While in Barcelona for a scoping conference to set up a new research institute for the UN 'Alliance of Civilisations', I was asked how it is that culture should be looked at and taken more seriously in economic debates.
My take on this complex question is not a simple one. In fact, we can argue easily that a lack of appreciation for cultural specificities can easily derail the best development programs even those with the best of intentions. This is a no brainer!
But we can also argue that the prevalence of 'intercultural tensions' and conflicts can damage a country's efforts to improve its lot economically. We can look at countries in Africa, the Middle East and South/West Asia to realise this.
But one can be even more bullish about the importance of culture as a fourth pillar of development (the other three being economic, environmental and social), and establish in measurable ways its real contribution to economic growth and development.
Here we are referring to the productive capacity of cultural diversity, the real power of creative cultural capital and the direct and indirect benefits of a culturally diverse workforce.
It is at this third and more tangible level that international efforts are heading with a view of linking an appreciation of cultural diversity to objective and measurable development goals as with the UN inspired eight MDGs (millennium development goals).
In the corporate sector also there is now a growing body of evidence that shows a correlation between the bottom line (profits) and the level of diversity companies and especially multinationals. Again, this should not come as a surprise!