A New International Social Justice Network to be launched by the British Council
A colloquium is being held in Ahmadabad, India at the end of October to launch the network and a group of senior policy makers and opinion formers are being invited from India, Brazil, China, South Africa, Mexico and the UK. The colloquium is being organized by the British Council in partnership with the IIM Ahmedabad, India’s premier business school and the Indian Council for Social Science Research. The colloquium will focus on two themes: firstly, improving livelihoods and secondly, access to good quality universal primary and secondary education and healthcare. The colloquium is also an opportunity to decide next steps for building the network through future face-to-face encounters and on-line.
The word justice applies as significantly to social issues as it does to legal questions. Everyone is at some level concerned with – and offended by – injustice. The feeling that states and Governments need to use their power and resources to address injustice and extreme inequality is widely felt and that feeling gets stronger in proportion to a country’s prosperity. With rising aspirations, increasing education, and change in demographics, the patience among people with unjust institutions and norms is running out every day. In fast-growing middle income countries such as India, China, Brazil, Mexico and South Africa where the resources and capacity of the state is growing the expectation is also growing that they should have policies, approaches and public spending plans to promote social justice and reduce inequality. In all these countries, the Government has publicly accepted this social justice obligation, though each Government frames their commitment in different ways and pursues different policies. If India calls for innovations for inclusive development, China calls it a quest for harmonious development.
In China, thus the Government is committed to building a harmonious society and agricultural reforms have had a huge positive impact on reducing poverty. In India a skilled workforce and technology has produced a huge economic dividend and an employment guarantee scheme has been introduced to spread that dividend to the poor. The Government has also announced a big increase in expenditure on education. Brazil and Mexico have used conditional cash transfers to make powerful impacts on improving child development and reducing poverty. And in South Africa, since the end of apartheid, the Government has established universal pensions and a child support grant.
For all these countries big questions remain about effective ways to:
Many of the economic challenges are shared by all middle income countries and the same is true of social challenges. However, whereas there are numerous exchanges and forums for debate about economic policy and, similarly, many opportunities to share approaches to poverty relief in the poorest countries, there is no forum or network for social policymakers or Government agencies charged to deliver social policy outcomes in middle income countries. There are also few opportunities for policymakers in developed countries in the North to learn from the many positive experiences in the global South. Many welfare approaches pursued in the developed world have proved expensive and have not delivered everything that policymakers had wished for there, much less elsewhere where they were copied. Many countries including the UK face intractable problems of multi-generational social alienation and worklessness. The search is on for new ideas in the North as much as in the emerging economies. The socio-cultural distances have not been abridged as rapidly as economic distances have been reduced in some cases. It is thus realized that mere economic growth will not deliver social justice.
The British Council has 250 offices in 110 countries and an unrivalled global network in Governments and Civil Society. The British Council is uniquely placed to bring together an international network of policymakers in middle income countries with their peers in the UK to facilitate the sharing of ideas and experiences and to promote international and South-North learning about best practice.