More than 30 prominent personalities gathered today at the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, D.C., to participate in the opening day of a two-day forum on "Ethics and Development," organized by the Bank and sponsored by the Norwegian government.
Invitees represented Latin America and the Caribbean, the United States, Europe, Canada, and Asia and included academics, private sector executives, government ministers, ex-presidents, civil society leaders, intellectuals, and prominent clerics. They are exploring the ethical challenges in carrying out strategies for economic development and the struggle against poverty and inequality.
Among the participants are Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen; philosopher Edgard Morin; economist Joseph Stiglitz; Princeton Professor Peter Singer; Msrg. Diarmuid Martin, secretary of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace; former Argentine President Raúl Alfonsín; former Uruguayan President Luis Alberto Lacalle, and Pan American Health Organization director George Alleyne.
The forum was inaugurated by IDB President Enrique V. Iglesias; Norway’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Sigrun Mogedal; and former Chilean President Patricio Aylwin.
Iglesias emphasized the ethical challenge of overcoming poverty and inequality and stressed the benefits of growing citizens’ participation in public affairs. He said efforts were needed in all sectors to incorporate an ethical dimension in development activity.
More than 200 attended the forum, launched by Iglesias to promote public discussion and to establish a working network on ethics and development in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Its purpose is to establish a working network on ethical issues that will be shared by the region with interested institutions and prominent international personalities with a distinguished record in ethics.
Latin America is "facing the beginning of the third millennium with low per capita income levels, a high percentage of poverty, and high levels of inequality," commented former Chilean President Aylwin. "This not only constitutes a serious obstacle for the development of our countries and a serious threat to social peace, but it also is scandalous from the ethical viewpoint."
According to forum Coordinator Bernardo Kliksberg of the IDB, about 36 percent of children who are less than 2 years old in the region are malnourished.
The number of broken homes, headed by a single woman, are rising, and 17 million children are forced to work, he added, also noting that young couples are hesitant to form a family because of uncertainties about income and jobs.
"The ethical concerns being rapidly generated by globalization, problems of development, and technological advance, and the existence of vast sectors of the population submerged in poverty, lead to questions about the final objectives of development and the priorities, the valid means and the profile of a desirable society," Kliksberg said.
During the forum, six sessions will debate the relationship of such issues as designing development programs, formulating economic and social policies, setting priorities and assigning resources for development.
U.S. ethics expert Peter Singer said "there must be a new ethics for all levels, from international institutions to nations and individuals. Those responsible for the destiny of millions who live in absolute poverty should demonstrate their attitude toward inequality and egoism by the example of their own lives."
Stiglitz, the former chief economist of the World Bank, presented a critique on current ideas of economic development.
Msgr. Marin summarized the view of the Catholic Church in its commitment to helping the poor, and Morin emphasized that development must take into account "human and moral underdevelopment" as well as economic underdevelopment.
Rabbi Israel Singer, director of the World Jewish Congress, said the Jewish ethic of solidarity is a basic duty of Jews, who have understood the need to unite to fight poverty and oppression.
Walter Altmann, president of the Latin American Church Council, said churches view poverty as a concrete experience of those afflicted by agonizing conditions of life. "Among the most obvious symptoms," he said, "are excessive migratory flows, an extraordinary increase in insecurity and violence, and the desperation of unemployment. The reality of the poor does not allow the conscience of churches to relax."
Former Argentine President Raúl Alfonsín, who will be the keynote speaker on the second day of the forum, said Thursday that "this will be the century for the search for equality, and if we do not want the return of a class struggle, we should mobilize and even go beyond ideologies by raising the banner of ethics and solidarity."
The conference is taking place in the Andrés Bello Auditorium on the 9th floor of the IDB, 1300 New York Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C. Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen will give the closing presentation Friday at 4:30p.m.