Developing countries often assign a minor role to culture in their plans to reduce poverty. The Swedish organisation Sida recently reviewed sixteen Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) and concluded that in nearly half the cases culture was not mentioned at all or else was merely seen a factor holding back development.
Only nine countries have reserved a more or less positive role for culture. Bolivia, Cambodia and Laos note the need for ‘cultural sensitivity’ when combating poverty. Cambodia and Zambia call culture a vital means of communication, with (puppet) shows being especially suitable for the effective communication of social messages. Sri Lanka views culture as an effective means of promoting mutual understanding and affirming the national identity after the war. In addition, seven countries state that the support for cultural industries such as traditional handicrafts is an effective tool in efforts to reduce poverty, especially given the importance of tourism.
Georgia and Vietnam are the two countries that are assigning the greatest importance to culture in their national poverty reduction programmes: Vietnam views cultural development as just as important as material well-being, while Georgia wants to create favourable conditions for spiritual and cultural development. Georgia also sees culture as a national resource that can be harnessed for economic benefit.
In many cases, those countries that recognise the power of culture also refer to its downside, namely that it can also lead to conflict and stagnation. According to this Swedish organisation Sida, this shows that development is more than just an economic and technical process. It also says that additional cultural programmes are needed to change customs and attitudes that constitute an obstacle to development.
Since 1999, developing countries have had to draw up a PRSP if they wanted to be eligible for support from the World Bank and the IMF. As at 1 September 2005, 49 countries had such a national strategy, with a further 11 countries still drafting their PRSP.