Culture in Sustainable Development
conference sponsored by The World Bank and
UNESCO, 28-29 September 1998, Washington D.C.
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
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
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]
to table of contents for BPN Newsletter 24, 1998>>