"The power of culture must be recognized as a pillar for sustainable development, and this is why we are here," said the Director-General of UNESCO, Irina Bokova, at the opening of the International Congress of Hangzhou (China). "We must rethink growth models, environmental and social models, and culture offers the means to renew ideas, to foster openness and to promote the innovation we need to make the most of it," she added.
Irina Bokova launched the Congress with Ms. Liu Yandong, Vice Premier of China, with whom she spoke at length about the future of cooperation between UNESCO and China, in a face-to-face meeting on the margins of the plenary session.
The Hangzhou Congress is a key step in UNESCO’s advocacy to integrate culture into sustainable development strategies, as the international community shapes a new global agenda for sustainable development after 2015.
"We are entering a critical phase of redefining sustainable development in its three pillars-- economic, environmental and social. Culture is at the heart of each of them," said the Director-General, recalling the double power of culture as an economic driver and a source of social inclusion --"Enhancing culture means enhancing peoples and releasing self-esteem. The values of the culture are more than economic -- they are values of expression, participation, collective mobilization”. The demand for culture is growing – this calls for better policies, stronger tools, sharper statistics and better trained professionals, for each situation. Heritage, know-how, intangible heritage, creative industries and cultural diversity are strengths to enforce, and UNESCO’s Conventions are tools to protect and to enhance this potential. "We must not miss this historic opportunity to underline the vital link between culture and development," said Irina Bokova.
Interventions by speakers from different backgrounds - experts, sociologists, urban planners, business leaders, mayors, politicians - all converged on the power of culture to support aspirations and widen opportunities. The Right Honorable Michaëlle Jean, UNESCO Special Envoy for Haiti, referred in particular to Haiti’s case, where aid programmes that have the greatest impact are those that incorporate the cultural characteristics of the target populations -- "the emergency tents needed to be reconfigured according to Haiti’s villages, not in straight lines, as is too often the case”.
Several representatives of the Government of China, in particular the Vice Minister of Culture, Ms. Zhao Shaohua, highlighted the socio-economic potential of culture at a pivotal moment in the development of the country. The Chinese Government has reiterated its decision to make culture a pillar of development during this five-year period and has set a goal of doubling revenue in the creative industries by 2020.
One of the key messages to emerge is the need for more public-private partnerships for the development of infrastructure, museums, libraries and access to culture for all.
"The public-private partners have proven their effectiveness and governments should encourage them further," pleaded His Highness the Aga Khan, giving the example of rehabilitation projects in culture led by his foundation in Afghanistan, Egypt and Zanzibar.
Business leaders and mayors of large cities gathered in the Business Forum to discuss dozens of concrete initiatives for the development of cultural projects.
"Your energy is an encouragement – tonight, I see a new and promising impetus, a new way to see culture, a vision that is more open and more innovative, as vector for jobs and resources. UNESCO is pleased and proud to have helped launch the movement, and we are committed to bring all these forces until 2015 and beyond,” concluded the Director-General.