In search of inclusive development

By Nilratan Halder via The Financial Express

1/19/17

Norway tops the Inclusive Development Index (IDI) because the Nordic country boasts high and rising living standard, effective social protection and low inequality inclusive of genders. This is further complemented by social mobility, low unemployment, a high proportion of women's participation in the labour force. When women are at work, parental leave matters and the policy on such a leave is very generous. Then follows childcare which, by all means, has been affordable for the Norwegians. No wonder, the country together with many of its Nordic neighbours with lower gross domestic product (GDP) compared to many of the world's highest GDPs including that of the US have come in the top 10 places with Luxembourg and Switzerland in second and third places. 


 One notable omission, from the top ranking IDI nations is Finland. The US-based non-profit "Social Progressive Imperative (SPI)" ranked Finland number one in its 'Social Progress Index' last year. The SPI also takes into account citizens' access to basic services, opportunities, healthcare, education, housing decent policing, rights and freedom from discrimination'. 

Similarly, Costa Rica was found to overperform on social progress by the SPI. The IDI places Lithunia in the top slot but relegates Costa Rica to the ninth place. Sure enough, there are some differences in the calculation of indicators. But the SPI also has more than 50 indicators to analyse before arriving at its conclusion. Nations with more natural resources or wealth cannot harness those to good use of the greater number of its population. Some Middle East countries better explain this point.   

Evidently GDP is not the destiny. Economic progress becomes meaningful if its benefits are translated into higher living standard and social progress. One of the most visible human development indices is life expectancy but still it is just one in many to reflect the quality of life in a given society and/or country. 

It is against this background, Bangladesh's performance needs to be judged. Sure enough, the country has reasons to feel contended that out of the 79 developing countries the IDI has included in its report, it has come in the 36th place well ahead of India in the 60th slot and Pakistan in the 52nd position. But lagging Nepal nine places behind, Bangladesh will reflect on how things could get better and where the lapses are. 

The fact that the country has taken its GDP per capita to a higher level than ever before is surely satisfying for all. But its developmental dividends are better reflected in reduced child and maternal mortality along with improved sanitation. However, increasing wealth inequality only points to a development that does not quite correspond to inclusive human and social development or shared prosperity. Corruption has not been addressed at all and drainage of resources for purposes other than human and social development has not helped the cause, either. 

Social security is conspicuous more by its absence and women's participation in the work force is very low. This is despite the fact that more than 80 per cent workers in the readymade garments factories are girls and women. Gender discrimination from economic points of view is woefully exposed by frequent sexual attacks and abuse of girls and women, killing and torture of spouse and non-recognition of their household works. 

Clearly, education is the best determinant of social status but certainly not the ultimate measure of quality of life. Some so-called backward communities have customs better than the advanced societies boast. Values, ethics, culture, enlightenment and tolerance are factors that contribute amply to raising the standard of society. Someone expressed a view so pertinently the other day in a contemporary like this: people here do not like to stand in a queue because most of them hold fellow human beings in disdain as if others are lower animals or vermin which have come to encroach upon their privileges. Education does not teach human values where respect for each other is not inherent. The type of education now imparted here rather fuels one to be an upstart. 

The seed of inequality is thus sown in the notion of selfishness. Consumer societies are more or less heir to this malignant mentality. But where socio-economic inequality has been greatly reduced, at least citizens have tempered their biasness with civility. If human being is at the centre of development, there is no scope for bypassing the fellow beings only to take advantage of the weak in advancing one's own interests. 

The inclusive development report has laid emphasis on primary enrolment where, according to it, Bangladesh is performing poorly. In fact, where enrolment is concerned, the country's record is not dismal at all provided the government statistics are not exaggerated. Massive dropouts and the inability of parents to support their children effectively to continue their education up to a level where education really counts should rather be blamed. Unless this large marginalised segment of population can be integrated with the mainstream development, the task of raising the standard of life of all people will remain a distant dream. 

Inclusive development means, along with economic and social progress, mental development as well. This needs development of infrastructure for practice of healthy culture, sports and art. Appreciation of fine arts, music, drama and myriad other cultural moorings surely but imperceptibly works as a touchstone for turning human soul into gold. When the maximum number of a people is so blessed, renaissance is ushered in human civilisation.