Photo credit: PxHere

By: Lydia Callies

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is the core of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) work. This comprises five pillars: people, prosperity, planet, peace, and partnership. All of these pillars are linked in the integrated agenda of the SDGs. To achieve the goals encompassed in this agenda, the UNDP has six signature solutions, which were developed as cross-cutting approaches to development in response to the complexity of the SDGs. One such signature solutions is “governance for peaceful, just, and inclusive societies.” This includes support to strengthen democratic institutions and inclusive public participation to ensure that no one is left behind.

For the past three months I have been working with UNDP Cambodia on a project for inclusive and participatory governance. This work has really driven home the importance of this approach to promote sustainable development. Leaving no one behind is a huge challenge in all contexts. However, in operating environments such as Cambodia this is particularly challenging as information on vulnerable and marginalised groups who are at risk of being left behind is often unavailable. The voices of youth, women and girls, migrant groups, Indigenous people, people with disabilities, and LGBTQI+ people, are often not heard, or not represented, in public decision-making processes. These voices make valuable contributions to strengthen public institutions. Part of the objective of the project that I am working on seeks, therefore, to increase the visibility of these vulnerable and marginalised groups to foster their inclusion and participation in public processes. Understanding social cohesion is key to achieve this objective.

Social cohesion is a complex and multidimensional concept. In the UNDP’s latest social cohesion guidance note, this concept is defined as “the extent of trust in government and within society and the willingness to participate collectively toward a shared vision of sustainable peace and common development goals.” There are two core dimensions to this concept. The vertical dimension represents relations between government and people, and it is strongly related to the degree of inclusivity of government and its institutions. Alternatively, the horizontal dimension represents intergroup relations among the people in society and is strongly related to the degree of mutual trust among citizens. Each of these dimensions includes several subdimensions. While all of the subdimensions are significant in principle, the importance attributed to each depends on the context where the concept of social cohesion is applied.

Having a strong concept of social cohesion is important for ensuring inclusive and participatory governance. It creates the basis to collect information on vulnerable and marginalised groups that is typically missed in national statistics. Moreover, it can expose social dynamics which drive cohesion or discord. Access to this type of information can support more inclusive public participation and can make democratic institutions more responsive, thereby contributing to the process of ensuring that no one is left behind in development.

As my internship ends, I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work on governance issues through the UNDP Cambodia. Through this opportunity I have gained so much knowledge about the significance of inclusive and participatory governance for people, planet, and prosperity. I have also made connections with a group of incredible people who are driven to make a difference in the world. This experience has been enriching in more ways than I can describe. Moving forward, I am left hopeful about the changes happening in Cambodia.