Cultural diversity

Joint interview with Francisco d'Almeida and Valeria Marcolin

Biographical notes

A. J. Francisco D'Almeida

Francisco d'Almeida is the co-director of Culture et Développement, an association that advocates for international cooperation and the incorporation of culture in African countries' developmental policy. He holds a doctorate in development sociology from the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne as well as a degree in political science. At Culture et Développement he is a policy and cultural-industry advisor to governments and local communities in French-speaking Africa. He helps draft cultural policy and assists with infrastructure projects.

He is also active as a consultant to international organizations, ministries of culture in French-speaking Africa, and local communities. In 2004 he was tasked by the International Organization of La Francophonie to conduct a study of the implications for the cultural industries in the Global South of the draft version of the international cultural diversity convention and took part in technical assistance missions to several of those countries.

Alongside his work in consulting and project development, he teaches courses on cultural industries in Africa at Senghor University for Development in Alexandria, Egypt.

He is also an expert on cross-cutting local development strategies leveraging local cultural assets.

Valeria Marcolin

Valeria Marcolin graduated from the University of Paris IX Dauphine in cultural organization management and holds an Executive Master of Public Policy Management from Sciences Po Paris. She began her career in the field of theatre with Italian director Maurizio Scaparro, for whom she was in charge of institutional relations and international projects. She was with the Union des Théâtres de l'Europe from 2005 to 2009, first as head of communications and public relations, then as secretary general of the organization. She then worked as a consultant for various French and European organizations developing internationalization strategies and cooperative action programs before joining Culture et Développement in 2012, of which she became co-director with Francisco d'Almeida in 2014.

She has been a member of the European House of Culture in Brussels and the strategy group for A Soul for Europe, a civil society initiative, since 2009. She was a member of the experts group for the 3rd Meeting of ACP Ministers of Culture in 2012 as well as for the Luxembourg presidency of the EU Council's 2015 conference, entitled Culture and Development: Towards a More Strategic Approach to Cultural Policies in EU External Relations. She was moderator and speaker at many seminars and discussions. She is a member of the Expert Facility of the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions and an alternate jury member for the International Fund for Cultural Diversity (IFCD). She is also involved with the Master in Cultural Organizations Management program at the University of Paris Dauphine.


You're both members of the group of 30 experts appointed by UNESCO to provide technical assistance to developing countries party to the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (the 2005 Convention)—Francisco since 2011 and Valeria since 2016.

Question 1.a - Could you tell us a bit about your career and how that led to your work with UNESCO and on the 2005 Convention?

Answer of Francisco: Well, I've been working on cultural policy and cultural industries in French-speaking Africa ever since I graduated in political science. That was what led me to write my doctoral thesis in developmental sociology on the appropriation process of the film industry in Africa, from a developmental perspective and to investigate the conditions for assimilating a technology that's not your own. After that I worked on some cultural cooperation projects in French-speaking Africa, first in African film, then publishing and visual arts, and then music and cultural heritage.

I joined Culture et Développement in 1986—an association of cultural engineers, teachers, economists, urban planners, and cultural heritage and book specialists. Culture et Développement combines research and action in cooperative cultural projects that it undertakes in partnership with public- and private-sector cultural stakeholders, which mainly involve a community in France twinned with one in French-speaking Africa. Culture et Développement's contribution takes the form of symposiums, publications, and training local cultural agents in how to structure creative ecosystems.

I'd been working on OIF, UNESCO, and European Commission projects to strengthen the structure of cultural industries and develop policy and strategies to promote them. Which was how I ended up doing the study on issues for the cultural industries of the Global South arising from the advance draft of the 2005 Convention, together with Dominique Wallon, Bernard Miège, and Marie-Lise Alleman. I was also organizing international symposiums on cultural industries in the Global South, first with Raymond Weber and then with Valeria. It was that experience that led me to join the 2005 Convention's Expert Facility in 2011.

Answer of Valeria: I studied law, mainly European and international, then decided to go more into cultural management studies, in France. I graduated with a degree in cultural organization management from the University of Paris IX Dauphine and wrote a thesis for that on the Convention. Then I did an "Executive Master" in Public Policy Management at Sciences Po Paris. I started in my career in 1998 with a position as institutional relations and international projects officer in the live theatre sector, going back and forth between France and Italy.

From 2005 to 2009 I was with the Union des Théâtres de l'Europe, first as head of communications and public relations, then as secretary general. I saw right away that governance in the cultural sector was in trouble—it was fragmented, flimsy, particularly regarding the status of most artists, who weren't inside the institutional circles I was working in. So I wanted to study how and with what policies and legal instruments you could put the conditions in place for long-term stability in the sector, along with actions by civil society as an equal partner in its development. And in dialogue with officials, audiences, and the private sector. It also fits in with my interest in participation and local democracy issues arising for instance out of participatory budgeting.

I spent a few years advising French and European organizations on internationalization and cooperative action strategies, then in 2012 joined Culture et Développement, which I've co-directed with Francisco since 2014. The two of us work together as cultural engineering project development experts and advise on revitalizing cities through social and cultural infrastructure and on designing management tools for local cultural development. We lead seminars and provide training for elected officials and operators in developing countries. I'm also the director of a special program that monitors and promotes cultural cooperation. It's called Territoires Associés, le développement par la culture [meaning roughly "Partner Places: Development through Culture"].

Question 1.b - Tell us a bit about the technical assistance missions you've been on as a 2005 Convention expert (the recipients, your objectives, the results, etc.)

Answer of Francisco: We go on these missions in pairs. I for instance went to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with Bernard Boucher and to Niger with Jordi Balta. Valeria and I went to Burkina Faso.

Valeria and I don't call them beneficiaries, by the way. We prefer the term partners since we work as a team, partnering up UNESCO experts like Bernard Boucher, Jordi Balta, Valeria, or me with experts from the country we're working with. There's also constant discussion going on with the secretariat of the 2005 Convention. Our role is to share our knowledge and experience with the country's experts and to offer comments and suggestions. Followup however is entirely up to them, the applicant country. That principle is critical to ownership and the long-term success of the recommended actions.

Mission objectives depend on what the country asks for, which in turn can originate with a wide variety of stakeholders such as ministries or departments of culture, cultural institutions, or regional authorities. Our goal for the DRC mission was to help draft cultural policy; in Niger it was to look at strategy to support cultural entrepreneurship and the cultural economy, and in Burkina Faso it was to support the local group drafting the country's second report on the 2005 Convention implementation.

All three countries met their objectives. It still remains challenging to link our technical assistance up with the cooperation programs of the countries involved, so that our recommendations get taken up and followed through on. There's also the question of creating the institutional and financial conditions to give the country's experts the means to implement the recommendations they've formulated with our help.

Answer of Valeria: Francisco has told you a lot about what technical assistance missions are all about. The missions I've had the opportunity to take part in involved helping two of the 12 beneficiary countries of grants from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency in drafting their periodic reports. They were Senegal and Burkina Faso.

I In both cases it was first and foremost a human adventure. One in Burkina Faso that I was privileged to share with Francisco is still continuing and the other, in Senegal, where Luc Maytukou was the other expert, took place in 2016. The program is about looking for concrete ways to foster a meeting of minds and hearts among the stakeholders implementing the 2005 Convention, and to promote dialogue and cooperation. I'd go so far as to say that the methods and approaches we've developed and share with beneficiaries are revolutionary. They're based on Convention Party best practices and should really be applied by all the other Parties too, including developed countries.

It's all about gaining insight into the Convention text—which is so packed with inspiration and potential ways to go—to facilitate the production of periodic reports. We "experts" learn just as much as our partners do about the issues surrounding implementation, the Parties' concerns, the challenges they face, as well as the achievements of partners in the so-called developing countries, from which we can also learn a great deal.

The training we offer in report-writing helps partners become aware that, somewhat unwittingly, they're already implementing the provisions of the Convention much more than they think they are. The process of becoming more aware and thinking things through in drafting a periodic report helps put actions into a framework, providing a more strongly program-based approach through a reflection on sectorial issues, the diversity of audiences and recipients (Articles 6 and 7), and an integrated approach to public policy relating to culture, considering for example the connections between culture and sustainable development. Our methods also encourage dialogue among the stakeholders as they implement the Convention, including holding public consultations and workshops to lay the groundwork for drafting the report and identifying the shared challenges ahead.

Question 2 - What would you say developing countries can get out of being Parties to the Convention?

Answer of Francisco and Valeria: In general terms, being a Party to the Convention is an opportunity for a country to be part of a community of action and inquiry, to join in a global movement protecting and promoting cultural diversity, to not to be left sitting by the side of the road, to think about the possibilities for South–South cooperation in light of similar problems. In practice it's an opportunity to benefit from others' experience, to get information, and to cooperate to secure better conditions for the growth and development of a country's cultural industries through access to examples of new policy ideas and measures to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions in different situations.

Regarding other forums, being a Party to the Convention also makes it possible to exempt cultural goods and services from trade agreements in order to protect and promote local production (always in a spirit of openness), to take advantage of preferential treatment, or to deal differently with civil society locally. Under the Convention, governments can grant special status to cultural creators and professionals and establish or reinforce the legislative framework in order to legitimate or provide a more favourable environment for domestic initiatives. Naturally the benefits vary depending on who's involved.

Unfortunately, developing countries that are short of funds will be hard pressed to get anywhere with the modest financial resources available through the International Fund for Cultural Diversity (IFCD). We do hope to see it beefed up, to give it the legitimacy and leverage it needs to promote the principles and values of the Convention. Other funding from international cooperation is also in short supply, although developing-country Parties have been working to encourage cooperation among backers through issue tables aimed at equitably meeting the diversity and multiplicity of needs in the field. The horizon of particular priorities and funding amounts will by nature be variable. We believe it would be risky for a country to become dependent on outside resources for its cultural development—not that we're against outside funding as part of the toolbox to advance more quickly through cooperation. It's an interesting challenge we look at in our technical support—making sure results are useful going forward over the long haul.

Question 3 - What would you say are the biggest challenges in international cooperation for Convention Parties? And how can they be overcome?

Answer of Francisco: I guess I'd say the biggest challenge is the availability of funds to support the cultural and creative sector and the shortage of people with specialized skills. Given the numbers of recommendations we see mothballed for lack of funding, it's evident that the biggest challenge is to improve developing countries' expertise in taxation, incidental revenues, patronage, and sponsorship so they can secure the financial resources they need to energize their cultural economies. The first way to deal with that would be through scholarships for the study of cultural funding. Budget support might be another possibility.

Answer of Valeria: Francisco's summed up some challenges for development cooperation, so I'll concentrate more on the cooperation side of things, connected as it is with partnership that we mentioned earlier on. I'm involved in development cooperation out of a conviction or aspiration that one day it's going to be just plain "international cooperation." That technology transfer will eventually turn into technology exchange. That's already happened with artistic exchanges. Still, the relative lack of resources that creators in developing countries dispose of can at any moment lead to an imbalance, which partners all need to be on their guard against, in a spirit of cooperation among equals.

It's worth pointing out too that recent events in some regions and increasing tensions and inequality have, despite progress elsewhere, brought the question of the other, of that freedom of expression we mentioned earlier, and of intercultural dialogue and exchange, back to the foreground of public policy. Although the Convention should primarily help us design an environment that fosters creativity and allows artists to tap the sector's full potential, it's also an opportunity to think about cultural participation in the broader sense, as it relates to various groups, particularly vulnerable ones (Article 7).

Perhaps that's another challenge to tackle: to open up cultural cooperation and conversation to "non-artists," to everyone—bringing types of creativity together and creating new lines of solidarity. There are signs that seem to point in that direction in the European Union's new communication "Towards an EU strategy for international cultural relations." Digital is another challenge. Fundamentally perhaps digital is another form of travel, of "mobility," that has both opportunities and risks we need to control (stigmatization, banalization of sources and ideas, and so forth). In this area the Parties' cooperation, already begun within the Convention bodies, will remain essential in the years to come.