The recently concluded Asian Economic Forum held in Makati had for its theme “inclusive growth.” The government pulled out all stops and went out of its way to put its best foot forward–from copious reports about our vaunted economic growth, our diverse culture, and the beauty of our islands and our people. Makati was billed as the “Davos of Asia,” referring to Davos, Switzerland where the global forum is held annually. The Philippines was likewise billed as the investment destination of Asia.
What is the Asian Economic Forum all about?
The AEF was organized to provide an annual forum for governments to meet with the giants of business and industry to discuss global economic and investment trends. Thus, delegations from different countries usually include government economic teams as well as leading businessmen and industrialists. Occasionally, global trends in social development as well as updates in technology and the environment are discussed. However, considering the interests of the key players in the Forum, the focus is on the global economy and investment opportunities.
Heads of state are usually invited to brief the captains of business and industry. Those from the richest and most powerful countries present their analyses of global trends, and explain their national policies. Those from middle income countries target investors and usually focus on how attractive their respective countries are to foreign investment. Leaders from emerging economies with chutzpah like former President Lula of Brazil would tell both government and business leaders what is wrong with the global economic and financial infrastructure.
In between formal sessions, investors would meet with delegations from countries to strike out deals. There would be meetings within meetings. And media would be there to cover it all.
And where are the people in this huge business and investment fair? They watch TV if they are interested enough or join alternative events organized by civil society organizations.
A parallel event: The World Social Forum
Global meetings are usually matched with parallel events initiated by civil society. UN global and regional meetings are not considered complete unless accepted by a parallel civil society event in the same venue.The World Economic Forum is no different.
Civil society organizations and their supporters led by former President Lula of Brazil organized the World Social Forum. While the World Economic Forum discussed global and regional economic issues, The World Social Forum discussed social development issues and the impact of government and business practices on people.
Expectedly, the WEF and WSF were totally different from each other. While the WEF is attended by governments and business leaders, the WSF is attended largely by civil society organizations, people’s organizations, academic institutions and experts. While WEF attendees number a few thousands, WSF is attended by hundreds of thousands of people. While WEF is usually held in posh hotels, WSF is usually held in universities with huge campuses and extensive facilities.
While WEF events are usually stiff and formal with strict dress codes, WSF events are characterized by creative and artistic booths, floats, concerts, food fairs, and so on. The first time I attended a World Social Forum event in Brazil, 150,000 people danced, sang and laughed in a mammoth demonstration/parade even as people waved from balconies.
Regional WEFs and WSFs
While regional WEF’s are a recent development, WSF started regionalizing its meetings much earlier. I have had the opportunity to attend regional WSF meetings in Bombay, India and Kenya, Africa. On the other hand, I attended two global WSF forums in Puerto Alegre in Brazil with hundreds of thousands attendees from all over the world and one global parallel WSF right in Davos, Switzerland. In all these events, I was invited as a speaker.
Why was there no parallel civil society meeting to the Makati WEF?
Host countries normally allow civil society organizations to hold parallel sessions. Not only that; they also provide the venues and necessary facilities. This is to signal that the host country is supporting and allowing civil society organizations to discuss issues related to the theme of the conference.
Was there a parallel civil society meeting in the “Davos of Asia” in a country which boasts that it one of those with the largest and most dynamic civil society and people’s organizations?
On the WEF theme of “inclusive growth”
The theme “inclusive growth” is not original with WEF. It emerged in the wake of the oft-repeated demand of civil society organizations that all should enjoy the benefits of growth. It is commonly used by United Nations organizations and civil society.
The fruits of economic growth should not go to the less than 1% of the population alone. It should not go to one economic sector like services; it should also be shared with the largest sector, namely agriculture where most of the poor are.
Genuine inclusive growth is not exclusive to the top 40 billionaires, or the top families; it is for everybody.
Inclusive growth cannot possibly happen in a country where 27.9% of Filipinos live in poverty. It cannot happen in a country with the highest unemployment rate in Asia.
So, what resolutions were made by WEF to ensure inclusive growth, in addition to advice on what would entice big business to come to investment-starved countries?
No one left behind
“No one left behind” is a phrase related to “inclusive growth” which is very popular in the United Nations’ and civil society language
Growth in many developing countries, including the Philippines tends to be uneven. Even as an economy is growing as a whole, a sector can lag behind the rest. This is true in the case of the agriculture sector which is left behind by services and manufacturing.
Thus, a few people might be prospering mightily while the many are left behind.
Three questions for WEF
1. Were civil society organizations encouraged and allowed to hold parallel fora on the theme of WEF? Was there a Makati version of the WSF or World Social Forum?
2. Has growth in developing and poor countries been inclusive?
3. What resolutions and recommendations have been crafted to ensure that growth is inclusive and no one is left behind?