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World Summit for Social Development

Address to the Plenary of the World Summit for Social Development, March 1995, by Konrad Raiser, general secretary, World Council of Churches

15 March 1995

March 1995

by Konrad Raiser, general secretary, World Council of Churches

1. It is a privilege to greet you at this important gathering of world leaders in the name of the World Council of Churches which I serve as General Secretary. The World Council of Churches is a fellowship of some 325 Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant member churches in more than one hundred countries in several regions of the world. What I present to you today has been informed by decades of dialogue between Christian churches, but increasingly also with people of other religious faiths. In addition, the two international Roman Catholic networks, CIDSE and Caritas International is, have emphasized that their views on social development are similar to those of the WCC.

2. Since its beginnings, the World Council of Churches has been an advocate of Christian involvement in the struggle for social justice, based on the conviction that we cannot separate the material and spiritual needs of individuals and communities. out of this conviction, the World Council of Churches actively promoted the formation of the United Nations fifty years ago as an instrument not just of sovereign states, but as the embodiment of the aspirations of the peoples of the world for peace, respect for human rights, including religious liberty, and freedom from want.

3. This World Summit on Social Development could hardly come at a more important turning point, a time when social policies are under attack in nations around the world. Poverty and injustice erode the foundations of fragile democracies in many nations. Even in the industrialized countries, social welfare systems are being dismantled in the interest of economic growth. Unemployment and poverty are on the increase. Almost everywhere, the gap between rich and poor grows daily.

4. As the world economy becomes global in nature, economic and political power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the privileged few. The global market approach is rapidly reshaping the world, weakening the traditional role of national governments through policies of deregulation and limiting the effectiveness of the system of intergovernmental social institutions. Who is to look after the people's interests in a time when institutions in the private sphere assume an ever greater role in the shaping of global economy? Who is to safeguard the rights of the poor nations and the small states in the face of the domination of a handful of powerful actors on the world scene?

5. In the face of such a challenge, a potentially powerful third force, the civil society, has begun to emerge. The development everywhere of social movements and voluntary non- governmental organizations is accompanied by a resurgence of religion, an indication that Ithe spiritual, cultural and material needs of human community are inextricably bound together. The United Nations, through world gatherings as this one, has facilitated the emergence of an international civil society which must be regarded as an essential component of social development and as a crucial part of a new international order. It presupposes, however, the universal affirmation of basic structures for justice in the political, social and economic realms. What is at stake here is a fundamental change of consciousness and values.

6. one of the areas in which we need such a fundamental change of paradigms is the role of economic growth. Certainly the growth of world production over the last decades has led to great improvements, at least for certain groups in society. For many areas in the world economic growth is absolutely necessary to provide employment and income and to make possible dignified human life for all. But the tendency -- evident in the preparatory documents for this summit -- to consider open markets and economic growth as a panacea for almost all social ills, must be challenged. The assembly of the World Council of Churches in Canberra in 1991 reminded us that "growth for growth's sake is the strategy of a cancer celll". Just as humanity has developed a sense of the minimum whicK71 is required-t-6 satisfy basic human needs, so we should consider where the maximum limits lie before excess leads to ruin.

7. Further, as world production has grown, so has the number of poor people. Globally, and in many cases at the national level too, the gap between rich and poor is widening, and economic growth is increasingly taking on the character of jobless growth, thereby contributing to greater inequality and exclusion. Apparently, economic growth alone does not solve social problems. If it is argued that economic growth is absolutely necessary to eradicate poverty, then why has it not done so during decades of growth-oriented development strategies?

B. We believe that it is time to rethink our arguments. Why not consider whether policies aimed at poverty reduction, long-term employment generation and environmental restoration and protection will lead to sustainable human development? Such an approach contrasts with the prevailing thought which begins with economic processes and trusts against broad empirical evidence - that the benefits will "trickle down" to all layers of society. Social and ecological policies come in only as a corrective or as an after-thought.

9. The alternative approach would require, from the outset, the active participation in decision-making processes of those who are affected by such decisions. It would be A "building-up" rather than a "trickle-down" approach, starting with the needs of local communities and using these as the basis for global policies. This new direction is already being followed by several organizations. At the international level, for example, the United Nations Development Programme has developed the Human Development Index which qualifies economic growth by putting it alongside social development indicators. Organizations in civil society have demonstrated the effectiveness, both economically and financially, of community- oriented development schemes. one such example is the Ecumenical Development Cooperative Society which gives loans to commercially viable enterprises which comply with a set of social objectives.

10. Certain short-term measures are needed to foster such alternative approaches. Some of the most urgent are:

  • Strengthening the United Nations: more effective control over international economic actors such as transnational corporations must be established and the international financial and economic institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization, must be held accountable as envisaged by the Charter of the United Nations.


  • Elimination of the external debt of the Least Developed Countries and reduction of at least 5O% in the debt of the Middle Income Countries. This must be accompanied by a fundamental revision of the Structural Adjustment Policy, giving highest priority to social development and environmental protection. The "Alternative Structural Adjustment Programme", recently developed by organizations in civil society in Guyana, may serve as an example.


  • Implementation of the United Nations target for Overseas Development Assistance of 0.7% of the Gross National Product by all OECD countries by the year 2000. Concerns about the quantity of foreign development assistance have to be combined with policies to improve the quality. Therefore, at least 20% of official development assistance should be directed to social development areas and the fulfilment of basic needs for all.

11. What can "the peoples of the world" expect from this World Summit on Social Development where so many laudable intentions are formulated? It seems to me that our current dilemma is that we use a social development model when we state our intentions, but' that we apply an economic growth model when we act. Nothing short of a renewed and massive political will is required if we are to practise what we preach. The changes we need are not only administrative, legal, technical or technological, but changes in the direction of life-oriented values, a change of hearts and of minds. Promoting cultures of solidarity and,life has been a primary concern for faith communities all over the world. It is in this field that religious organizations can make their most important contribution. The issues at stake at this World Summit are profoundly challenging. We are willing to accept this challenge.