Bellagio Publishing Network  

 BPN Newsletter Issue No 24, December 1998 


Culture in Sustainable Development

conference sponsored by The World Bank and UNESCO, 28-29 September 1998, Washington D.C.

Katherine Salahi
Katherine Salahi is Co-ordinator of the Bellagio Publishing Network.

This conference brought World Bank officials face to face with cultural practitioners, as part of the Bank's new push for partners in cultural development, and to promote its transformation into a knowledge bank. One and a half days of high-profile plenary, with speakers including Nobel prizewinner Elie Wiesel, World Bank President James D Wolfensohn, the ministers for culture from Cambodia and Brazil, Professor Ali Mazrui, Lord Rothschild representing British heritage, and UNESCO Director-General Federico Mayor, tackled topics listed as the culture and development paradigm, economics and culture, the contributions of women in culture and sustainable development, cultural heritage and sustainable development, and partnerships in the international community.

James Wolfensohn was clear that this is a `new Bank' that wants to co-operate with UNESCO and many other foundations and institutions, that funding would be additional to rather than a substitute for the more traditional kinds of World Bank funding, and that borrowing must relate to current creativity, not just preservation. They are, he said, feeling their way, and need help, guidance and partners. Milagros del Corral (UNESCO) warned about the polarisation of `globalisers' vs. `globalised', and that culture must not be left to the markets - governments have to be involved in creating the right environment for culture to flourish.

It was good to see books firmly on the cultural agenda from the start. James Billington, the US Librarian of Congress, made a special plea for books as trusted cultural objects and libraries as safe havens: `books that disagree sitting comfortably side by side on the shelf', and warned, to much amusement, `Never trust anyone who operates a computer who doesn't also read books.'

Regional forums followed the plenary: one looked at heritage and sustainable development in Latin America and the Caribbean; an Africa region roundtable discussed sustaining development through culture. Topics for the Africa session included African publishing, giving the Bellagio Publishing Network Co-ordinator the chance to introduce the concept of publishing as a development issue. Very few in the audience knew about African publishing beforehand, and a lot of interest was generated in the reality of an already up-and-running indigenous African book publishing industry with its own professional organisation, APNET.

The enthusiasm was put in context by Cynthia Cook, the World Bank convenor of this session. The Bank's proposed global cultural mission would give grants, but that, she said, was in the future. For now they want to `listen to conversations and find ways of possibly providing support'. Meanwhile, there are a small number of grants that can be made through the World Bank's resident missions.

Richard Ishmail, Managing Director of the South African International Film and TV Market, sounded a strong word of caution about the proposed `extra lending for culture'. He would not like to get his country further into the debt that already cripples them. Damien Pwono advised the World Bank to `change its funding instruments'.

Seminars and workshops on the following days covered a range of themes in culture and development, with the emphasis on partnering. Unfortunately, few Africans were able to attend because participants for the most part had to be self-funded. But those that were there, and partners such as this network were urged to pass on the word that the events of the week underscored, that the `new' World Bank is looking for partnerships and is eager to support culture.

For more information on the World Bank's Network for Culture and Development go to their Information Gateway:
[BPN, No. 24, 1998. p. 6]

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