Thematic Factsheet | Social Inclusion

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Social Inclusion

The pledge to leave no one behind is among the defining features of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Our world is undergoing rapid social transformations driven by the compounded impact of economic and social crises and other challenges resulting in growing inequalities within and amongcountries. The impact of climate change disproportionately affects vulnerable populations, driving inequalities even further. The 2030 Agenda envisages peaceful, just and inclusive societies where all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality. The fight against inequality is linked to and interdependent with the ambitions to eradicate poverty, preserve the planet and achieve sustained economic growth. Failure to ensure inclusive societies is identified as a causal factor of violence and insecurity and curtails sustainable development. Goals 10 and 16 directly address social inclusion: the former sets the ambition to reduce inequality within and among countries with an emphasis on inclusion, equal opportunities and enhanced representation; the latter recognises that inclusion is a key requirement for sustained peace and targets, among others, the protection of fundamental rights. Given its multidimensional nature, inclusion is also a key tenet in several other goals. Notably, goals focusing on education (Goal 4) and urban development (Goal 11) are to be inclusive, as are goals addressing economic growth (Goal 8) and industrialisation (Goal 9). Goal 5 focuses on the multidimensional form of social inclusion as it relates to gender equality.

In 2019, the UN Secretary General, reflecting on what he referred to as the ‘Inclusion Imperative’, noted that, ‘Inequality raises economic anxiety, erodes public trust and undermines social cohesion, human rights, peace and prosperity... For all these reasons, the 2030 Agenda places the goal of inclusion... at the heart of our efforts i.’ While the ambition for inclusion is seldom disputed in principle, the complexity of its practical implementation and the political nature of the issues that it touches upon remain challenges. The UN ii has highlighted that achieving social inclusion requires the transformation of deeply-rooted systems that are often based on the unequal distribution of wealth and decision-making power. Some progress has been made on the inclusion imperative: the bottom 40 per cent of the population in many countries have experienced higher than average income growth rates. However, economic inequality persists and, in many places, the share of income going to the top 1 per cent of earners is increasing. Disadvantaged groups – such as youth, children, women, individuals with disabilities, minorities and rural populations – continue to face exclusion. Cities, which now host the majority of the world’s population, are increasingly faced with growing spatial inequalities, both in the Global North as the Global South. Measuring inclusion – especially its non-financial dimensions – and assessing which policies and approaches achieve the best outcomes, remain a challenge. In this sense, developing the evidence base on inclusive policies is a priority.

What UNESCO does

Building inclusive societies has been a longstanding commitment of the international community and a major component of the quest for a new humanism. Promoting the welfare of the world’s population and particularly reaching out to its most disenfranchised segments is central to UNESCO’s programmes in all its fields. UNESCO’s vision of an inclusive society is a society for all, in which every individual has an active role to play. Such a society is based on fundamental values of equity, equality, social justice, and human rights and freedoms, as well as on the principles of tolerance and embracing diversity. An inclusive society needs to be equipped with appropriate mechanisms that enable all its citizens to participate in the decision-making processes that affect their lives, and ultimately shapes their common future.

Expert opinion iii points to the inadequate uptake of social inclusion in all its dimensions – social, economic, political and cultural – at the policy level. UNESCO is actively working to assist Member States in the design of inclusive policies and frameworks to address this shortcoming. UNESCO’s Management of Social Transformations (MOST) Programme is at the forefront of this crosscutting mission and MOST’s Inclusive Policy Lab is providing cutting edge, tailored advice. Inclusive policy-making presents several complexities. First, inclusion is both a process of how policy is designed and delivered and an outcome. Policies need to integrate both concerns equally. Second, inclusive policy is not a sectoral intervention. While sectoral measures can be implemented, no stand-alone policy can achieve inclusion. Third, addressing exclusionary dynamics often requires a high degree of policy innovation and overall ‘trying, testing and improving’. UNESCO’s Analytical Framework for Inclusive Policy Design addresses these issues, among others, and the Inclusive Policy Lab offers policymakers in all fields, including culture, an array of policy instruments. The framework compiles reports and data on inclusion, gives guidance on inclusive policy markers against which to assess current or future policies, offers users the possibility to ask experts from a range of fields questions related to inclusive policies and to create or join e-teams experimenting inclusive approaches.

Access to and participation in cultural life have long been appreciated as crucial elements in enhancing well-being and creating a sense of belonging and shared identity.The UNESCO Culture Sector is working to harness and channel that power for inclusivity by emphasising inclusive policy processes for culture and by experimenting how cultural activity ensures greater inclusion of marginalized groups. Awareness of cultural diversity by policymakers also encourages non-discriminatory policies. The UNESCO Convention on the Protection and the Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005) has a particularly robust recognition of civil society, a key vector for the inclusion of a multiplicity of voices, and has put participatory cultural policy-making at the heart of its advisory agenda, thus contributing directly to SDG target 16.7 iv. The 2005 Convention encourages and assists Parties in setting up civil society consultations for designing and reviewing policies. Capacity-building on participatory preparation of the Convention’s Quadrennial Periodic Reports has provided many countries with an opportunity to foster new or renewed consultations and dialogue with civil society organizations. In terms of inclusive outcomes of cultural activity, the 2005 Convention Policy Monitoring Platform v, as well the database of projects funded by the International Fund for Cultural Diversity (IFCD)vi provide several examples of including vulnerable groups in arts and culture. Museums are also key spaces for the promotion of social inclusion. In 2015, UNESCO adopted the Recommendation concerning the Protection and Promotion of Museums and Collections, their Diversity and their Role in Society, which offers museum professionals and policymakers a series of guidelines for unlocking the full cultural, social, economic and educational potential of museums. Inclusion within cities remains a challenge.

In 2017, the National Gallery of Canada opened its Canadian and Indigenous Galleries, showing the full span of human culture in the country © National Gallery of Canada

The UNESCO Cities Platform, in particular the UNESCO Creative Cities Network and its Culture Lab 2030, as well as the International Coalition of Inclusive and Sustainable Cities (under the Social and Human Sciences Sector) are providing platforms for social innovation in cities confronted with some of the most acute problems of exclusion, such as theexclusion of migrant communities and slum dwellers. A local example of such innovation is the Bandung Creative City Forum, created in 2008, to nurture creative responses to economic and social urban challenges while valuing the diversity of Bandung culture. Increasingly, the cultural sectorprovides a stage for community participation and renewed links between local governments and citizens, particularly in areas of the world where social and cultural realities have historically not been taken into consideration in urban development.

Artistic expression provides a unique means for people to be able to express themselves, encouraging participation in cultural life, facilitating access to culture and promoting social inclusion. There is wide recognition of the social and cultural well-being dimensions of arts education including its therapeutic and restorative dimensions in post-conflict and post-disaster situations. Integrating arts education in non-formal education also provides a diverse learning environment in particular for out-of -school children and youth, fostering dialogue and exchange, and supporting stability and reconstruction efforts in conflict-stricken communities. Arts education is a powerful means to unlock and express emotion, build friendships and unite communities around a shared vision of peace. Children and youth who are already vulnerable or marginalized become even more so in conflict and crisis situations, as they often migrate to cities in search of protection, help and opportunities. Given the multitude of challenges facing these children, artistic activities provide much needed stress relief and can in fact be tools for survival.Equally, artistic expressions is fundamental to fostering social inclusion and stability, ensuring peace and ultimately preventing tension and conflict.

In the field of heritage, the symbolic value of inscription on the World Heritage and the Intangible Cultural Heritage Lists, particularly of sites or practices that belong to historically marginalized groups, contributes to social inclusion and cohesion by according their narratives both global and national recognition. Furthermore, engaging local communities in the conservation and management of World Heritage properties, and heritage sites in general, has long been one of the strategic objectives of the World Heritage Committee, which was reiterated and formalized in the 2012 Kyoto Vision declaration. Cultural tourism, when not properly managed, can engender exclusionary dynamics and the gentrification of cultural sites to the detriment of residents. UNESCO is actively engaging with policymakers to encourage infrastructure development, pricing that benefits residents and increasing inclusive employment opportunities in World Heritage properties. A pilot project in Pakistan and Bangladesh was implemented to test and showcase approaches for reconnecting local communities to their heritage sites, notably through skill-building in specialized crafts and employment opportunities.Implementation of the 2011 UNESCO Recommendation on the Historic Urban Landscape is also contributing to greater inclusivity. For example, the 2012-2019 Inclusive Urban Revitalization Program in India tackled important knowledge, policy and implementation gaps on urban revitalization in the country. Implemented by the World Bank with advisory support from UNESCO and the Cities Alliance, the project’s main outcome was the first national Heritage-Based Urban Development Scheme in India, as well as state and city-level heritage-based development programs and investments.The case studies on Creative Cities published in the UNESCO publication Voices of the City, showcase other innovative solutions that harness creativity for the construction of more inclusive growth models that facilitate environmental adaption and economic transition.

UNESCO has recently released a cross-sector Policy on Engaging with Indigenous Peoples, which provides key guidelines for inclusive approaches and policies addressed at indigenous peoples in all of UNESCO’s areas. The Culture Sector has also undertaken a study on how indigenous peoples are integrated in the cultural policies of Member States. The cultural diversity of indigenous peoples manifests itself in many forms, including in the thousands of rare languages spoken by indigenous populations and their knowledge and practices key to achieving the 2030 Agenda. Marginalized economically, socially and politically, indigenous peoples are also frequently the victims of racism, discrimination, and exclusion. Finally, the importance of artistic freedom as an enabler of social inclusion should be underscored. Freedom of expression is necessary to allow people to give voice to cases of exclusion and also make suggestions on how exclusion can be redressed. SDG Target 16.10 highlights the importance of such fundamental freedoms.

Boulevard Olimpico, Las Etnias. Artist: Kobra. 4 continents


Key Facts and Figures

Achieving social inclusion is complex and can be approached from several different angles. The three examples below illustrate different approaches to using culture for social inclusion. The Medellin creative cities case highlights how social inclusion outcomes are boosted by cross-sectoral policies; the Peruvian example illustrates how participatory processes can be harnessed for more inclusive policies; and the Guatemalan case is an example of how targeting marginalised groups through cultural activity can give these groups greater voice – the starting point for greater inclusion.

Multisectoral urban policy for inclusion: Medellin, Colombia

The city of Medellin achieved transformative change through small-scale yet high-impact innovative urban projects targeting social and economic inequalities. City authorities viewed access to culture and security as components of a broad social strategy designed to improve social cohesion, inclusion and quality of life. The cultural initiatives were designed to complement measures to improve public transportation, road safety and education infrastructure, provide safe recreational areas, upgrade infrastructure and public services, and increase citizen’s responsibilities towards their city. As an example, five library parks were developed in areas previously affected by urban violence and drug trafficking, and connected to their urban areas through public transportation. While improving access to culture in deprived areas, these libraries also enhanced public space through quality design and fostered a sense of pride among local inhabitants. [from Culture Urban Future, UNESCO]



Peruvian civil society and cultural governance

Civil society in Peru is working to ensure that cultural policy reflects the needs and realities of citizens. Between 2011 and 2014, civil society convened annual ‘National Encounters of Culture’ to develop, exchange and promote ideas on the governance of culture. After 2014, the Encounters developed into a decentralized programme of local and thematic meetings to propose cultural policy changes. In 2016, 77 organizations combined to hold 25 encounters in 15 regions of Peru, leading to the agreement of an ‘Agenda of Shared Advocacy’ and the formation of the Peruvian Alliance of Cultural Organizations to drive its implementation. [from Re|Shaping Cultural Policies, UNESCO]



IFCD contributing to inclusion of marginalized groups

The Opportunities for Indigenous Cultural Entrepreneurs project funded by the IFCD and implemented by INCREA Lab provided training and mentoring to more than 100 youth from indigenous communities in Guatemala in audio-visual creation and the professional use of digital technologies. The project also provided seed funding and networking opportunities. Trainees reported finding jobs, as video editors at a TV station, for example, and setting up their own businesses as a result. This IFCD project thus created jobs and opportunities, while also giving marginalized communities greater voice and participation in culture. vi


Policy Guidance

  • Disaggregated data is a key requirement for identifying inclusion problems and monitoring policies to redress them. At a minimum, data collected for cultural policies should be gender and age-disaggregated. Depending on the context, other levels of disaggregation be relevant, such as ethnicity, location or level of schooling.
  • Civil society must play a strong role in policy design and policy monitoring in order to have informed, transparent and participatory systems of governance of culture. Civil society offers a key vehicle for people’s participation and can be pivotal in ensuring accountability and demanding transparency, which together make it more likely that cultural policies and measures reflect and serve people’s needs.
  • Test and develop strategies to ensure that heritage sites, museums and arts venues also serve as places of social encounters, civic engagement and dialogue.


i UN Secretary General’s opening remarks at the 2019 High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development.

ii Economic and Social Council. 2019.Special edition: progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Report of the Secretary General.

iii UNDESA.2009.Report for the Expert Group Meeting on Practical Strategies to Promote Social Integration: Lessons Learned from Existing Policies and Practices.

iv Target 16.7 aims at ensuring re sponsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels.

v 2005 Convention Policy Monitoring Platform website. Search for ‘inclusion’. On participatory processes, select ‘Partnering with Civil Society’ in the ‘Area of Monitoring’ box.

vi IFCD Projects website. Select ‘Broader participation of individuals and social groups’ in the ‘Action Impact’ box.