Alex Thomas Ijjo,
Inclusiveness is high on the global policy agenda. It is mentioned several times in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of 2015-2030.
It is also a keyword in policy documents nationally and globally. Inclusiveness is believed to be the panacea for eliminating the marginalization of individuals and groups, and the associated poverty prevailing in many countries.
But, what is inclusiveness? And how is it to be realized? This brief review takes aim at the concept of inclusiveness and its ramifications along with the forces undergirding its realization drawing on the example of Less Developed Countries (LDCs).
Inclusive development is normally seen to embrace a range of elements including the absence of systemic discrimination and marginalization, equity of opportunities, the level playing field in socioeconomic and political spheres, individual capability to participate, individual freedom of choice, availability of safety nets, permissive institutions, and fair and unbiased regulatory environment, among other things.
However, at the core of inclusiveness, are the twin forces of individual capability and freedom to participate on the one hand; and facilitating, non-discriminatory institutional environment on the other.
“Freedom of choice” in participation is important to distinguish the concept from “forceful” totalitarian collectivism.
Two broad sets of factors are at work in the development process. The first is an individual agency which is seen to comprise self-motivation, proactive initiative-taking, willingness to apply oneself to existing opportunities in life; the second is the conduciveness of the wider socio-economic and political environment in which the individual operates.
For inclusivity, the socio-economic and political environment has to be permissive and non-discriminatory in addition to individual agency.
The broader environment is usually the product of a multiplicity of factors including but not limited to culture, ideology, institutions, and government policy. Inclusiveness requires these to be liberal and facilitative to individual initiative and enterprise.
In reference to the current sway of neoliberal economic ideology, for example, the basic model of economic and social development is seen to be that of governments creating a favorable environment for the individual agency to thrive.
This implies “small” governments with a mandate limited to ensuring a fair and just system of “ground rules” and a dynamic thriving private sector.
A favorable development environment is normally seen to include the security of life and property, guarantee of individual and civic rights, democratic accountability, justice and rule of law, and facilitative public policy.
Important as it is, a favorable macro-environment is not a sufficient condition to guarantee inclusiveness. It must be complemented by individual empowerment and motivation to translate opportunities into desired outcomes, an indispensable component of an inclusiveness strategy.
The capability approach (CA) to development advanced by Amartya Sen is pertinent to the idea of inclusiveness. The CA puts emphasis on the capability of individuals to function in given environments, and associates development with the expansion of individual capabilities and choices in the society.
The inclusiveness that is not coerced presumes the capability to participate, which in turn presupposes an understanding of how to participate.
Thus, inclusiveness heavily hinges on individual capabilities and motivation to participate. Motivation is in turn driven by the perception of the pay-off or net benefit of taking action versus not taking action.
An excellent example of this in the context of entrepreneurship is the ability of individuals to recognize opportunities and their awareness of their own capabilities to act as entrepreneurs to exploit the opportunities.
In unbundling participation further, especially the notion of knowing how to participate which is critical in determining whether people participate or not in the affairs and opportunities of society, we recognize that the main implication is on knowledge and skills, that is, education.
As the saying goes, “Knowledge is power” or more accurately potential power, since it can only be effective when it is applied correctly to relevant situations.
Empowerment through awareness or knowledge is akin to the notion of “conscientization” introduced by Paulo Freire in the 70s.
It is a reference to social critical consciousness, which is instrumental in holding institutions to account and in taking informed social and political action.
Individuals need to be empowered with knowledge and equipped with the motivation to take relevant action in improving their circumstances.
In reference to Uganda, the educational literacy rating is currently 77%. However, of this only about 25% of the working population of 14-65-year-olds has more than just primary education, and a mere 6.5% has acquired any form of specialized training.
The official statistics show that the percentage of the population living at or below the poverty line was at 19.7% in 2012/13. In addition, 43% of the population is vulnerable to poverty.
Inequality, as measured by the Gini coefficient of 0.395, with the highest prevalence rates in the northern and eastern parts of the country.
In a country where 78% of the population is under 30 years old, youth unemployment is estimated at 64%. These figures which are not very different for many Sub-Saharan African (SSA) countries pose a serious challenge to the vision of inclusiveness in these countries particularly in terms of the capability or empowerment aspect but also the conduciveness of the environment for rewarding individual enterprise.
In the short and medium-term, prospects and economic opportunities for much of SSA took a nose dive due to the impact of COVID-19.
Many sectors were negatively affected including tourism, exports, foreign direct investment, remittances, and others.
The shock of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdowns have led to layoffs, firm closures, loss of business, and a slowdown especially in the urban informal sector with livelihood dependent on movement and social interaction.
Finally, the closure of schools as part of lockdowns in response to the pandemic means that empowerment through education has been seriously interrupted and is likely to have a severe negative knock-on effect on growth and socio-economic transformation.
One key policy recommendation for enhancing inclusiveness is therefore strengthening individual capabilities and confidence levels through education and training.
The other is creating favorable, non-discriminatory, level playing fields of economic opportunities. Providing relevant knowledge through education requires appropriate education curricula and vocational training programs that teach individuals skills that are immediately applicable.
In addition to this, education and training must equip individuals with the critical consciousness to analyze situations and to take appropriate action to translate opportunities into desired outcomes consistent with rising welfare.
At the national level, these policy suggestions may require the strategic partnership of an active developmental state able to engage with the people in designing creative programs for skill enhancement, attitude transformation, productive engagement, and appropriate response to globalization and international relations.
In conclusion, inclusiveness, therefore, requires the empowerment of individuals with relevant knowledge skills and motivation but also a just, equitable, and non-discriminatory institutional and regulatory environment.