The Business of Social Cohesion

Feb 26, 2013 5:00 AM ET

GE has asked the members of its Citizenship Advisory Panel to reflect on trends and key challenges for sustainable development in 2013. This post by Thero Setiloane explores the business of social cohesion.

The bond that brings people together across society, social cohesion, is one of the “soft” inputs for sustainable development. It is often seen as a “nice to have,” particularly for emerging economies, and deferred as something to focus on at a later stage of development.

Over the past two years, the events of Arab Spring have shown that creating a cohesive society is in fact an important precondition for sustainable development. Closer to home for me, the labour unrest in South Africa following the Marikana tragedy also demonstrated the same thing.

As political, labour and business leaders begin to appreciate the importance of social cohesion, I hope to see more action in 2013 on how to build connections between people; bridging divisions of class, race, wealth and education. Societies need a strong bank of social capital that enables cooperation and allows people to achieve social mobility. While South Africa is seeking to build itself as a  “rainbow nation,” social cohesion is needed everywhere. Robert Putnam, at Harvard, argued over a decade ago that both bonding and bridging networks are critical for healthy societies and economies. This is not just a pipe dream, but a source of value creation. What is needed now is to develop the institutions to build those networks. This will be one of the crucial paths that needs to be opened in 2013.

Read more perspectives on GE's Thoughts from Stakeholders blog.