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UN Chronicle on Visible Hands

21 May 2002


  • Source
  • Title: UN Chronicle
  • Author(S): Ragini Malhotra
  • Date: 1 Feb 2001
  • Publication: UN Chronicle

UN Chronicle, Vol.37 No. 4, December 2000 – February 2001

“Visible Hands”
Taking Responsibility for Social Development

By Ragini Malhotra

The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD), based in Geneva, recently launched “Visible Hands - Taking Responsibility for Social Development” at the June 2000 five-year review of the World Summit for Social Development. This report, edited by Peter Stalker and Cynthia Hewitt de Alcantara and coordinated by Peter Utting, provides an interesting analysis of the issues discussed and the commitments made at the Copenhagen Summit. The Summit’s declaration had stressed the importance of equity and empowerment, a better distribution of growth’s benefits, the importance of democracy, and the need to be more responsive to women’s rights and concerns.

The report consists of a variety of papers written by a wide range of analysts and experts, identifying both the achievements made in key areas of policy and institutional reform, and the constraints that have impeded the process since 1995. The range of problems that need to be addressed is broken down into sections: discussions on globalization; financing and social development; fragile democracies of the world; the rise of technocrats; a “new mission” for the public sector; the role of civil societies as opposed to corporations; development rights for women; and sustaining development.

The report argues that there has been an exponential increase in unemployment rates and growing inequality in the distribution of income worldwide. As implied by the report’s title, the main message is that market has pushed the world towards unsustainable levels of inequality and deprivation. “Markets in themselves have no capacity to create a decent society for all.”

Only the ‘visible hands’ of governments and public-spirited people can do that. Without the “human hand” guiding us, attempts towards social development will not address the problems facing the economically disadvantaged and deprived.

The report is extremely critical of current patterns and processes of globalization and the policy of economic liberalization that is dominant today. It argues that the Bretton Woods institutions and other powerful and influential organizations need to rethink their policies and models, prioritising some of the critical elements of the Social Summit agenda. It calls for immediate action. The writers stress that development strategies of the future must reassert human values and priorities, and that in order to take responsibility for social development, the social effects of economic policies must be examined closely, and both social and economic policies must be integrated, promoting “people-centred” development.

Those who want a brief overview of the issues discussed at the Summit and the responsibilities that face us when it comes to promoting social development should read the preface and the overview rather than the whole report. This may also be best for readers uninitiated in the complexity of social development issues and concepts, since the detailed report explores some extremely difficult concepts in considerable depth. Nevertheless, “Visible Hands” is essential reading for anyone who either works in the social and economic development field or is interested in understanding or exploring these issues which are critical for the achievement of sustainable human development for all the world’s peoples.