Exclusion and deep inequality will forever thwart “long-lasting peace and sustainable development”, a high-level official from the United Nations cultural agency said on Thursday at the 5th World Forum on Intercultural Dialogue.
If societies are not inclusive, they will be weaker, less resilient and more vulnerable to violence”, Nada Al-Nashif, Assistant Director-General for the Social and Human Sciences at the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), told the High-level Panel at the UN-backed conference in Baku, Azerbaijan.
She underscored the need to not only fight against social, economic and political inequalities, but also to change mindsets, which aligns perfectly with UNESCO’s mandate “to build the defenses of peace in the minds of men and women”.
While the agency’s mission “has not aged a day”, she acknowledged that “we have to follow a fast-changing world”.
According to Ms. Al-Nashif, this puts in question the relevance of old institutions to tackle current challenges, such as violent extremism, the migrant and refugee crisis, and the rise of hate speech in social media.
Citing events “from Sri Lanka to Libya, and in many spots in-between”, she said that the UN will be strengthening the role of diplomacy and dialogue.
“This calls for revitalized partnerships – from Member States to the private sector, from universities to civil society – so that we can work together to build innovative projects for inclusion, to scale our impact on the ground”, she asserted.
A new focus must be concentrated on building resilience, preventing conflict, learning lessons and empowering individuals with new skills that pay “particular attention and support” to young people.
“In a world where ignorance of ‘the other’ is on the rise, we must more than ever find new ways to empower young women and men as change-makers in their communities, providing them with the necessary skills and intercultural competences to become engaged global citizens, who promote peace in their everyday life”, she underscored.
According to Ms. Al-Nashif, a UNESCO priority is to promote girls’ education, because “access to and the quality of educational opportunities for girls remain major issues”, constraining their transformative power to advance the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)”.
“The Baku Forum is an outstanding opportunity to reaffirm the principles and practices of inclusive dialogue for more effective and more impactful multilateralism”, she concluded.
A passion for tourism
“Tourism is my passion”, said Manuel Butler Halter, Executive Director of the UN World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), it is “a matter of the heart”.
“I believe that tourism is a facilitator of intercultural understanding and peace” because it makes people more open-minded, he said, adding that meeting people from diverse backgrounds and different cultures “helps us to see ourselves from a different perspective”.
It also fosters trust because “we realize that despite the cultural difference, all humans really are the same”, he continued.
Tourism is a facilitator of intercultural understanding and peace. Meeting people from diverse backgrounds and different cultures helps us to see ourselves from a different perspective – UNWTO Executive Director Manuel Butler Halter
Finally, the UNWTO official credited tourism for making us “more creative because learning about other cultures forces us to think differently and consider new ideas”.
And so, Mr. Halter deduced that “the more people travel, the more inclusive our societies become”.
He did, however, acknowledge that uncoordinated tourism can harm the environment, which is why UNWTO promotes sustainable tourism, in line with the SDGs.
Because “tourism by its nature”, has links with many fields, from trade and social development to environmental protection, security and health, Mr. Halter expressed certainty that it could “directly or indirectly contribute to all of the 17 SDGs”.
Highlighting SDG 8, on decent work and economic growth, he said that globally, one-in-10 jobs is connected to the tourism industry. With tourism also accounting for more than 40 per cent of half of the poorest countries’ GDPs, he stressed “I think it is key to include locals in the value chain”.
Economy, youth and exclusion
Evinj Hasanova, Azerbaijan’s Deputy Minister of Economy, spoke about how the young nation has reduced poverty from almost 42 per cent to five per cent.
“This is less than in some developed countries with more economic resources and GDP per capital”, she told the panel.
Inspired by the comprehensiveness of SDGs, she spoke at length on how her government has nationalized the goals, including by creating a high-level Council to coordinate their implementation.
“And we have started the process with the UN residential office,” she said.
For his part, Aaron Greenberg, Senior Regional Advisor for Europe and Central Asia, Child Protection at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), underscored the importance of investing in early childhood development.
Noting that the investment does not have to be in monetary terms, Mr. Greenberg stressed that children must be raised in a way that prevents them from suffering psychological disorders later in life that would perpetuate a cycle of violence and poverty
“I do not believe there is any other way that is surefire than investing in younger children today for getting equitable outcomes in the future”, he stressed.
Meanwhile George Bouma, Head of Sustainable Development in the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) Istanbul Regional Hub, spoke about underlying causes of inequalities that are creating “a crisis of opportunities”.
He painted a picture of exclusion and mounting inequality fueled by an increase in populism and flawed political systems globally, attributing rising disenfranchisement to political, economic and social factors.
“The private sector has a role to play in creating jobs and moving people from the social welfare system to more productive employment”, he said.