How much "social inclusion" is enough?

February 13, 2015


  • Experts referred to social inclusion as “growth for all” or “avoidance of social exclusion.”
  • Improving access to opportunities for all members of society is vital to growth.
  • Fighting corruption is important to ensure social inclusion.

During the 90-minute live chat with readers of the Vietnam 2035 website on February 3, 2015, Mr. Dang Nguyen Anh, Director of the Institute of Sociology, and Mr. Gabriel Demombynes, World Bank Senior Economist, discussed a wide range of issues under the topic “inclusive growth”.

The chat, which was moderated by Mr. Dang Hoang Giang, Deputy Director of the Center for Community Development Studies, received about 30 questions and comments from participants throughout Vietnam as well as Vietnamese and international readers abroad.

The first group of questions, basic yet critical, were on the definition of “social inclusion”. In their responses, the two experts referred to social inclusion as “growth for all” or “avoidance of social exclusion”—when every member can participate fully and enjoy all the benefits and opportunities society allows.

Both experts drew attention to an important point—that inclusive growth is a very broad term. Mr. Nguyen Anh said, “It starts with economic aspects because they reflect equal opportunities in development, resources, employment and income, but social dimensions are also very important.” He said economic inclusion may not guarantee social inclusion. Workers in an industrial zone may receive good incomes, but they may remain socially excluded in terms of their cultural and spiritual life.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) indicators for social inclusion take into account the level of people’s participation and their right to access basic social services such as information, education, health, employment and legal services. These indicators reflect a need to ensure an equal voice and contribution by all in society as well as an equal share in the benefits of growth.

As Vietnam moves up the development ladder, the country will need to ensure that the least fortunate are included and have equal opportunity and access to all basic services. At the same time, the country needs to protect other members of society from the new risks emerging as the result of a modern, middle class market economy. “This includes the need for a strong system of support for the elderly, a social safety net, health insurance, and good labor market institutions,” said Mr. Demombynes. “Policy changes are necessary to address this broader dimension of social inclusion.”

Economic growth and social inclusion

Several questions focused on the concern of a possible trade-off between economic growth and social inclusion. Vietnam should maintain a high economic growth as well as ensure higher social inclusion. But can it have both at the same time and what will it take to achieve it?

Mr. Demombynes pointed to the consensus among economists that there are policies that could foster both inclusion and growth. In particular, improving access to opportunities for all members of society is recognized as vital to growth.

“If some citizens do not have adequate nutrition or access to education, they will not be able to fulfill their potential and this will depress growth,” said Mr. Demombynes. “Good policies can also help people better manage risk and contribute to boosting growth.”

For example, some people may be afraid to leave their family farm and pursue opportunities in the city because of risks of unemployment or falling ill away from their family. If society can help insure against these risks, people will be encouraged to migrate or move into more productive jobs, which can increase growth.

There is no single recipe for success in social inclusion. According to Mr. Demombynes, what matters is a genuine effort on the part of government and that all members of society have a voice.

Social inclusion with no limit

Fighting corruption is important to ensure social inclusion. First, payment of bribes can limit access to health and education to those who can pay afford it. This is unjust and an obvious problem for social inclusion. Second, the theft of public money reduces the funds available for social programs. Third, the perception that some people obtain their position or wealth through corruption can undermine trust in institutions and create social unrest.

Removing discriminatory treatment of different types of economic ownership, reducing inequality and the gaps between urban and rural areas, ensuring fair recruitment of talented people in the civil service, and reforming human resource development are also crucial in building a strong institution that ensures and sustains inclusive growth.

“Social inclusion should have no limit. However, there must be a minimum level of inclusion in society because it ensures social cohesion, a very important precondition for a society to survive and develop”, said Mr. Nguyen Anh.


For full content of the live chat, please click here.