(fa fede solo il discorso effettivamente pronunciato)
Ladies and gentleman,
I would like, first of all, to thank our Chilean hosts for their hospitality and for the outstanding work they have done in organizing this event, to which Italy has been happy to actively contribute.
This symposium is a significant example of the commitment of the Community of Democracies in ensuring the inclusion of civil society stakeholders, crucial actors in the parallel and mutually reinforcing processes of development and democratization.
Italy, together with Chile, co-chairs the Working Group on Poverty, Development and Democratization. This group has closely studied the issues at hand and it has used a theoretically-informed but practical and hands-on approach.
Let me first of all applaud Chile on its success in becoming one of the most competitive and sound economies in Latin America, characterised by a strong economic growth and targeted social assistance programs, aimed at eradicating poverty.
Overcoming poverty is one of the great challenges of our time, and yet the goal of achieving systematic poverty reduction or even identifying generalizable strategies to do so has proven to be an elusive target. Due also in part to the current adverse economic environment, the objective of eradicating extreme poverty, enshrined in the Millennium Development Goals will not be fully met in many countries. Policies supporting inclusive development and democratization lie at the heart of establishing fair and just societies. For decades it was believed that economic growth was a pre-requisite for democracy, through modernisation processes, the widening and strengthening of the middle class and its rising political demands. Today we know that the relationship between economic development and democracy is more complicated: economic growth can be achieved also in absence of fully-fledged democratic systems and democracies can survive despite economic stagnation. In the first case, however, in the absence of welfare policies, growth without inclusion creates unstable societies, where the social fabric risks falling apart. In economically stagnant democracies, on the other hand, reducing expectations creates social tensions that can fuel pessimism and populist trends.
Interestingly, research (“Why Nations Fail. The origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty” by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, 2012) is at least partially reversing the causality arrow: it is economic development, especially in the long run, that hinges on a country’s political institutions, defined as pluralistic systems that protect human rights.
This is based upon a twofold assumption: on the one hand, democratic systems secure private property and encourage entrepreneurship, which leads to innovations which represent the main engine of economic growth. On the other, democracies, by levelling the playing field among citizens, allow for a greater degree of social mobility. This in turn helps reduce excessive income disparities, allowing for a better distribution of wealth and greater access to capital and enabling robust private sector growth, which is vital to development processes. Moreover, the consolidation of the rule of law, which is a fundamental tenet of democracy, further helps drive private sector growth by ensuring transparency and predictability in the actions of the judicial and executive branches of government. Transparency is also key in the fight against corruption, a major roadblock to sustained development.
In other words, democracy helps create conditions which foster in parallel development and, with that, poverty eradication. The role of civil society is also paramount in consolidating democratic institutions, as such processes are intrinsically bottom-up.
I strongly believe that the role of civil society on the one hand and private enterprise on the other cannot be underestimated. The former represents the watchdog all political systems need in order to be as close as possible to their populations and develop inclusive and responsible policies. The latter represents one of the primary drivers of economic development. Economic actors bear social responsibilities too, from ensuring economic and environmental sustainability within the local communities in which they operate, to maintaining ethical conducts and rigorous standards of corporate citizenship and to encouraging the active participation and fair treatment of women within the business milieu.
In this respect, a significant example of successful corporate social responsibility – which will be discussed in detail later in the conference – is the joint Enel-Barefoot College project aimed at installing solar panels in rural areas in Latin America and training local women to operate and maintain them. The first five Chilean women to take part in this initiative have just returned from a training period in India and are ready to start working in their communities. I applaud Enel and the Barefoot College for such efforts, which simultaneously promote growth, sustainability and the empowerment of women.
Naturally, governments too can play a crucial role in fostering development by enacting well-targeted public policies. In this sense, Latin America has been a testbed of many such policies.
In conclusion, allow me to reiterate my thanks to the Chilean government and to all those that have made this symposium possible, which I truly believe is an important attempt to seek answers to one of the most complex issues of our time. Thank you all for your attention and for the privilege of addressing you today.