The much-debated role of culture in development is highlighted with the launch of a new group on, showcasing thirty-six projects that place culture at the heart of development.

Culture and Development

The group Culture and Development - Action and Impact launched last week on Developed in collaboration between the European Commission, the British Council, EUNIC and the Federation Wallonia-Brussels, this unusual group is based around a publication that highlights the role of culture in development.

That publication is also called Culture and Development – Action and Impact. Presented earlier this year at the Euromed Forum on Creative Industries and Society in Jordan, a joint conference supported by the EUNIC cluster and the EU delegation in Jordan, it provides examples of how investment in cultural projects can make a significant contribution to the socio-economic development of the communities concerned and help to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. Now that the information is on-line and available to the wider development community, it can provide basis for debate, interaction and collaboration.

“Culture should be at the very core of every development project and that is the message that we would like to put forward with the group,” said Katri Maenpaa of the British Council EU Office, and the group’s developer.

“This group offers the opportunity for those involved in the projects to interact as a network, plus we hope to reach a broader audience of development practitioners to help them better understand the important role that culture can play for development.”

While bringing culture to the mainstream of development thinking and practice is one of UNESCO’s main themes and the subject of a recent UN Resolution, the role of culture continues to be questioned within international organisations. Katri Maenpaa admits she often finds herself in the midst of this debate.

“I quite often get to hear that culture is nice but not essential; I do disagree,” she said recently in Brussels, “It is essential. Culture has aspects for social development, social inclusion, behavioural change, economic development and the potential to create employment ... then there is the aspect of human development, of individual skills, citizenship, democratisation...”

This is the second edition of ‘Culture and Development – Action and Impact’, and this version focuses mainly on the Mediterranean, where major pro-democracy events have recently taken place. “Through supporting the creative sector and cultural diversity in the region, we also support those actors in civil society who are active and mobilised for the change towards wider democracy. And this is something that we want to do,” said Ms Maenpaa.  “The European Commission is also willing to encourage the civil society in their actions, and this publication gives you great examples of the EC’s work using culture as a key factor in development.”

The projects are gathered under headings that include Democratisation, Conflict Prevention and Reconciliation, Strengthening Civil Society, Social Inclusion and Dialogue. “A good example of the many shapes and dimensions which culture can take in the development process is the creation of a comic strip department within the National Institute of Fine Arts in Tétouan, in Morocco,” said Gilles Hubens Senior Policy Officer for Culture with EuropeAid, who has worked with the publication since its conception. “There wasn’t official training organised for comic strip drawing in Morocco,” he explained. “Nevertheless, we knew that cartoons can provide another way to view society and can promote freedom of expression. They also allow us to develop practical skills leading to work and developing a market”. The project launched in 2000 in agreement with Moroccan authorities. Twelve years later the comic strip sector in Morocco has stimulated international investment and growth of associated media industries, and its organisation is structured around this project.

While focus is placed on impacts of the projects, a group page is dedicated to challenges and lessons learned.  An important lesson, one that the Comic Strip department example presents, is that projects in the cultural field require a relatively long period of preparation to ensure the achievement of measurable results. In order to guarantee long-term support from the partners and authorities concerned, project designers and project leaders in this field are advised to be able to demonstrate, over time, the precise link between the activities that receive funding and resulting development.

This collaborative piece was drafted with input from Katri Maenpaa and Gilles Hubens with support from the Coordination Team.

DISCLAIMER: This information is provided in the interests of knowledge sharing and capacity development and should not be interpreted as the official view of the European Commission, or any other organisation.

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