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Diversity on the World Stage

02/17/2011 7:00 PM E14"674
Bishwapriya Sanyal, Ford International Professor of Urban Development and Planning and Director of the Program for Urban and Regional Studies, MIT; Nazli Choucri, Professor of Political Science, Associate Director of the MIT Technology and Development Program, and Head of the Middle East Program at MIT; ; Geoffrey A. P. Groesbeck, Legatum Fellowship Programmes, Legatum Center for Development & Entrepreneurship at MIT; Joanne Mariner, Director, Human Rights Program, Hunter College, City University of New York

Description: Moderator Bishwapriya Sanyal opens the panel with some reflections on history. He identifies periods when nations acknowledge similarities among different peoples, and equality and democracy seem on the rise, and times when only tribal divisions appear to matter and the clash of civilizations seems inevitable. Conscious of this waxing and waning of democratic impulses, speakers consider practical and pressing matters of international aid and development, conflict resolution, and the rights of the individual in an increasingly connected but contentious planet.

Whether political uprisings in the Middle East represent the "tail end of the decolonization process or the emergence of serious democratization," says Nazli Choucri, what is happening today can be traced to developments following World War II, as new sovereign nations broke free from European colonizers, and began the process of state building and economic growth -- often suppressing "diversity as a value and as a form of political expression." Over the same period, other dynamics appeared that "contributed to the individual having a voice:" the burgeoning of global communication and information networks; the growth in the "youth segment" and education. Participation in a civil society has increasingly become the norm. In the Middle East and elsewhere, "youth"driven, communication enabled" local movements are pressing for political representation. "Nobody but themselves will be allowed to manage the design for the future," she says.

Traditional development in Latin America has generally failed because of its emphasis on unilateral aid, complex technology transfer, and long distance policy"making that overlooked the interests of diverse communities, says Geoffrey Groesbeck. A case study of such flawed ventures lies in Chiquitos, in eastern Bolivia, where 17th and 18th century Jesuit missions and villages have been the focus of multiple restoration and development projects. Groesbeck describes how government and outside agencies ignored the economic and cultural needs of successive generations of indigenous groups, "throwing around much money" and creating pretty "Disneylands" that didn't attract the kind of vibrant tourism essential to local economies. Local people had no say in determining how to represent their own past, and build on it. But recently, new ideas are percolating, says Groesbeck, with local entrepreneurs driving the transformation of mission villages, saying "let's put aside what others tell us, and go for what we know, catering to our own, diverse community."

In the wake of World War II, the United Nations has produced many inspiring documents "promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and freedoms for all," says Joanne Mariner. But in practice, follow"through has been spotty to abysmal. Governments "lack the political will to protect human rights, and have sapped the U.N.'s promise of an enforcement tool," allowing the kind of genocide that took place in Bosnia in the 1970s and more recently in Darfur. Arrest warrants for crimes against humanity against Sudan's President Bashir have not prevented him from "traveling around Africa with impunity, rubbing elbows with other government leaders." Wide reforms are needed in the U.N., says Mariner, including greater transparency so it no longer functions as "a black box where the worst kind of horse trading and political manipulations go on." Most fundamentally, though, member nations "must recognize that human rights abuses are core problems linked to other goals such as development, peace and a world without poverty."

About the Speaker(s): Bishwapriya Sanyal served as department head for Urban Studies and Planning from 1994 to 2002. He has served as a planning consultant to the Ford Foundation, World Bank, International Labour Organization, United Nations Center for Human Settlements, United Nations Development Program, and the United States Agency for International Development. Sanyal has conducted research in India, Bangladesh, Zambia, Kenya, Jordan, Lebanon, Brazil, and Curacao.

Sanyal trained as an architect planner, and holds a doctorate from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Host(s): Office of the President, MIT150 Inventional Wisdom

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MIT World — special events and lectures

MIT World — special events and lectures

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