach to culture that we espouse is the one that encourages diversity, creates a space of freedom in each society for the minority expression and the contrarian view, while promoting inclusion and social cohesion. It is a rich and variegated concept that we espouse, very much in keeping with the views of the conference and its documents.


On the economic and financial justifications for borrowing for, and investing in, culture, we advocate absolute rigor in both financial and economic analyses. In the public finance realm, we should always be guided by simple but powerful principles: who pays and who benefits?


Like Germany and Japan, we do not believe that spending targets are the way to go.


We should also recognize the growth of the culture-based industries, the export of artistic output as well as the hosting of tourists. But, can they grow in a way that does not diminish or trivialize the local cultures? That is the challenge.


Our program must take all these aspects into account, recognizing:



    • the intrinsic worth of culture, not just what it generates in tourist revenues,



    • the educational content of culture,



    • the special case of historic cities,



    • going beyond the "do no harm" posture,



    • the need for a culture of participation, and



    • the importance of promoting the sense of community, social inclusion and social cohesion.



This said, we at the world Bank are willing to commit to the financing of operations in culture in all countries who seek such loans and credits from us. We expect to provide no less than 20 or 30 operations in as many countries in the next two years. These will undoubtedly be small operations at first, but they will lay the foundations for more in the future. Even more, they will help bring the cultural dimensions into the mainstream of the developmental paradigm.

 The cultural alliance:


But more important than the funding or analysis we can bring is the manner in which we commit to do it:



    • Complementing our support to education, health, science, technology, telecoms, and all the other essential investments. It is not an either/or proposition, it is both/and.




    • With the full participation of all the stakeholders that must be part of the decision making process: the international, regional, national and local governments, the private and public sectors, the civil society and the international agencies, with special attention to the role of women, and the empowerment of the poor.




    • Observing the cultural dimensions of the relations between communities, societies and the world;




    • Catalyzing the finance of others, notably the private sector, which today accounts for over $250 billion of flows to developing countries, some five times the official development assistance flows. Today the capital markets transact $1.3 trillion per day, enough to buy and sell the GNP of the united states in a week!




    • finally and most importantly, in partnership with others.



We support partnerships that will link us all into a network of the committed, a coalition of the caring. 

The millennial moment: 

It is appropriate that as we approach the millennium we look back and look forward. That we should celebrate our achievements and confront our shortcomings. That we should recognize our common humanity, promote a culture of peace and rejoice in our diversity and enrich the lives of one and all by the celebration of this diversity.


We must, above all, take the occasion of the conference that is proposed to truly shift the development paradigm. To shift it towards the holistic vision that has been sketched out in the major documents, but is just now being filled out in the project and analytical work and financing arrangements underway.


I have a vision of that sees development like a tree, which is nurtured in its growth by feeding its roots not by pulling on its branches...


We must empower people to be all they can be. They must create their own identity, their own institutions.


This is a vision of sustainable development that is people-centered and gender conscious, that seeks equity for all and empowerment of the weak and the vulnerable everywhere that they may be the producers of their own welfare and bounty, not the recipients of charity or aid.


A vision that recognizes that development must have a cultural content, that recognizes that governance and institution building, and enhancing human capacities are all central parts of the development process and may in fact be the keys that undergird economic well being.


A vision that places short-term actions within a long-term framework.


This vision is not a denial of the importance of economic management and economic growth, but it is a recognition that economic growth is only one part of development.


How can we relate that vision, with the hard calculus of economics and finance?


On one level of reality, human beings are no more than three gallons of water and a handful of minerals held together by chemical reactions. This reductionist view is one that has served us well in medicine and science, and has enabled us to produce major improvements in human well-being. But it is a partial image, one that misses the difference between a Hitler and a Mother Theresa, one that misses the difference between a Stalin and a Mozart. It misses all those special features that make human beings human.


In the same spirit, one can say that reducing a society of the sum of its economic and financial transactions is the equivalent of reducing this society to three gallons of water and a handful of minerals. It misses all those marvelous, amazing things that human being create through their interactions with other human beings and with their environment. All that we have learned to call a human society - a community, a sense of place, a culture...


We can think of better ways of promoting development, we can convince policy makers and the world at large.



Mr. Chairman, Mr. Director-General,

Excellencies, Ladies and gentlemen,


Beyond the words, there must be action!


We have the means. We need the will to act.


For the sake of the world who needs a memory to have an identity;


For the sake of all humanity who would be impoverished if the magnificent heritage of the past is no more;


For the sake of the poor who should not be displaced to make room for the rich;


For the sake of the communities, that must not be wrenched apart to adjust to the new economic realities, but should find in their cultures what will benefit and empower them;


For all our sakes.. we must learn to master the interaction of social, economic, environmental and physical complexities, so that the rich legacy of the past and the cultural ferment of today become a continuing source of joy and enrichment as they evolve into the legacy of tomorrow.


It is a task worth doing!


In the few minutes that I have been speaking: $10 billion have been traded, 2000 persons were added to the population of the world...


The time for action is now...


It can be done. It must be done. It will be done.




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