One of the terms often discussed in the political and economic arenas is inclusive growth (IG), where it is most commonly understood to mean wealth (or opportunity) distribution to reduce poverty levels. This definition is consistent with a World Bank report that noted that "IG focuses on economic growth which is a necessary and crucial condition for poverty reduction." (http://siteresources.worldbank.org).

In 2007, Ali and Son of the Asian Development Bank presented a paper that defined what made growth inclusive so that it can be measured. The emphasis was in ensuring that economic opportunities created by growth are available to all, particularly (but not limited to) the poor, and that the outcomes expected are sustainable. The final result would ideally lead to equitable growth, social inclusion, empowerment and security (which can be measured via employment opportunities), capabilities-building via access to education and health services, and targeted intervention for the vulnerable or those in extreme deprivation. (http://www.adb.org)

A NEDA report on the Philippine Development Plan for 2011-2016 also indicated that IG refers to high growth that is rapid enough to matter, sustained through the creation of jobs that draws the majority into the economic and social mainstream and also continuously reduces mass poverty. (http://www.neda.gov.ph/PDP/2011-2016/inclusivegrowth.pdf)

There are many big words and broad strokes that are used to express this issue called inclusive growth. For example, in the NEDA report mentioned earlier, it was noted why IG had been elusive - inadequate infrastructure (transport and power), major gaps/lapses in governance, inadequate levels of human development as well as poor state of environment and natural resources. What do these mean to the common Filipino - or more importantly, where do we start?

A common definition of terms may help Filipinos be on the same page for discussions to be truly productive or made urgent. What does participation mean for example? How does one access opportunities or gains? How do Filipinos interpret economic growth when one sector measures it via an understanding that good economy is based on quality of life, without one necessarily causing the other?

For the discussion to be truly inclusive, it would help to start defining common ground or common stakeholders, a lesson we can learn from the RH discussions where some terminologies are still being debated on. While it may be clear for most that IG is an economic issue that addresses poverty first and foremost, could there be an indirect way of approaching poverty through cultural values education or even a restructuring of societal values on gender, even as we talk about more jobs and better infrastructure?

A possible area is on gender equality or empowerment of women in the economy. As an advocate for women empowerment, I feel that attention to this area in the discussion of inclusive growth would enhance the quality of resolutions being presented while providing a solid platform that can move the IG initiative forward. In APEC meetings that focused on women and the economy, the thrust has been consistent in realizing "the full potential of women to contribute to the Asia-Pacific regional economy, where equal opportunity for women and men supports economic growth and helps to reduce poverty." (http://fpc.state.gov/172626.htm)

Priority areas have been identified such as access to markets, access to capital, as well as capacity and skills building. Initiatives and programs have been rolled out and are currently being undertaken to address these key areas to enable true women empowerment and to realize sustainable economic growth through these efforts. For example, research is underway in some member economies (the Philippines included) on how ICT plays a role in facilitating women's economic development.

It is worth noting at this point that while more educated or empowered women are able to contribute much to the economy, it does not follow that economic growth actually empowers women. Kabeer (2012) concluded "women's access to employment and education opportunities reduces the likelihood of household poverty, and resources in women's hands have a range of positive outcomes for human capital and capabilities within the household. However, the converse relationship that economic growth promotes gender equality is less strong."

The Philippines remains a highly gendered society that still defines traditional roles and opportunities for women in the economy, and this may be something that needs to be addressed in inclusive growth, as inclusive empowerment may be more helpful or relevant to the discussion.


Chiqui Escareal-Go is the CEO and Chief Service Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc.  She will be conducting the 20thDelivering Outstanding Service program on July 21-22, 2016 in Makati.  For inquiries, please email info@mansmith.netor call (02) 584-5858 or (02) 412-0034.