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Will inclusive growth succeed?

May 18, 2017

Jean Lebel

President, IDRC

There is growing global consensus that societal inequalities are intensifying — and that this issue has become one of the major challenges of our time.

Recently I participated in a meeting where experts from Canada and abroad discussed the practice of something relatively new to the field of policymaking: inclusive growth. The term is appealing because it emphasizes that economic growth should leave no one behind.

The statement made in the last federal budget on gender equality is a strong indication that Canada has entered into the inclusive growth era. In the Canadian context, our guests spoke of policies and programs such as child transfer benefits, skills development for the workforce, and investing in infrastructure.

From abroad, a former minister from Peru indicated how poverty was drastically reduced by coordinating government reinvestments in the country. Peru learned that it took experimentation, coordination, and many different policies that incorporated inclusion and strong political will in order to succeed. And succeed they did: in the last 12 years, the country’s poverty rate dropped from 55% to 21%, and extreme poverty fell from 16% to 4%. 

Participants suggested that all components of government and society need to improve their collaboration and coordinate their actions to deliver inclusive growth for all. But to be successful we need to increase our evidence and understanding.

Representatives from the World Economic Forum (WEF), Finance Canada, Oxfam, Global Affairs Canada, the MasterCard Foundation and academics agree that we must start measuring our progress more effectively and move beyond outdated measures like the GDP.

The recently released WEF Inclusive Growth and Development report suggests that this can and should be achieved. The Inclusive Development Index (IDI) provides an assessment of countries’ level of development and performance that is more nuanced than those based on GDP per capita alone. Measures of gender equality are integrated into the assessments and highlight the advantages of enhancing women’s access to opportunities and services.

This also highlights a number of IDRC’s priorities. These measures of success need to be further developed and made easily accessible to a broad audience. It is also critical that we learn more about how successful innovations can be brought to scale. While equal access to opportunities and benefits of growth are critical, this agenda also needs to ensure environmental sustainability. If we want to pursue the journey and succeed in the world of complex policymaking, let’s ensure the population understands that a new paradigm has arrived —and that it’s good news for all of us.

No one should be left behind. Civil society, government, private sectors, and researchers must rally together towards such a promising framework. But who has heard about inclusive growth outside of international development circles? Let’s continue to diversify the conversation and document what works and what doesn’t to ensure that this promising approach has staying power and is applied to help us create a more equal and better world for all.

This op-ed was first published in The Hill Times on May 15, 2017.

Jean Lebel is the President of IDRC.