Culture, in all its multifaceted dynamism, must be thoroughly integrated in the post- 2015 development agenda, top UN officials told the UN General Assembly here Monday, highlighting the vital role of culture in combating poverty and promoting sustainable growth.
As the UN continues its work helping to define the global development roadmap after 2015, the target date for achieving the anti-poverty Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the 193-member Assembly met Monday here at the UN headquarters to debate the role of culture in that framework.
"I hope today's debate will help distill your cultural experiences and practices into new and bold creative directions which can inspire the post-2015 development agenda and our work for a better world," said UN Deputy-Secretary-General Jan Eliasson, recalling that from the work of Dag Hammarskjold some 60 years ago to the efforts of its many Goodwill Ambassadors today, the UN has long championed culture as a means to promote development.
"Culture is not static. It is very dynamic. It evolves and reflects constantly. It gives new perspectives and new experiences " he continued, citing the changing roles of women in various societies over the years and its deep cultural and societal impact.
"We should recognize the role of culture for all. We should protect it and allow it to flourish in all aspects of the sustainable development agenda and also to see it as a creative part of national identity," said Eliasson.
Sharing that view, Mohamed Khaled Khiari, acting president of the UN General Assembly, said: "Culture is also the thread that binds together the social fabric of our societies, defining our sense of identity and belonging."
Yet, development actors increasingly recognize that one size does not fit all, he said. "Understanding and considering a society's cultural aspects is critical to adapting development approaches to local contexts and ensuring successful outcomes."
Irina Bokova, director-general of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), echoed this sentiment, telling participants that "this is where culture can help, to foster participation, to craft a more balanced and meaningful development model for the people, by the people."
In parts of Africa, she noted the role of traditional leaders and doctors in gaining confidence of patients to strengthening health care, combating HIV and improving the quality of education.
In Jacmel, Haiti, Carnival represents thousands of local jobs in the craft and creative industries, she said, adding that such sectors account for 624 million U.S. dollars around the world.
There is also a link between nature and culture, as exemplified by the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador and other World Heritage sites, which also provide a source of identity, fulfillment and belonging for people, she said.
Also at the debate, Hao Ping, president of the General Conference of UNESCO, said, "We are glad to see that today, the international community, in searching and defining these news ways (to promote peace and development in the world), has started to realize the role of culture as a system of values, resources of energy and creativity to build sustainable development."
In addition, cultural leaders and artists influence public opinions and behaviors, and "we will count on their voices to support and encourage the profound changes we are hoping to achieve" in the development world after 2015, Khiari said.
He announced that John Ashe, president of the General Assembly, will host on June 6 a cultural event and concert with "a number of respected performing artists and celebrities from all corners of the world" who will "lend their voices, names and talent to raise awareness on the post-2015 agenda and our global commitment to eradicate poverty."
Taleb Rifai, secretary-general of the UN World Tourism Organization, said "heritage tells mankind's story; it tells our story. Tourism can enliven this heritage." The nexus between tourism and culture thus offers an immense opportunity to contribute to inclusive economic growth, social development and stability and heritage preservation.
To that end, he said, global tourism intensifies our role as global citizens, stewards of world heritage and ambassadors of peace -- "calling us to preserve our past, so we can protect our future."
The General Assembly adopted three resolutions on culture and development in 2010, 2011 and 2013.
Another example of the increasing awareness around culture's role in development is mentioned in UN documents. In 2006, culture was highlighted in less than 30 percent of UN Development Assistance Frameworks, whereas now that figure has risen to more than 70 percent, according to recent figures.
The Monday thematic debate is taking place amidst the ongoing meeting of the Open Working Group on Sustainable Development, also being held at the UN headquarters in New York.