Cultural diversity is about diversity of language, religion and ethnicity. It is also about class, gender, sexual orientation, ability and disability, and the many other differences that – all too often – divide us.Why Cultural Diversity?
Rapid globalization is changing the fabric of societies around the world, creating new opportunities, but often also straining their social cohesion and posing new public leadership challenges.
Shifting immigration patterns are affecting demographics within societies and creating new tensions. Many countries are facing unprecedented levels of immigration, often leading to clashes between immigrant communities and more established communities. In many cases, including several in Europe, this has fuelled populist nationalism. Divisive identity politics advocating the rejection of immigrants are taking more space in the public discourse and are increasingly shaping political debate and policy.
Relationships between majority and national, ethnic, linguistic and religious minorities have often been tense and even violent. In many parts of the world, increasing resource scarcity is exacerbating tensions between groups, often creating or contributing to domestic and international conflicts.
In countries with substantial indigenous populations, their just place within the broader society is still being navigated.
In a post 9/11 era, international security concerns are increasingly coming into conflict with policies of social inclusion.
Despite these tensions, there are multiple examples around the world of different communities peacefully coexisting. Societies around the world are adapting to demographic changes by creating new policies and structures to support social cohesion and the harmonious coexistence of different cultural groups. What can we learn from how these societies relate to their own cultural diversity and foster social cohesion?
In taking up the broad issue of cultural diversity and social cohesion, the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation wishes to look beyond the absence of conflict, characterized by a tacit tolerance of difference, and to collectively explore what is required for an enriched societal state in which the rights of individuals are equally protected and in which differences within societies are respected and celebrated.
All too often, public leaders have used divisions within society to further their political agendas and to enhance their own power, at times by scapegoating minorities in order to galvanize support from the majority.
However, public leadership has an essential positive role to play in supporting and enhancing cultural diversity and in building social cohesion, both in the Global North and Global South.
Public leaders in culturally diverse societies have the responsibility to advocate for policies that are inclusive and that respect differences. They must address issues of discrimination and exclusion at all levels (legal, social, political, and economic). To overcome deep-seated prejudices often requires that public leaders develop a strong public discourse in favour of respect and tolerance. The media also plays a critical role in supporting such efforts, and educators further bolster it, often through development of curricula.
The Jeanne Sauvé Foundation’s goal is to band together a diverse team of young leaders from around the world representing a wide range of relevant professional experiences in the public leadership domain. These experiences might include, for example, advocating for minority rights, representing indigenous peoples, exposing discrimination issues through the media, developing education policy, advocating for greater religious tolerance, addressing security threats, a contribution to identity discourses, legal and policy approaches to diversity issues, security, immigration, social economic policy that have implications for diversity… including discrimination and collective rights.
Jeanne Sauvé’s belief in the possibility of world peace was at the heart of her public leadership. The dove of peace is one of the elements on her coat-of-arms as Governor General of Canada.
“The acknowledgement of our political, cultural, ideological and religious differences is the foundation of true equality. Without equality, dialogue, which is essential to peace in the world, would be impossible.” – Excerpt from the speech of the Right Honourable Jeanne Sauvé, delivered at the 1992 International Forum of the Jeanne Sauvé Foundation on Nationalism and Globalization
Our academic home, McGill University, has an extremely diverse student and faculty body, as does Concordia University, our academic partner.
Jeanne Sauvé House is situated in the heart of cosmopolitan, bilingual Montreal, the largest city in the province of Quebec, where identity politics have often been centre-stage and fraught.
Canada is often held up as a model pluralist society. In the early 1970s, it became the first country in the world to adopt multiculturalism as a policy response to cultural and ethnic diversity. The policy is supported by the country’s Canadian Multiculturalism Act and Section 27 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
As is the case elsewhere, the frameworks that support cultural diversity in Canada are in evolution as the country navigates challenges associated with migration the shifting interactions between national, ethnic, religious and linguistic groups.
For example, by 2017, it is predicted that one in five Canadians will be part of a “visible minority”. Research shows that visible minorities in Canada continue to face discrimination including disproportionately low incomes and employment opportunities. Furthermore, Canada’s Aboriginal population is growing at a rate four times faster than that of its non-Aboriginal population, creating a range of challenges affecting the country’s social fabric.
Canada has a tradition of rich and layered public discourse and debate on questions of cultural diversity and social cohesion. This context creates a stimulating environment in which Jeanne Sauvé Fellows may together explore the topic from multiple public leadership perspectives.