1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

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The Last Word: Maintaining the Momentum

1 Jun 1997

  • Author(s): Juan Somavía

The World Summit for Social Development marked a modern watershed in thinking on the security of people and human progress. At Copenhagen, representatives of the world community agreed that the gravest overall problems of security at the end of the twentieth century have economic, social and environmental origins. Addressing the need to reduce poverty, unemployment and social disintegration in all countries — North as well as South — poses an enormous challenge to human ingenuity and policy making. This is the powerful demand on decision makers in politics, government and business, coming from individuals, families and the communities they live in.

If not reversed, these social ills will prove far more dangerous for world stability than the narrower state-centred rivalries that have, for many years, been considered the most serious threats to peace.

Fortunately, we have the material resources to provide a minimally decent livelihood for all human beings on the planet. The commitment to eradicate poverty (beginning with productive employment) contained in the Copenhagen Declaration is possible in a realistic time frame. But to honour it requires organization, conviction and political vision. People must work together in new ways, at many levels of society. And resources must be mobilized and applied more efficiently, to break the bottlenecks now restricting the life chances of such a large part of world population.

The Social Summit generated enormous energy and mobilized broad support for change. This momentum must be maintained not only by ethical and political commitment, but also through creative thinking. To deal with the underlying causes of unemployment, for example, we must be capable of thinking about work in new ways. To eliminate the scourge of poverty amidst plenty, we must be willing to probe the social bases of poverty and listen to the people affected by it. To create the conditions for renewed growth in many parts of the world, we must be willing to subject the bases of current international economic co-ordination to scrutiny. To reinforce mechanisms of social solidarity, we must encourage new debates on the meaning of citizenship.

Now, as in the past, social development will depend on the energy and dynamism of people with the courage to ask fundamental questions and propose unusual solutions. We must never forget that the quality of a society is really measured by its capacity to integrate the excluded. It is the ultimate test of our values.

Juan Somavía

Juan Somavía is Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Chile to the United Nations. He was Chairman of the Main Committee at the Social Summit and is Chairman of the UNRISD Board.