Multilateralism is the key to creating a fairer world
Professor David Hulme, Global Development Institute, calls for a unified approach between countries to create a more sustainable, fairer future.
This lecture outlines why now is the time to reignite multilateralism and a global world view, moving away from nationalism.
International cooperation and co-dependence in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis are needed in order to achieve social justice and environmental sustainability and create a world in which our children and grandchildren are able to live well.
Recorded in August 2020
Economic and social inequality is increasing in countries around the world.
This is morally unjust, but it also undermines the future of humanity. It's creating a world in which our children and our grandchildren will not be able to live well.
At The University of Manchester, large numbers of our academics are asking how can global inequality be tackled? What can we do to reduce global inequality?
COVID-19 has brought many issues into a very sharp focus. It's terrible as we all know. It's a health crisis, and at the same, time it's an economic crisis.
But it may also be an opportunity to start to rethink some of the ways in which the world is governed and think about the strategies that countries and organisations have been pursuing.
And many of these need changing. In recent years many countries have been moving towards much more nationalist, economic and political strategies and policies. This is especially within countries that have got rising levels of inequality.
In the USA, the Make America Great Again campaign, is also building upon the country that has been generating higher and higher levels of inequality over the last 20 years.
In Brazil, the government policies and the president's policies have built on the existing inequality and made the country more unequal.
The same in the Philippines. And if one looks in the UK at the Brexit votes, and the way that we've shifted to a much more nationalist policy stance, this is closely associated with 15 years of increasing economic inequality and people feeling they're left out of opportunities - they can't get their first share of what's happening.
Interestingly, when you look at these countries where inequality has been increasing, then you find that when a common global problem hits them such as COVID-19, they can't cope very well with it.
If you want to see world-leading rates of the transmission of infection, world-leading rates of mortality, then look at the USA, look at Brazil, look at the Philippines, look at the UK and these countries that have been getting more unequal, and they're trying to detach themselves from the global system just in different ways, have actually not performed well at all.
So COVID creates an opportunity for us to get countries to think about whether they should return to multilateralism, whether they should think about international cooperation, and it gives them a chance to think about whether, in one world we live in, nationalist policies can ever work.
What are we doing at The University of Manchester when we're looking at this?
Well, we're working at two main approaches. One is very grand and academic, thinking about ideas. The other one is much more focused and much more practical, about specific policies or programmes.
At the grand level then, we see ourselves as engaged in a war of ideas - to identify and promote ideas that will achieve social justice around the world and that will lead to environmental sustainability.
Key amongst these ideas is the idea of global development, and our research at the Global Development Institute has shown that the idea that's dominant in many people's thinking - the idea of international cooperation as being the way forward, as rich countries giving foreign aid to poor countries, or helping them take technologies.
We found out that that idea is just totally outdated. In the 21st century, finance, technology, goods, ideas people are flooding in many different directions and there is no North and no South. No rich world and no poor world.
We are intermingled and co-dependent in so many different ways. And in particular, we share a whole series of common problems - climate change, pollution, unfair economic systems, pandemics.
And we found out that certainly nationalism is not a way forward if we wish to deal with these common problems. We need collective action. We need to pursue shared prosperity.
Multilateralism needs to be reignited. Sustainable consumption. And ideas such as climate justice. So at The University of Manchester, there's a real battle going on about the sorts of ideas and the concepts that will take us to a more socially just and sustainable world.
Practically? Well, we work on global value chains. We're looking closely at the pharmaceutical and vaccine industry, which we've been doing for many years, and we can look at the sorts of policies that will ensure that when and hopefully when a vaccine is invented that can rapidly be spread around the world.
That's obviously good for people who get access to the vaccine. But it's also good for people who have privileged access, such of those of us who live in the UK or Europe or North America.
Because if people in African, Asian countries get more rapid access, then the reinfection of our countries cannot occur, and so we need to work out how we can get these global value chains to work.
In Kenya, we're working very practically on the design of face masks in the shanty towns for people there. For the last 20 years, we've been working on cash transfers and cash grants. How to give money to people for unemployment or for child support.
And we work in countries such as Uganda and Bangladesh, where the country's governments were told you cannot afford to give grants to poor people. We've shown it's possible, we've helped design schemes, and those schemes are now being built on because when the COVID crisis hit those countries, they wanted to have transfers of finance to people. A whole set of these policies.
And so if you want to come and engage with ideas, come and engage with practical work, then we're involved in it.
Practically, there are things that one can obviously do in terms of supporting charities, in terms of writing to politicians and MPs. But if you want to read about global inequality and global development, take a look at our Global Development Institute web pages.
Talk to your friends, talk to your students about these ideas, because we want to see the world more socially just and more sustainable.
Research and further information
- Professor David Hulme's research profile
- Global Development Institute – COVID-19 research
- COVID-19 and the case for global development
- After the immediate coronavirus crisis: 3 scenarios for global development– article by Professor Hulme and Dr Horner
- From international to global development: new geographies of 21st century development – article by Dr Horner and Professor Hulme
- Towards a new paradigm of global development? Beyond the limits of international development – article by Dr Horner
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