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Nicky Pouw and Joyeeta Gupta
Assistent Professor and Professor, University of Amsterdam
The Netherlands, 10-03-2015

Inclusive Development in Search of Political Will

Inclusive development builds upon the three pillars of increased human wellbeing for all, social and environmental sustainability, and empowerment. Political will at multiple levels of governance needs to be mobilized to curb the global inequality trend.

Inclusive development is development that includes marginalized people, sectors and countries in social, political and economic processes for increased human wellbeing, social and environmental sustainability, and empowerment (Gupta et al., 2015). Past economic growth pathways in poor and rich countries alike, have been inequitable and have degraded ecosystems. By pursuing individual welfare through neoliberal policies and reforms, investment in public and merit goods (e.g. education, security, maintaining the climate) have been marginalized by lack of political will. Primacy is given to economic growth in the expectation that social equality and ecosystem maintenance will follow later (Pouw and McGregor, 2014). We see inclusive development as having three elements:

First, a focus on local empowerment and social protection, a development priority in the post-2015 United Nations development agenda (UN, 2015). From an inclusive development perspective social protection implies (Pouw, 2015) social security through redistributive mechanisms that are built into the economic system for long-term and with universal coverage. These mechanisms, financed through public taxes and contributions by the private/NGO sector include progressive income tax, unemployment benefits, labour laws, subsidized schooling and healthcare for all, work reintegration policies, social housing, etc.. This approach  puts human wellbeing at the centre (Pouw and McGregor, 2014) and precludes a vision of society whereby some people are expected to give-up parts of their individual wellbeing to achieve growth and wellbeing for all, and thus contributes to reducing inequality. This goes beyond merely providing social protection projects for the poor and vulnerable, which provide temporary relief e.g. through schoolfeeding programmes, conditional and unconditional cash transfers, small hand-outs (food, milk) and subsidies (farm inputs) and thus providing ex-post corrections to repair the failures of a neoliberal system. It also goes beyond social protection policies for the poor and vulnerable, which provide longer-term relief and support, but on a non-universal basis, targeting (broader) sub-groups in the population (e.g. elderly people, low-income households). This approach sees development as human capital development.

Second, inclusive development in the context of the Anthropocene means ensuring the maintenance of local through to global ecosystem services on which people, especially the poorest depend upon. This implies policies and approaches to govern land and water use and pollution at the local level, but also the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions at global level that will affect local climates and the livelihoods.

Third, inclusive development from a relational perspective requires understanding the discourses and power politics that institutionalize inequality and environmentally hostile developments.  Addressing these issues not only implies questioning the dominant ideologies and their instruments, but also recognizing that in a globalized world, global problems have localized effects and local experiences add up to global challenges. This ‘glocalization’ requires governance actors to develop appropriate discourses and instruments to tackle glocal challenges through concerted efforts at multiple levels of governance (Gupta et al., 2013).


– Gupta, J., N.R.M. Pouw and M.J. Ros-Tonen (2015) ‘Towards an Elaborated Theory of Inclusive Development’, European Journal of Development Research, forthcoming.

– Gupta, J., C.P. Wostl, and R. Zondervan (2013). ‘Glocal’ Water Governance: A multi-level challenge in the Anthropocene, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 5: 573-580

– Pouw, N.R.M. and J.A. McGregor (2014) ‘An Economics of Wellbeing. How would economics look like if it were focused on human wellbeing? IDS Working Paper 463, University of Sussex.

– Pouw, N.R.M. (2015) ‘Strategic Governance for Inclusive Development: Editorial’, European Journal of Development Research, forthcoming.

– UN (2015) ‘Social Protection: A development priority in the post-2015 UN development agenda’, New York: United Nations.


TOPICS: Inequality

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David Sogge

2015-03-10 15:03

Pouw and Gupta have produced clear, hard-hitting arguments for policies that would yield =real= inclusion. Theirs is easily the best contribution thus far to the Inclusive Development consultation. Could they go further? It would be fascinating to read their views (which they no doubt have, but could not squeeze into a 600+ word contribution) about the lines being followed to produce Really Existing Social Policies. In places like Latin America these show weak political will, are cheap and expedient and appear often to lead to =bogus= inclusion. A penetrating look at those kinds of policies – which most donors appear to favour — appears in a recent NLR article, ‘21st Century Welfare’ by Lena Lavinas, a senior economist at the ILO. She concludes her piece as follows:
“The social-protection paradigm that emerged at the end of the 19th century and developed, in parallel with the workers’ movements, during the 20th, aimed to protect and equalize access and opportunities, irrespective
of income level and social status. In this model, the structure of social spending prized not only income security but above all the promotion of equity and convergence.
By contrast, the hegemonic paradigm of the 21st century holds that market mechanisms are the key to improving general welfare; cash transfers and expanded household debt, the latter underwritten by the former, are the key elements in this framework, in which decommodified provision is to be pared to the barest bones.
What is taking place—spurred on by the ‘success story’ of ccts [conditional cash transfers] —is a downsizing of social protection in the name of the poor.”

Nicky Pouw

2015-03-11 13:03

Thank you David for this supportive response. The challenge faced, indeed, is to build social and environmentally sustainable policies that are grounded in and supported by a broad-based societal view on equity and solidarity across different social groupings and generations. Without such a societal view, inclusive development is doomed to fail. We need politicians who are willing to take up this cause; not only because they value equity and solidarity intrinsically, but also because they see its instrumental value for societal progress and a sustainable economy. Underlying our vision on inclusive development, therefore, is a different approach to the economy, and what ‘the economy’ is all about. This approach puts human wellbeing (not ‘welfare’) at the centre, sees the economy as a socially and politically instituted process (not a closed system), with emergent properties over time (Pouw and McGregor 2014). According to this ‘economics of wellbeing’ approach, economies that are producing wellbeing that is shared by the majority of people, are expected to perform better than economies that are maximizing welfare of a selected few. We need to develop new economic performance indicators, besides economic growth and other market-related indicators, to capture this broader notion of economic performance. We invite others to critically think and work with us!

Ilona Brannen

2015-09-28 17:09

Professor Gupta and Dr Pouw provide a compelling case for inclusive development. The core tenant of this vision is one where human wellbeing is at the centre (Pouw and McGregor, 2014) and political will at all levels of society will mean a reduction in global inequality.
What I would like to see more from these authors is what are the first steps that can build momentum to see this huge paradigm shift occur nationally or globally. Perhaps, human agency and political will initiated at the local level will bring about a global shift, but what first step can be made to make this a reality rather than an impassioned plea. The recent documentary by Naomi Klein, ‘This Changes Everything’ sets out a similar agenda, whereby we know that the neo-liberalist model of capitalism is not working for the wellbeing of human development in a social, environmental, and political context. However, the foundations of our modern societies are based on this way and manner of thinking and it would be good to see the authors lay out what can come first, the chicken or the egg in this inclusive development context.
What is clear however, that this conversation is growing both in strength and depth and I am fascinated to see where the tipping point is going to be on a ‘glocal’ scale.

Max Mendez

2015-10-1 18:10

Though it is hard to argue against the proposition that governments should implement redistributive mechanisms to create more egalitarian societies and to lessen the economic and social burden faced by the poor, the question becomes whether the promotion of certain redistributive policies could in fact have negative outcomes. I am reminded of some revolutionary governments in Latin America, that come to power and immediately institute broad-based redistributive policies. For example, in Nicaragua, the Sandinista government that reached power in 1979 put in place various generous social policies that the country had never existed in that country, such as an ambitious literacy campaign (which was lauded by the UN at the time), free health care, free education, worker rights, etc. But as Forrest D. Colburn writes in his book, “Post-Revolutionary Nicaragua: State, Class, and the Dilemmas of Agrarian Policy”, these policies ended up having unintended consequences. As he writes about the early Sandinista policies, “A complimentary set of policies designed to aid the impoverished sectors absorbs large amounts of resources without a corresponding rise in output–at least in the short run–because the resources are principally used for consumption and not investment. Together the two sets of policies produce an economic crisis. In short, ‘supply’ decreases and ‘demand’ increases.” He goes on to cite other examples of this same pattern of redistribution that is not accompanied by increases in economic growth and that inevitably lead to economic crisis: the same thing occurred in Cuba and in Chile under Allende. I am not saying that inclusive development is promoting the same types as policies as these revolutionary governments, but I worry that some of the same constraints these well-intentioned revolutionary governments faced may also hinder the achievement of the goals of inclusive development.


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Promoting inclusiveness in the Dutch policy agenda on trade and international cooperation

This contribution is part of a consultation for the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs on how to promote inclusiveness in the Dutch policy agenda on trade and international cooperation.
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