Moving toward a socially sustainable Philippines

The Philippines needs to strengthen its existing support programs, such as those for indigenous people (IP), women, and climate change resilience, to step closer to social sustainability, according to Louise Cord, PhD.

Cord is the World Bank global director for social sustainability and inclusion in the World Bank’s sustainable development practice.

Cord said social sustainability occurs “when communities and societies are able to work together to deal with common challenges such as flooding, droughts, poor quality education, a poorly stocked health center in a way that all people thrive over time and in a way that people consider to be fair and just.”

Cord. Photo by Jefferson Villacruz, UPDIO

She said some of the Philippines’ economic indicators in the past few years are strong, such as a drop in inequality and strong poverty reduction metrics.

To move towards social sustainability in the Philippines, Cord proposed actions in the areas of women empowerment, digital services, and programs for IP.

Cord made a case of social sustainability particularly for the country’s IP communities. She said the IP’s remote ancestral lands contain many “important minerals whose value will grow.”

She proposed developing a digital portal to centralize data such as the locations of ancestral lands and the services available to IP. Cord also proposed creating integrated packages for remote communities that provide “access to digital resources, access to transport, [and] access to local infrastructure.”

She added that access to digital services could improve the role of women and other marginalized groups by enabling and expanding their access to markets.

Cord said digital services would also enable women and marginalized groups to “talk with one another across communities and to learn from one another. And to track funds to build accountability at the local level using a cellphone to be able to have an app to track funds.”

The World Bank official cited the work of the National Commission on Indigenous People’s (NCIP), which she said could be bolstered by giving them more resources to go out to the IP communities.

“[I am] so happy that an institution like the NCIP provides that support. What I would like to see is that they won’t have to come all the way to Manila to make their claim. That there are easier access to systems, to have a voice at the local level and have themselves be heard,” Cord said.

While a lot is being done to build climate change resilience in communities, Cord said there needs to be more initiatives, particularly in infrastructure and service delivery.

“All of this is absolutely key, but we also need resilient communities, because we’ve learned from COVID [-19] and other crises that the communities are the first-order respondents,” she said.

Cord’s views on social sustainability are contained in her book, Social Sustainability in Development: Meeting the Challenges of the 21st Century, which she co-authored with Patrick Barron, José Cuesta, Sabina A. Espinoza, Greg Larson, and Michael Woolcock.

Book cover. Photo from the World Bank Open Knowledge Repository website

Cord was in the country last year and was a guest lecturer of the Philippine Learning Center for Environment and Social Sustainability of the UP Diliman National Engineering Center.