Category Archives: Voices

Raising Awareness: Addressing the Impact of Childhood Trauma and Promoting Trauma-Informed Care

May 20, 2024
By 29706

In February 2024, a conference was organized by Dorjkhand Sharavjamts (National Academy of Governance, 2020) using an SLI grant to address the pervasive issue of childhood trauma in Mongolia. Held in Ulaanbaatar, the meeting brought together experts in children’s care, child protection advocates, parents, and policymakers to elevate awareness, share insights, and strategize on improving mental health outcomes for children.

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Since I was very young, I have always been tuned in to the problems kids face, including the issues I went through myself. I was particularly struck by how parents and their kids talk to each other. This was troubling for me, given the high prevalence of divorce and alcoholism in Mongolia and the observation that many adults seemed ill-prepared for the responsibilities of parenthood. These issues appeared to be systemic, contributing to a cycle of dissatisfaction and underdevelopment permeating Mongolian society at every level.

Even though I focused my energies on my studies, I never stopped thinking about how families can hurt or help each other. I have always wanted to shine a light on these issues and get people talking about the family traditions that are worthy of passing on to future generations and those that need to be discouraged. The chance to research these issues and disseminate my findings presented a unique opportunity to address these concerns head-on.

When I was attending the National Academy of Governance in Mongolia, I learned how I could make a difference in the world when I met Mr. Ryoichi Sasakawa during his visit to Mongolia in July 2023. His speech exuded kindness and emphasized the importance of contributing to society. His suggestions to us gave me the push I needed. Inspired by him, I decided to organize a conference, hoping it would get people talking about protecting kids, stopping harmful behavior, and helping children who have been through tough times.

Receiving the SLI award was a significant milestone, as it marked the transition from intention to action. The award prompted me to focus on making the biggest impact I could. And I did not want the project to just be a one-off event. That is why I worked to establish an NGO called the Public Mental Health Promotion Center in October 2023—just after I received the award. The aim of this NGO is to continually engage the public in critical conversations and provide support to those in need, particularly in understanding and addressing psychological issues.

A Microcosm of Collective Resolve

On February 24, 2024, we held an event called “Breaking the Chains: Understanding Childhood Trauma” in Ulaanbaatar. Our conference was organized into three segments, each including a lecture, a workshop, and a panel discussion, to cover the multifaceted issues of childhood trauma. We hosted three expert lectures that delved into the effects, recognition, and healing of childhood trauma, alongside the significance of trauma-informed care in child protection and mental health.

The February 2024 event attracted over 100 participants from a cross section of Mongolian society.

The conference revealed the many difficulties kids in Mongolia must deal with because of old beliefs, financial hardships, a shortage of schools and hospitals, and most importantly a lack of knowledge among parents and childcare professionals about how best to work with children. Our ambition was to forge a space where professionals, advocates, parents, and policymakers could converge, share insights, and collaboratively chart a course forward to improve the mental health outcomes of children who have been impacted by trauma. Drawing over 100 participants from a cross section of Mongolian society, including government officials, NGO representatives, educators, legal professionals, and parents, the conference represented a microcosm of communal concern and collective resolve.

The event was structured to foster a comprehensive exploration of childhood trauma, from its origins and impacts to strategies for recovery and resilience. Starting with compelling opening remarks from Professor Khishigjargal Bazarvaani of the National University of Mongolia and extending through a series of expert-led presentations and workshops, the conference facilitated a deep dive into the multifaceted nature of trauma. Participants were not merely passive recipients of information but engaged contributors, sharing personal narratives, professional insights, and practical strategies for addressing trauma.

The author was one of the keynote lecturers at the conference, who, along with Professor Khishigjargal Bazarvaani and practicing psychologist Adyiasuren Enkhbaatar, provided a strong scientific foundation for understanding childhood trauma.

Compilation of Actionable Recommendations

From the perspective of promoting effectiveness, participants were divided into 10 subgroups from the beginning. Perhaps most impactful were the smaller, breakout discussions and workshops, where the lines between personal experience and professional expertise became blurred. Each participant brought their unique perspective, enriching the discussions that deepened everyone’s understanding of the issues and reinforced our determination to enact positive change.

Discussions in each group were moderated by psychology experts, giving each participant a chance to freely share their experiences and express their opinions.

One concrete outcome of the conference was the compilation of actionable recommendations. This collaborative endeavor resulted in a robust framework for action spanning many different areas, from individual behaviors to systemic reforms—all aimed at fostering a supportive environment conducive to the healing and thriving of children. These recommendations reflected the collective insights and understanding of the conference participants, embodying a shared commitment to making a tangible difference in the lives of children affected by trauma.

Participants introduced recommendations and plans for further action generated by each subgroup. (Photo1)

Participants introduced recommendations and plans for further action generated by each subgroup. (Photo2)

The overwhelmingly positive feedback received post-conference underscored the event’s profound impact on attendees. Many participants reported gaining deeper insights into childhood trauma and leaving with a renewed sense of purpose and commitment to integrate what they learned into their personal and professional lives. Such enthusiastic responses were a testament to the conference’s success in reaching a diverse audience, stirring hope for better days ahead.

Reflecting on the “Breaking the Chains” conference fills me with a deep sense of gratitude and optimism. I am thankful for Sylff’s support, the wisdom shared by our speakers, the dedication of our participants, and the collective belief in the possibility of change. This event, though a single point in time, represents a significant step forward in an ongoing journey to build understanding, healing, and resilience. I am grateful for the support from everyone who joined our effort. This conference was just the start, and it showed how talking and working together can lead to big changes. We have a long way to go, but I believe we can make life better for kids in Mongolia by working together to break the chains of trauma, one link at a time.

Identifying Core Values of Neoliberal Folk Justice to Build a Theoretical Argument for Policy Consensus

May 14, 2024
By 30626

It appears that global opinion has been shifting toward a preference for neoliberal policies over the past half century, despite growing inequality in many major economies. Dai Oba (Waseda University, 2020) used an SRG award to advance his research at the University of Oxford to investigate complexities behind  this trend among British voters, who appear to have embraced a loosely defined set of attitudes that the author calls “neoliberal folk justice.”

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In May 2023, Onward, a center-right think-tank in the UK, described millennials as “shy capitalists” based on the results of a questionnaire survey. Although millennials are thought to hold egalitarian values and downplay the importance of economic growth and individual effort, Onward found that they also prefer policies of low taxes and less redistribution.[1] This is a good example of how people’s economic views can be quite complex, defying neat categorization into right or left. Similarly to this finding, my research looks into people’s complex views that I call “folk justice”.

In the past half-century, the world seems to have become gradually and increasingly more “neoliberal,” by which I mean an orientation emphasizing the role of the market and associated ideas of the economic right, such as efficiency, personal responsibility, and autonomy. To be clear, most people do not necessarily identify themselves as adhering to a coherent set of beliefs like libertarianism. Rather, many tend to hold beliefs that are loosely defined and not always coherent, which might be described as neoliberal folk justice.

My research is focused on this loosely defined set of attitudes that seems to have a strong and stable hold on a large segment of the population. Increased support for the left, on the other hand, has been relatively rare and short-lived. This is surprising because the comparative merits of egalitarian institutions seem rather indisputable for the majority of the working public, especially in the aftermath of major economic crises in 2008 and 2020. How can this be explained? Is there anything we are not seeing?

 As a political philosopher, I am primarily interested in theories of justice and equality. But in analyzing the neoliberal trend, I wished to start with what folk neoliberals on the street believe. Clarity and coherence are extremely important for theories, but people’s beliefs and attitudes can often be unclear and incoherent. So, I wanted to first identify the core beliefs of neoliberal folk justice and build theoretical arguments from the bottom up in the hope they can serve as resources for reasoned democratic deliberation that are accessible to ordinary citizens.

In the following, I will describe my findings of an investigation into neoliberal folk justice, conducted with the help of an SRG award.

People’s deeply held convictions inform their political attitudes. Photo by Dylan Bueltel, https://www.pexels.com/photo/woman-in-red-jacket-holding-a-cardboard-with-message-5233241/.

Complex Attitudes Toward Inequality and Wealth

The complexity of neoliberal-leaning attitudes has been documented by many scholars, whose research reveals some common themes.

Jonathan Mijs, for example, has noted the paradoxical acceptance of inequality in the face of fast-growing inequality and an apparent correlation between such acceptance and levels of inequality. Using International Social Survey Program (ISSP) data covering 23 Western countries and three different periods (1987–88, 1991–93, 2008–12), Mijs tested hypotheses regarding people’s acceptance of rising inequality. He “argue[s] that what explains citizens’ consent to inequality is their conviction that poverty and wealth are the outcomes of a fair meritocratic process.”[2] People’s belief in meritocracy tends to be stronger as society becomes more unequal because, Mijs claims, the affluent and the poor live increasingly separate lives in an unequal society. He posits that greater inequality goes hand in hand with stronger meritocratic beliefs and that stronger meritocratic beliefs, in turn, lead to reduced concerns about inequality.

He also tested the inverse relationships between inequality and notions of structural inequality (that is, lower inequality correlates with stronger awareness about structural factors of inequality, and stronger beliefs about structural inequality correlate with greater concern about inequality). He confirms the hypothesis, with the effect of meritocratic beliefs being stronger than the effect of beliefs in structural inequality. Mijs’s key finding is that economic inequality tends to be seen as acceptable when people believe their society embodies meritocratic principles, a belief which, in turn, is strengthened by a rise in inequality.

While Mijs’s findings suggest links with the idea of procedural justice, the notion of meritocracy is a vague one. In fact, Mijs construes meritocratic beliefs rather narrowly as people’s belief in the importance of hard work as a factor for economic success. There can be some variety in what people mean by the “importance of hard work” ranging from, for example, hard work in employment and non-paid work to being responsible and prudent in managing their finances and “giving back” to society.

 Regarding what makes inequality (appear) legitimate, Rachel Sherman conducted interviews with 50 wealthy couples in New York and found that the affluent feel a strong need to be able to justify their wealth. Her interviewees had household incomes within the top 5% in New York City—the most unequal large city in the US—and were characterized as the “new elite” who “believe in diversity, openness, and meritocracy rather than status based on birth.”[3] To Sherman’s surprise, many affluent New Yorkers expressed moral conflicts about their privilege and shared various narratives to demonstrate their worthiness, which she broadly categorized into three types.

The first narrative is that of the hard worker marked by such redeeming qualities as productivity, self-sufficiency, discipline, and independence. The second narrative is that of the prudent consumer. The rich New Yorkers cast themselves and their spending habits as “normal” in an attempt to distance themselves from the negative image of the “leisure class.” In line with the Protestant ethic, disciplined spending is considered part of the meritocratic ideal and thus a legitimator of their wealth. The third narrative is that of someone actively “giving back” to society typically by donating their money or time to charitable organizations.

We can see certain aspects of folk neoliberal values underlying these research findings, namely, the idea of meritocracy, under which economic success is ascribed to an individual’s personal merits; the value placed on hard work over idleness and dependence; the ideal of prudence and responsibility; and the imperative of “giving back” to society.

Four Values of Neoliberal Folk Justice

Rather than describing the minute details of people’s complex attitudes, I focused on the following two claims as being the core beliefs of neoliberal folk justice, namely, that redistribution is unfair and that government should not intervene in the market.

These claims can be unpacked  into the following four normative values. First, social cooperation should be on a quid pro quo basis, and freeriding  should not be allowed. This requires that there is  a certain equity between contributions and benefits. Second, those who rely on welfare do not deserve further assistance because they lack a sense of personal responsibility. This claim points to a  personal virtue of using of resources (including time and talent) in a prudent and thoughtful manner. Third, market outcomes are morally fair. This can be understood as an expression of trust in the market mechanism and its ability to legitimate distributive outcomes. Fourth, each person is the sole author of his/her life, and the government should not interfere or even offer any help. This expresses the moral ideals of self-sufficiency, independence, and, most importantly, the ability to advance one’s life as his or her own project and no one else’s.

In sum, the four core values of neoliberal folk justice are (1) reciprocity, (2) responsibility, (3) procedural fairness, and (4) autonomy.

Survey Findings

What do people believe about just economic policies? Photo by Karolina Grabowska, https://www.pexels.com/photo/quote-board-on-top-of-cash-bills-4386367/.

I conducted an online opinion survey of 2,065 adults living in Great Britain (England, Scotland, and Wales) to directly test the above selection of core values. Along with two dummy values (“solidarity” and “efficiency”) and after explaining what each value stands for, I asked respondents to rate the importance of the four values when thinking about economic policies that are fair for everyone  (respondents were asked to select from ‘very important’, ‘fairly important’, ‘not very important’, ‘not at all important’, and ‘don’t know’).

The results of the survey confirmed my selection of the above four values. Comparing the percentages of those who answered “very important” or “fairly important,” the four values all scored 70% or higher (79% for “procedural fairness,” 78% for “responsibility,” 71% for “reciprocity,” and 70% for “autonomy”), while the dummy values scored significantly lower (59% for “efficiency” and 58% for “solidarity”). Additionally, correlations with respondents’ past voting behavior revealed that for both the 2015 and 2019 general elections, those who voted for the Conservatives supported the four values significantly more than those who voted for Labour (the difference ranging from 10 percentage points to 30 points). This supports my hypothesis that the four values have particularly strong resonance with folk neoliberals.

Toward Theoretical Arguments and Policy Consensus

Based on the above findings, the next stage of my research will offer repertoires of theoretical arguments regarding the four values of neoliberal folk justice, each of which represents a potential salient political position that citizens may adopt. As a final output, I aim to describe potential areas of policy consensus between those different arguments, showing that reaching an agreement on desirable and feasible social welfare policies for the twenty-first century is a realistic possibility.

 

[1] Jim Blagden and Sebastian Payne, “Missing Millennials,” Onward, May, 2023, https://www.ukonward.com/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/missing_millennials-1.pdf, accessed 19 October 2023.

[2] Jonathan Mijs, “The Paradox of Inequality: Income Inequality and Belief in Meritocracy Go Hand in Hand,” Socio-Economic Review, vol. 19, no. 1: 7–35 (January 2021), p. 29.

[3] Rachel Sherman, Uneasy Street: The Anxieties of Affluence, Princeton University Press, 2017, pp.13–15.

Women’s Empowerment in Japan: From Tokenism to Critical Mass?

April 19, 2024
By 21688

A decade ago, then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a policy aimed at promoting more women to leadership positions in Japan—a country that has long ranked near the bottom in the Global Gender Gap Index. The pace of progress since then, though, has been embarrassingly slow. Thanh Nguyen (Waseda University, 2014) used an SRG award to analyze corporate data over the past decade to identify where improvements have been made and what more needs to be done to enhance women’s boardroom presence.[1]

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In spring 2014, then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made a speech on “A New Vision from a New Japan” at the World Economic Forum, stating, “Japan must become a place where women shine. By 2020 we will make 30% of leading positions to be occupied by women.” This led to an increase in the number of female board directors, but Japan still failed to achieve the 30% target by 2020 and had to push back the target date by up to a decade.[2] The situation today is still not promising, as the Global Gender Gap Index in 2023 ranked Japan 125th out of 146 countries; the country has remained near the bottom of the list over the last 10 years. Will Japan be able to reach the 30% milestone by the revised deadline of 2030?

In my research, I gathered updated data about female leadership in Japan from 2012 to 2023. I first measured the impact of recent changes in Japanese policy and law aimed at promoting the appointment of women to management and leadership positions, focusing on Abe’s “Womenomics” policy launched in 2013 and the Act on Promotion of Women’s Participation and Advancement in the Workplace implemented in April 2016. I examined whether firms appointed more female directors during the policy period compared with earlier periods.

Second, I examined the critical mass of female directors and the firms that succeeded in increasing the number of female directors to this level. Critical mass is defined as the number of female directors needed to affect policy and induce real change. I identified firms as being successful in reaching critical mass if 30% or more of their board members were women—the target figure set by the Japanese government. My main research question was whether gender policies actually helped to increase the number of female directors, especially up to critical mass.

Scrutinizing Womenomics Policies

Many countries have introduced a mandatory or voluntary quota for female leaders to address gender inequality. For example, Norway has a 40% female board membership quota, while Britain maintains a 25% female board membership target. By contrast, the Japanese government promotes female leadership not with a quota but through its Womenomics policy package that encourages large corporations to promote gender- and employment-related policies. In particular, firms have been advised to establish and disclose their action plans to improve gender equality and to disclose relevant data.

To answer my research question, I collected data on the directors at listed firms in Japan from the Yakuin Shikiho (Executive Officers Handbook), published by Toyo Keizai Inc., which includes the name, age, position, gender, place of birth, education, and previous experience of each director. My final sample consisted of an unbalanced panel of more than 40,000 firm-year observations from 2012 to 2023. I then created a group of variables representing the characteristics of the board, including “total number of board members,” “total number of female board members,” “ratio of female board members,” “chairperson gender,” and “CEO gender.”

30% Target Reached by Only Small Minority of Firms

I found that only 9% of surveyed firms had at least one female board member in 2012 but that this figure increased gradually each year, climbing to 63.4% in 2023, with 2,482 out of 3,915 listed firms having at least one female board director (Figure 1). This indicates that many more firms appointed female board directors during the years of Womenomics. The steady uptrend was unaffected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Policymakers may be happy with these changes in corporate governance and claim that the Womenomics policy package has been effective. The truth, though, may not be that rosy. When I calculated the share of female board members and grouped the firms according to this percentage, I found that the group claiming shares of 30% or higher accounted for only 0.59% of all firms in 2012 and a still very low 4.06% in 2023.

This figure has been increasing gradually each year, to be sure, but the pace has been very slow, and the spread is consequently very small. In 2023, among the 3,915 listed firms, only 159 met the 30% target for female board members. This means that although more firms appointed women to the board during the Womenomics years, the number of appointees has been minimal. If this situation continues, Japan will fail for the second time to reach its target of “30% of leading positions to be occupied by women.”

I also examined the number of women serving as the chair, the CEO, and a board member for each year from 2012 to 2023 and found that there has been no uptrend for either the chair or CEO. These figures fluctuated year on year with a very small change spread. Among the 31,520 board members in 2023, there were only 21 chairwomen and 54 female CEOs. In other words, of the 3,915 listed firms, only 54 firms were headed by women—hardly a robust picture of female leadership in Japan.

Figure 1. Share of Female Board Members, 2012–2023

 

As for board members, in 2012, only 374 of the 26,294 members were women, accounting for a mere 1.42% of the total. If chairwomen and female CEOs are deducted, the total number of female directors in 2012 was 335. Figure 2 shows that even with the jump in the number of female directors from 2012 to 2023, the ratio of female board members was still small. My data shows that in 2023, the percentage of female board members was 10.93% in 2023; in other words, males still occupy 89% of the boardroom. Without fundamental changes, the chances of Japan reaching the 30% target by 2030 appear bleak.

Figure 2: Number of Female Board Members, 2012–2023


I also examined the relative shares of outside and inside female directors. In 2023, outside directors made up 84.33% of the total, implying that firms have tried to increase the number of female directors by tapping human resources from outside the company, appointing such professionals as business consultants, university professors, and leaders of other firms. Indeed, it is easier for firms to appoint a female director from outside the company, since nurturing and promoting female employees to take on management responsibilities takes time.

This pattern highlights another challenge for Japanese corporations: the small pool of qualified female candidates for leadership positions, both inside and outside the firm. Appointing outside female directors is, at best, a short-term strategy, as even the external supply of qualified candidates is small. This is proven by the fact that outside female directors often serve on the boards of several firms. This situation will not fundamentally change until firms begin actively recruiting more female employees and providing them with opportunities for promotion to senior and leadership positions.

Need for Drastic Change

My research was an attempt to provide an overview of women empowerment efforts in Japan over the last decade and to present updated data about female leadership. It led to new findings on the number of female board directors during the twelve years of Womenomic policy (2012–2023).

During these years, corporate governance reforms resulted in more female directors, especially outside directors, being appointed to executive boardrooms, compared with the years before the policy’s implementation. Policies promoting female leadership thus appear to have been effective for listed firms. However, they have had no tangible impact on top positions, like corporate chairs and CEOs. And Japan may once again fail to reach its 30% target without drastic changes over the next six years.

These findings can serve as meaningful references for investors, corporate leaders, and policymakers. There have been calls for stronger measures to promote gender equality both inside and outside corporate settings so that this target can be reached by 2030. Policymakers need to do more than simply ask firms to hire more women and elevate them to leadership positions. And investors, especially institutional investors, must perform their stewardship duties by engaging directly with the companies in which they invest, persuading management teams and board directors to promote gender diversity, which can, in turn, create more sustainable, fairer, better-run, and faster-growing companies.

[1] This is a short English summary of a paper by the author that was originally published in Japanese. The full Japanese version can be found at: https://www.jsri.or.jp/publish/review/pdf/6402/05.pdf.

[2] https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20200626/p2a/00m/0fp/014000c.


References

Kubo, K. and Nguyen, T. T. P. 2021. Female CEOs on Japanese corporate boards and firm performance. Journal of the Japanese and International Economies, 62, 101163.

Nguyen, T. T. P. 2021. Effects of board gender diversity on firm investment and performance. Waseda Commercial Review, 461, 47-92.

Nguyen, T. T. P. and Thai, H. M. 2022. Effects of female directors on gender diversity at lower organization levels and CSR performance: Evidence in Japan. Global Finance Journal, 53, 100749.

Nguyen, T. T. P. 2024. Nihon ni okeru josei no enpawamento: Tannaru shinboru kara kuritikaru masu e? Shoken Rebyu, 64(2), 115–129.

Genetic-Level Explorations into the Gut Microbiota

April 12, 2024
By 29989

To analyze the relationship between the gut microbiota and host diseases, Tomoya Tsukimi (Keio University, 2021) used an SRG award to conduct experiments at the University of Tsukuba, where he examined the mechanisms of intestinal bacterial colonization at the genetic level. He eventually hopes to enhance treatment outcomes through the development of personalized medicine.

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About 40 trillion bacteria inhabit the human body, the majority of them in the gastrointestinal tract.(1) One place where these bacteria are particularly abundant is our large intestine. These bacteria, collectively known as the gut microbiota, have a lot of genes—even more so than human beings.(2, 3)

The intestinal bacteria form part of a complex ecosystem in the gut as they interact with host cells. Studies have shown that they boost resistance to pathogen infection,(4) affect host bile acid metabolism,(5) help maintain immune homeostasis,(6) and are even involved in brain functions. (7) Furthermore, there is growing evidence of a relationship between the gut microbiota and host diseases—not only digestive disease(8, 9) but also a wide range of systemic ailments like cancer,(10) diabetes,(11) and psychiatric disorders.(12)

The gut microbiota also influences the pharmacological effects of disease treatments.(13) This has spurred the development of methods to control the gut microbiota for the prevention and treatment of disease,(14, 15) such as through prebiotics, probiotics, and fecal microbiota transplantation.

Health Benefits of Probiotics, from BioRender, https://app.biorender.com/biorender-templates/figures/all/t-64400e6d675cf5f619cd17db-health-benefits-of-probiotics.

 

The question my research seeks to answer is, “What factors are important for the bacterial colonization of the host intestinal tract?” Recent studies have shown that imbalances in the intestinal microbiota are associated with various diseases. While fecal microbiota transplantation therapy and probiotics have been used to treat these diseases, studies indicate that exogenous bacteria have difficulty colonizing a patient’s intestines.(16)

Previous studies have discussed intestinal bacteria based on information regarding genus-level composition. But dietary composition exerts selective pressure on not only the species but also variants and substrains within the same species.(17) This points to the importance of studying the mechanism of intestinal bacterial colonization at the genetic level. I have therefore focused on genetic mutations of E. (Escherichia) coli during intestinal colonization in mice. E. coli is prevalent in the human gut as well, and its genetic manipulation is well established.

Identifying Genes Important for E. Coli Colonization

E. coli has approximately 4,000 genes. I examined which genes mutated when E. coli colonizes the mouse intestine and the mechanism by which these genes mutated. I decided to use germ-free (GF) mice, which has no bacteria in their intestines, thus enabling me to clarify the relationship between the host mouse and E. coli mutations.

Unfortunately, the laboratory with which I am affiliated does not have a facility to breed GF mice. So, I conducted my experiments at the University of Tsukuba, a national research university in Ibaraki Prefecture, which has one of the best-equipped animal experiment facilities in Japan. It was thanks to a Sylff Research Grant that I was able to finance my travel and lodging expenses to carry out my research there, so I would like to thank the Sylff Association for giving me this opportunity to advance my studies.

The University of Tsukuba campus.

I have been able to identify the genes that appear to be important for the colonization of E. coli. The study also helped to elucidate the adaptive mechanisms of the gut microbiota. A paper summarizing the results is currently under review for publication in a peer-reviewed, international journal.

Developing a Treatment for Bowel Diseases

Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease are inflammatory bowel diseases that are associated with intestinal bacteria for which effective treatments have not yet been established. There are some 300,000 patients of the two diseases in Japan and 1.6 million in the United States. This study has the potential to more clearly explain the bacterial colonization mechanism, leading to a highly accurate method for controlling the intestinal environment and contributing to the development of a treatment for these diseases.

Although there have been cases of clinical recovery using prebiotics, probiotics, and fecal microbiota transplantation therapy, the success rate varies widely from one individual to another. By focusing on the mechanism of intestinal colonization at the genomic level, the findings of this study can be used to develop methods for controlling the intestinal environment that are specific to the individual. In the future, I hope to contribute to the development of tailor-made medicine targeting intestinal bacteria and to the realization of a society where everyone can lead a healthy life.

I believe this research also has implications for discussions of human traits that are universal and those that are unique. As mentioned above, about 40 trillion bacteria inhabit the human body. This is comparable to the number of human cells. Since bacteria are associated with various diseases, “the human body can be considered a superorganism; a communal group of human and microbial cells all working for the benefit of the collective.”(18)

Studies have shown that bacterial composition and metabolite concentrations in the gut differ among individuals.(19, 20) This suggests that commensal bacteria—those that live in harmony with humans—can be regarded as one factor that distinguishes the self from others. Studies like mine on commensal bacteria may therefore offer clues to such overarching questions as “What am I?” and “What makes me different from others?”

 

References

  1. Sender R, Fuchs S, Milo R. 2016. Revised estimates for the number of human and bacteria cells in the body. PLoS biology 14:e1002533.
  2. Qin J, Li R, Raes J, Arumugam M, Burgdorf KS, Manichanh C, Nielsen T, Pons N, Levenez F, Yamada T, Mende DR, Li J, Xu J, Li S, Li D, Cao J, Wang B, Liang H, Zheng H, Xie Y, Tap J, Lepage P, Bertalan M, Batto JM, Hansen T, Le Paslier D, Linneberg A, Nielsen HB, Pelletier E, Renault P, Sicheritz-Ponten T, Turner K, Zhu H, Yu C, Li S, Jian M, Zhou Y, Li Y, Zhang X, Li S, Qin N, Yang H, Wang J, Brunak S, Dore J, Guarner F, Kristiansen K, Pedersen O, Parkhill J, Weissenbach J, et al. 2010. A human gut microbial gene catalogue established by metagenomic sequencing. Nature 464:59-65.
  3. Nishijima S, Suda W, Oshima K, Kim SW, Hirose Y, Morita H, Hattori M. 2016. The gut microbiome of healthy Japanese and its microbial and functional uniqueness. DNA research 23:125-33.
  4. Ubeda C, Djukovic A, Isaac S. 2017. Roles of the intestinal microbiota in pathogen protection. Clinical & translational immunology 6:e128.
  5. Sayin SI, Wahlstrom A, Felin J, Jantti S, Marschall HU, Bamberg K, Angelin B, Hyotylainen T, Oresic M, Backhed F. 2013. Gut microbiota regulates bile acid metabolism by reducing the levels of tauro-beta-muricholic acid, a naturally occurring FXR antagonist. Cell metabolism 17:225-35.
  6. Kawamoto S, Maruya M, Kato LM, Suda W, Atarashi K, Doi Y, Tsutsui Y, Qin H, Honda K, Okada T, Hattori M, Fagarasan S. 2014. Foxp3(+) T cells regulate immunoglobulin a selection and facilitate diversification of bacterial species responsible for immune homeostasis. Immunity 41:152-65.
  7. Bravo JA, Forsythe P, Chew MV, Escaravage E, Savignac HM, Dinan TG, Bienenstock J, Cryan JF. 2011. Ingestion of Lactobacillus strain regulates emotional behavior and central GABA receptor expression in a mouse via the vagus nerve. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 108:16050-5.
  8. Frank DN, St Amand AL, Feldman RA, Boedeker EC, Harpaz N, Pace NR. 2007. Molecular-phylogenetic characterization of microbial community imbalances in human inflammatory bowel diseases. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 104:13780-5.
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  10. Kostic AD, Chun E, Robertson L, Glickman JN, Gallini CA, Michaud M, Clancy TE, Chung DC, Lochhead P, Hold GL, El-Omar EM, Brenner D, Fuchs CS, Meyerson M, Garrett WS. 2013. Fusobacterium nucleatum potentiates intestinal tumorigenesis and modulates the tumor-immune microenvironment. Cell host & microbe 14:207-15.
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Farewell to Religious Freedom: Persecution of Christians and Muslims in Hindu India

April 4, 2024
By 28804

The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party of Prime Minister Modi has fanned the flames of Hindu nationalism to reap political gains at the expense of India’s religious minorities and the ideals of secular democracy and cultural diversity, writes Amit Singh (University of Coimbra, 2020–21), who notes that religious intolerance could also lead to the curtailing of academic and press freedom.

*     *     *

Alarm about an impending genocide of Muslims and the persecution of Christians in India has been sounded, triggering a crisis in human rights. Why has a nation known for religious diversity and cultural unity turned against its own citizens—particularly Christian and Muslim minorities? The answer lies in the ideology of Hindu nationalism (also known as Hindutva) that has guided the government of Narendra Modi, who came to power in 2014 seeking to transform secular India into a Hindu state. The rise of Modi as prime minister has emboldened Hindu extremists to carry out violence against religious minorities with tacit government approval. Hindu nationalists employ religion and nationalism to polarize the masses and capture political power.

Hindu nationalism is an ethnic ideology that seeks to achieve the dominance of the Hindu religion and culture over religious minorities. It is often associated with the belief that Indian Muslims and Christians are not loyal to the state and should thus be seen as foreigners. Hindu nationalists accuse them of defiling the purity of the country and Hindu culture and have promoted violence from time to time, such as the communal riots in Gujrat (2002), Orissa (2008), Delhi (2020), Gurugram (2023), and more recently Manipur (2023–24).

When India gained independence in 1947, it chose to become a secular state, rather than a Hindu nation. Secularism was considered essential to Indian democracy in order to prevent the Hindu majority from dominating religious minorities. Some Hindu nationalists who believe in the supremacy of the Hindu religion were troubled, however, by the idea of religious equality, which granted the same constitutional rights to Muslim minorities. The Indian Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion to all religious minorities, including Christians and Muslims. It affirms that all Indian citizens are equal, irrespective of their religion, and that the State shall maintain an equal distance from all religions, denying any role of religion in state affairs.

A Changed Situation

On January 22, 2024, Prime Minister Modi crossed the line separating religion and state by participating in the inauguration ceremony for a controversial Hindu temple in Ayodhya. This, at least metaphorically, made India a Hindu state. The visit to the Ayodhya Ram temple, built where a mosque was demolished in 1992 by Hindu fundamentalists, was a stark warning to all who still believed in religious equality and cultural diversity in secular India.

The Ram temple premises in Ayodhya (photo taken by the author).

What does a Hindu India mean for Christian and Muslim minorities? It means “subordination to the Hindu majority and living as second-class citizens, just like the Jews under Nazi Germany,” a Christian priest in the north Indian district of Varanasi told me, adding, “Religious persecution of Christian minorities by Hindu fundamentalists has reached a critical stage.”

Musa Azmi, a Muslim activist in Varanasi, expressed concern that large-scale riots against Muslims may be organized by Hindu fundamentalists before the national election in 2024. “Even the local courts are taking decisions that favor the Hindu majority,” he complained. Indian religious minorities feel that they no longer enjoy the religious freedom and rights they had under the secular Congress Party until 2014. 

In the first eight months of 2023, there were 525 attacks against Christians in India. Manipur has experienced several incidents of targeted violence against Christians amid ongoing civil unrest. According to a report by the United Christian Forum (UCF), Christians are also legally harassed, as the police have failed to prosecute perpetrators of mob violence. Statements made by ruling party leaders appear to have acted as a force multiplier, leading to greater impunity. The ruling Hindu nationalists party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has threatened Catholics in Goa with calls to “wipe out” the history of Portuguese presence.

Hijacking Religion for Political Gain

Most of the religiously motivated attacks have been carried out by ultranationalist, right-wing Hindu groups, such as Hindu Yuva Vahini, Hindu Jagran Manch, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Bajrang Dal, and Vishva Hindu Parishad. These groups are linked to the ruling BJP, which uses the Hindu identity and religion to turn the sentiments of the majority against not only Christian and Muslim minorities but also the core of principles of the Indian Constitution, such as secularism, religious pluralism, and respect for cultural harmony and diversity. The Modi government has hijacked Hinduism and the national media to demonize religious minorities and the political opposition, who are portrayed as enemies of the Hindu religion.

Public acts of violence against Muslims appeal to core Hindu nationalist supporters. In their efforts to restore India’s lost glory, Hindu nationalists pursue such policies as securing the site of the Babri mosque for a Hindu temple and renaming places with Hindu names (often replacing Muslim names). The identities of religious minorities are being erased, and past events are being retold to create an “official” Hindu state history. Simultaneously, they have been stripping Jammu and Kashmir of its special status through the dilution of Article 370, and moving towards a new Citizenship Law with the potential to exclude Muslims from Indian citizenship.

Studies have shown that religious strife politically benefits the Hindu nationalist party, and this has encouraged violence against religious minorities and their sacred sites. Now that the Ram temple has been inaugurated, the controversial Gyanvapi Mosque in Varanasi appears to be the BJP’s next target in an effort to win the national election in 2029. This means that religious polarization and the vilification of religious minorities are likely to increase in the coming years.

The author published a study on the impact of Hindutva on secular democracy and human rights in 2024.

The use of the Hindu religion under the Modi government has reached new heights, leading to an increase in the Hindu majority’s hostility toward religious minorities. Not only religious freedom but academic and press freedom have also been severely curtailed in India. With the growing influence of Hindu nationalism on Indian society, the religious persecution of minorities is likely to escalate in tandem with a decline of secular democracy.

The Role of Cooperatives in Promoting Interethnic Dialogue and Peaceful Coexistence

March 12, 2024
By 28817

Given their emphasis on collective work, democratic decision-making, and dialogue in promoting members’ economic and social well-being, cooperatives encourage an openness to others, which can also enable different ethnic groups to work together toward common goals and achieve peaceful coexistence. Rui Lora (University of Coimbra, 2020-21) writes that in Bosnia and Herzegovina, cooperatives were a major factor in overcoming discrimination and fostering reconciliation.

*     *     *

The economic, social, and political benefits of the cooperative movement—launched with the founding of the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers in 1844—have long been recognized. In recent years, such benefits have also been observed in such fields as international relations, diplomacy, and even peace studies (Macpherson and Paz 2015; Emmanuel and Macpherson 2007; Cooperatives Europe 2019). One way of identifying the nature of these contributions is to analyze the movement through the lens of what is called diatopic hermeneutics. This allows cooperativism to be perceived as an actor in international relations from the perspective of “cosmopolitanism”—which views all people as being entitled to equal respect and consideration, regardless or citizenship or other affiliations.

The concept of diatopic hermeneutics was first presented by Panikkar (1982) and later expounded by Santos (1997). It is based on the principle that one culture cannot understand another from just its own viewpoint. Rather, it is “necessary to understand the other without assuming that it has our same self-knowledge or knowledge base” (Santos 1997). Diatopic hermeneutics thus seeks to “bring into contact radically different human horizons” in order to achieve true dialogue and the interaction of cultures (Santos 1997). It can be understood as the reciprocal translation of values, knowledge, and beliefs and is needed because the commonplace rhetoric of a given culture or tradition is often incomplete, incompatible, or potentially challenging from the perspective of another tradition. There must be dialogue between diverse cultural perspectives to enable the reciprocal translation of values, knowledge, and beliefs.

An examination of traditional principles of cooperativism reveals that they have much in common with diatopic hermeneutics. In fact, the cooperative might even be regarded as a practical instrument of the concept. The principles of cooperativism, for example, emphasize the importance of collective work, democratic decision-making, and dialogue in promoting the economic and social well-being of members. Such principles are aligned with the approach of diatopic hermeneutics in implying an openness to understanding the other and valuing cultural diversity.

Expanding Scope of Cooperatives

Historically, cooperativism has been a movement that, from the beginning, sought to build alternative economic models to capitalism through its emphasis on collective ownership and democratic management, while at the same time avoiding a state-centered economic model (Namorado 1999). Since its emergence after the Industrial Revolution, cooperatives have addressed a plurality of community needs, including in times of crisis (Vieta and Lionais 2015). In addition to making economic contributions, cooperativism is usually and directly related to many aspects of the social and solidarity economy (Singer 2018).

However, over the years, and particularly more recently, the scope and performance of cooperatives have expanded to other spheres. This has prompted the need to discuss the role of cooperatives from a cosmopolitanist perspective, as the globalization of the world economy and commercial liberalism have, according to some theoretical perspectives, deepened exclusion and wealth concentration, thereby threatening democracy and peace (Rodrigues 2008). In this context, cooperatives began to assume an increasingly prominent economic and political role with the emergence of an independent civil society around the world (Laville 2009).

The globalization process has greatly modified the way people interact in society in recent years. It has made possible the compression of time and space, reducing distances and speeding up information, and the promotion of the universalization of laws. But it has also highlighted differences in sociocultural identities in response to social homogenization, causing conflict between different human groups (Ioris 2007). This makes discussions of the tools and procedures that allow different segments of society—those with different worldviews—to communicate and meet the challenges of social and political coexistence quite important. Expanding the concept of diatopic hermeneutics with the aim of contributing to this discussion, especially with respect to diversity, may help bring together human groups that are isolated or in conflict due to globalization.

The author, top left, speaking with members of a multiethnic cooperative in Bosnia and Herzegovina as part of his SRG project.

Seeing cooperatives as an international actor reveals significant local and even global contributions that can be made by the cooperative movement in allowing actions and initiatives to transcend various disparities. Santos suggests that globalization can be understood through the lenses of “globalized localisms” and “localized globalisms,” referring to global perceptions of local customs and the impact of transnational practices on local conventions, respectively (Santos 1997, 14). These dynamics, characterized by asymmetries between central and peripheral countries, underscore the potential of cooperatives to contribute to regional integration by addressing such disparities.

An Actor in International Relations

In this context, cosmopolitanism emerges as a concept that enables actors, including regions, classes, and subordinate social groups, to interact transnationally in pursuit of common interests (Santos 1997). Cooperatives, rooted in cooperation among themselves and in contributing to the community, are connected to a global network through the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA), for example. They play a crucial role in inclusive socioeconomic development and can also serve as a tool for subaltern and insurgent cosmopolitanism, addressing the aspirations of oppressed groups and fostering global solidarity.

Cooperatives can thus be understood as an actor in international relations from a cosmopolitanist perspective, advocating for common interests shared by marginalized, excluded, and subordinated groups globally. When viewed as part of cosmopolitanism, moreover, the principles and values of cooperativism acquire a practical dimension, enabling dialogue and the exchange of experiences among cooperatives and members. The organizational structure of cooperatives, both locally and regionally, as well as their international representation through bodies like the ICA, empowers marginalized groups in global governance mechanisms and contributes to addressing asymmetries in integration processes.

To avoid overly idealistic conclusions, though, it is essential to identify specific situations and contexts where this relationship between cooperatives and cosmopolitanism can be verified, even tangentially. This approach can ensure a more nuanced understanding of cooperatives’ role in fostering regional integration, such as in the Western Balkans. According to the report by Cooperatives Europe (2019), two projects in Bosnia and Herzegovina have demonstrated the capacity of cooperatives to promote interethnic dialogue and economic development of the region: the “Fruits of Peace” project of the Insieme Cooperative in the Bratunac region and the creation in Doboj of multiethnic cooperatives as a consortium of rural producers.

At a meeting with a cooperative in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The main success of both projects was the establishment of a flexible and progressive process for forming cooperatives, allowing exchange between different ethnic groups to develop within the cooperatives. The increased dialogue helped to overcome discrimination and promote peacebuilding, providing opportunities to correct misunderstandings and find a path toward peaceful coexistence. By promoting collective work, both projects also enabled the revitalization of sustainable rural economies and contributed to reconciliation by overcoming long-established divisions. Major factors behind their success were that the cooperative ensured continuous training and promoted constant dialogue for both its employees and producers.

An Analytical Lens for Understanding Global Dynamics in Local Contexts

Analyzing these cases from a cosmopolitanist perspective, one can argue that cooperatives have the potential to promote interethnic dialogue and build coexistence in diverse environments. By embodying such principles as cooperation, solidarity, and democracy, cooperatives provide a space for members of different ethnic groups to come together, work toward common goals, and build understanding to achieve reconciliation. The principles of cooperativism thus also incorporate the idea of diatopic hermeneutics, especially in seeking to understand cultural and legal diversity in different geographical contexts, as highlighted in examples like those observed in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

If, on the other hand, cooperatives are conceived within the framework of globalized localisms and localized globalisms, they can become subject to a complex and unequal power dynamic, which can manifest as oppression, exploitation, and marginalization. This may occur when global influences benefit dominant centers at the expense of those on the periphery. Diatopic hermeneutics can help us understand how these global processes are reinterpreted and experienced locally, and how communities like cooperatives resist and respond to these power dynamics.

In this context, the role of diatopic hermeneutics would be to offer an analytical lens for understanding how global dynamics are interpreted and experienced in specific local contexts, especially by the cooperatives in this case. In other words, diatopic hermeneutics allows an analysis sensitive to cultural, historical, and social differences in different places, recognizing that experiences and interpretations of globalism and localism vary according to geographical and cultural context. It helps us to understand how global influences are reinterpreted and adapted locally, and how these adaptations reflect and shape power relations, resistance, and identity.

Using diatopic hermeneutics to understand cooperativism in a cosmopolitanist scenario thus enables us to capture the nuances of the relationships between globalism, localism, and subalternity, providing a more holistic and contextualized approach to analyzing issues of justice, power, and social transformation in a globalized world and supporting the argument that cooperatives can contribute to interethnic dialogue.

 

References

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Cooperatives Europe. 2019. Cooperatives and Peace: Strengthening Democracy, Participation and Trust. A Case Study Approach. Cooperatives Europe and Cooperatives Europe Development Platform.

Emmanuel, J., and MacPherson, I., eds. 2007. Co-operatives and the Pursuit of Peace. British Columbia: New Rochdale Press.

Gijselinckx, Caroline, and Matthias Bussels. 2014. “Farmers’ Cooperatives in Europe: Social and Historical Determinants of Cooperative Membership in Agriculture.” Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics 85.4: 509-530.

Ioris, Rafael Rossotto. 2007. Culturas em choque: a globalização e os desafios para a convivência multicultural. Annablume.

Larkin, Craig. 2012. Memory and Conflict in Lebanon: Remembering and Forgetting the Past. Routledge.

Laville J. L. 2009. A economia solidária: um movimento internacional. Revista Critica de Ciencias Sociais 84.

MacPherson, Ian, and Yehudah Paz. 2015. “Concern for Community: The Relevance of Co-operatives to Peace.” Joy Emmanuel, ed. Victoria: Turning Times Research and Consulting.

Madulu, Ndalahwa F. 2003. “Linking poverty levels to water resource use and conflicts in rural Tanzania.” Physics and Chemistry of the Earth, Parts A/B/C 28.20-27: 911-917.

Menashri, David. 2001. Post-Revolutionary Politics in Iran: Religion, Society, and Power. Routledge.

Namorado, Rui. 1999. Estrutura e Organização das Cooperativas. Oficina do Centro de Estudos Sociais de Coimbra 138.

McNally, D., 1993. Against the Market: Political Economy, Market Socialism and the Marxist Critique. London: Verso.

Panikkar, Raimundo. 1982. “Is the Notion of Human Rights a Western Concept?” Diogenes 30.120: 75-102.

Rodrigues, Roberto. 2008. “Cooperativismo: Democracia e Paz – surfando a segunda onda.” OCB.

Santos, Boaventura de Souza. 1997. “Uma concepção multicultural de direitos humanos.” Lua Nova 39: 105-124.

———. 2004. “Para uma sociologia das ausências e uma sociologia das emergências.” In Santos, B. de S, comp., Conhecimento Prudente para uma Vida Decente: ‘Um Discurso sobre as Ciências’ revisitado. São Paulo: Cortez, p. 777‐821.

Singer, Paul. 2018. Ensaios sobre economia solidária. Leya.

Vergalito, Esteban. 2009. “Acotaciones filosóficas a la ‘hermenéutica diatópica’ de Boaventura de Sousa Santos.” Impulso 19.48: 19-29.

Vieta, Marcelo, and Doug Lionais. 2015. “The Cooperative Advantage for Community Development.” Journal of Entrepreneurial and Organizational Diversity 4.1: 1- 10.

How Hungary Came to “Accept” the Global Minimum Tax

March 5, 2024
By 31304

Hungary found itself isolated in the EU when it initially blocked the implementation of the OECD agreement on a minimum corporate tax rate for multinationals. In an article adapted from a paper that was submitted to Pázmány Péter Catholic University Budapest, Tamás Zoltán Wágner (Hungarian Academy of Sciences, 2022) writes that rather than stonewalling the agreement, the government wisely shifted its strategy, enabling it to embrace the deal while maintaining its tax sovereignty and competitiveness.

*     *     *

Following the October 2021 agreement on a global minimum tax within the OECD framework on base erosion and profit shifting (BEPS), the focus in the European Union shifted to the question of how this should be implemented in national and EU legal systems. This became an issue because member states with low corporate tax rates, such as Ireland and Hungary, feared losing their competitiveness and were critical of the implementation efforts, triggering heated debate.

Hungary initially strongly opposed the implementation of the tax in the EU and anticipated vetoing it if necessary. Later, though, the Hungarian government adjusted its position and focused its efforts on how it could avoid implementing an actual tax increase. In the following, after briefly presenting the rules on the global minimum tax, I will examine whether Hungary’s fear was justified and then analyze the reasons for the change in the Hungarian position, which evolved from initial rejection to a search for a compromise.

Discouraging Tax Planning

Regarding the OECD agreement, it is important to point out that it is a two-pillar solution. The first pillar addresses the largest and most profitable multinational enterprises (MNEs) with a global turnover of more than €20 billion (€10 billion from 2028) and a pretax profitability ratio exceeding 10%. In countries where they sell their products and services and where they have consumers, these companies will need to pay 25% of their profits. By implementing this tax, countries that introduced or planned to introduce a digital tax will abandon it and commit to not introducing it in the future.

The second pillar is the global minimum tax, which aims to ensure that multinationals pay a minimum of 15% on all their profits in each jurisdiction where they have subsidiaries or establishments. According to pillar two rules, it is necessary to examine on a country-by-country basis whether the taxation of a given multinational reaches the effective tax rate. The global minimum tax applies to MNEs with an annual consolidated group revenue of €750 million operating in at least two of the four years preceding the current year and in two jurisdictions. States have the option of including for minimum taxation groups of companies operating in their own territories even if they do not have foreign subsidiaries or establishments. Not subject to the minimum tax, though, are government departments, international organizations, nonprofit organizations, pension or investment funds that are the ultimate parent companies of a group of companies, and the assets held by such entities.

The rate of the global minimum tax is not a nominal but an effective tax rate: only the taxes actually paid matter. Thus, if the effective tax rate of one of the subsidiaries in a given jurisdiction is less than 15%, then an additional tax is levied, to be paid by the parent company or the subsidiary. According to the three-element scheme developed by the OECD, the income inclusion rule (IIR) provides for the imposition of a top-up tax to make up for any difference in the taxes paid, or, if there is no IIR in the relevant jurisdiction, the undertaxed payments rule (UTPR) operates as a backstop to ensure that the tax rate for an MNE group is achieved by prohibiting cost deductions for group members or through similar mechanisms. The third element of the regulation is the subject to tax rule (STTR), a treaty-based rule that allows certain states to tax intra-group payments when the tax rate for such payments is below the minimum rate. This had been prohibited under the double taxation convention.

In the light of the above, it is clear that, contrary to the OECD BEPS Action Plan, adopted in 2013, the global minimum tax does not place emphasis on protecting the tax base but on eliminating the cause of tax planning: its basic philosophy assumes that MNEs will not use tax avoidance techniques if the tax advantage is taken away. It also aims to prevent a “race to the bottom” based on continuous decline in corporate tax rates and to reduce divergences between national tax systems, which also facilitate tax avoidance techniques.

An image generated by Craiyon (https://www.craiyon.com/).

Backlash from Hungarian Officials

Low-tax countries like Ireland and Hungary initially sharply criticized the concept because they feared losing their competitiveness and becoming less attractive to foreign investors. They also complained that the introduction of a global minimum tax would limit their tax policy, since it would essentially force them to raise their corporate tax rates: even if they apply lower tax rates, other states will collect the difference anyway. This fear seemed justified because, as Hindriks and Nishimura showed, the introduction of a global minimum tax would reduce the gap between high-tax and low-tax countries, which would also affect the ability to attract capital: large companies would be less likely to move their profits to low-tax countries.

Overall, countries with low tax rates can expect a decrease in tax revenues, while countries with high tax rates can expect an increase in tax revenues. In the longer term, the loss of a tax advantage could also jeopardize the very existence of tax havens and other preferential tax regimes. For this reason, these countries need to pursue one of the following strategies:

  • Maintain the status quo (for states that do not levy a corporate tax)
  • Raise the corporate tax rate to the level of the global minimum tax
  • Introduce a corporate tax system that applies to all companies
  • Introduce a threshold-based corporate tax system, which means that only companies subject to a global minimum tax must pay the higher corporate tax rate

Another strategy is for the state, in order to avoid an effective tax increase, to include as many types of tax as possible in the effective tax burden. This, in my view, is the best way forward, and it was, in fact, the choice made by Hungary.

Hungary, like other low-tax countries, was initially very skeptical about the global minimum tax. The proposed legislation triggered the following preliminary remarks from governmental officials:

  • “We should avoid a war of competition among tax systems in the global fight against harmful tax competition.”
  • “It is essential to respect the fiscal sovereignty of states regarding the taxation of income generated locally, and profits attributable to real economic activity shall be exempted to the greatest possible extent.”
  • “The situation should be avoided where the regulation penalizes differences between different methods of calculating the tax base instead of low taxation, which could substantially restrict the free movement of capital even between states applying tax rates close to the average.”
  • “A set of rules applicable only to subsidiaries would create a significant competitive disadvantage for capital-importing countries and, in many cases, lead to the relocation of headquarters to low-tax states.

These remarks were later supplemented by criticisms, such as:

  • “This reduces the sovereignty of the Hungarian tax system and would result in a competitive disadvantage for the European Union, which is unacceptable in the particularly sensitive economic situation caused by the Russo-Ukrainian war.”
  • “The Hungarian corporate tax rate (9%) is much lower than that of all our trading partners, which is the cornerstone of the Hungarian economic policy.”
  • “It would endanger hundreds of thousands of jobs in our country and would mean a return to the situation of 2010 in terms of corporate tax.

A Threat to Competitiveness

These comments indicate that the Hungarian government viewed the issue of the global minimum tax from a sovereigntist, tax competitiveness perspective. This was understandable, given the logic of Hungary’s economic policy: the implementation of an actual tax increase would endanger the competitiveness it had enjoyed thanks to low corporate tax rates. At the same time, the Hungarian government was under great pressure to support the adoption of the EU directive. After all, even if it did not introduce a global minimum tax, the tax difference would simply be collected by other governments. In other words, companies operating in Hungary will have to reckon with an increase in the tax burden no matter how Budapest decided, and moreover, by not implementing the tax, the government would be voluntarily forgoing sources of revenue that it could otherwise have claimed.

The situation of the Hungarian government became more difficult by the fact that on September 9, 2022, the EU’s largest economies—France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the Netherlands—announced that if the EU directive was not adopted, they were ready to introduce the global minimum tax unilaterally. This step would have meant tens of billions of forints in additional tax liability just for German companies operating in Hungary, whose average effective corporate tax rate, due to various tax breaks, barely reached 3%. Hungary also faced concrete pressure owing to the termination of the US-Hungary double taxation avoidance treaty in early July 2022 and the decision of the European Parliament on national vetoes undermining the global tax agreement, also in early July.

Regarding the former, it is worth pointing out that this was not unexpected: even before the Ecofin (Economic and Financial Affairs Council) meeting in June 2022, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen warned Hungary to change its position on the global minimum tax or face the termination of the bilateral double taxation treaty. Although the treaty did not expire until January 2024, the United States showed no intention of concluding a new treaty with Hungary. In Tibor Pálszabó’s opinion, the potential implications for private individuals include the following:

  • If they become residents in both countries, their world income would become taxable in both states.
  • Even without multiple residence, they may become liable for taxation in the country of income in situations where they had previously been exempt, that is, a double taxation situation may arise.
  • The conventional exemptions that would have resolved such double taxation issues will be abolished.

In the case of businesses, there will be a negative change mainly in relation to the withholding tax: dividends, interest, and royalties will be subject to a withholding tax of 30% instead of the previous 5%. The Hungarian economy will experience the negative effects even in the short term (such as through a direct tax revenue loss of 70 billion to 80 billion forints due to the reorganization of the investment structure of US companies), but in the long term the situation is more serious: there could be a significant decline in the economy’s ability to attract capital and retain its labor force.

The European Parliament, meanwhile, criticized the unanimity requirement for decision-making in the field of taxation, calling on the European Commission and the Council to find alternative ways for the EU to fulfil its OECD/G20 commitments, such as through “enhanced cooperation,” unilateral implementation by member states, and transition to qualified majority voting. It also demanded that Hungary lift its veto and urged the Commission and member states to block approval of Hungary’s recovery and resilience plan unless all the criteria were fully complied with.

A Shift in Strategy

Based on the above, it was apparent that by the end of 2022 the Hungarian government found itself in a very difficult situation: it was isolated in the EU and risked being lumped together with conventional tax havens. The Hungarian position, which seemed rigid at first, thus gradually shifted to another strategy: including as many domestic taxes (such as the local business tax) as possible in the effective tax burden in order to avoid actually raising the corporate tax. In this respect, negotiations were successful, as Hungary achieved the following goals:

  • The inclusion of the local business tax in the global minimum tax
  • Exemption of real economic activity
  • Simultaneous introduction of rules in all countries adopting the global minimum tax (so that Hungary does not suffer a competitive disadvantage)
  • The likely collection of the tax difference from target MNE groups in the form of differentiated domestic taxes so that there is no need to change the corporate tax rate of 9%.

Subsequently, on December 12, 2022—after Hungary lifted its veto—EU member states reached an agreement on the directive submitted by the European Commission at the end of 2021 to ensure a global minimum level of taxation for MNEs, which entered into force on December 14, 2022.


The example of Hungary highlights that, contrary to initial fears, the introduction of the global minimum tax does not necessarily entail an increase in the corporate tax burden or restrict the tax sovereignty of low-tax countries if other types of domestic taxes (like the local business tax) are included in the effective tax burden. Therefore, the right strategy for the global minimum tax is not rigid resistance, as it can easily lead to international isolation and reputational loss (such as by being branded a tax haven), but to negotiate a compromise so that competitiveness can be maintained even after implementing the global minimum tax.

References

OECD/G20 Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Project. “Statement on a Two-Pillar Solution to Address the Tax Challenges Arising from the Digitalisation of the Economy.” https://www.oecd.org/tax/beps/statement-on-a-two-pillar-solution-to-address-the-tax-challenges-arising-from-the-digitalisation-of-the-economy-october-2021.pdf.

Czoboly, Gergely. “Globális minimumadó bevezetésének lehetséges hatásai a klasszikus adóstruktúrákra” [Possible Effects of the Introduction of a Global Minimum Tax on Classical Tax Structures]. Miskolci Jogi Szemle, 2021/5. (3. különszám).

Nobilis, Benedek. “Globális minimumadó: ez nem csak Magyarországnak fájhat” [Global Minimum Tax: This May Hurt Not Just Hungary]. Portfolio. https://www.portfolio.hu/gazdasag/20210413/globalis-minimumado-ez-nem-csak-magyarorszagnak-fajhat-477960.

Hindriks, Jean and Yukihiro Nishimura. “The Compliance Dilemma of the Global Minimum Tax.” LIDAM Discussion Paper CORE, 2022/13. https://dial.uclouvain.be/pr/boreal/object/boreal%3A259159/datastream/PDF_01/view.

Essid, Colleen. “The Global Minimum Tax Agreement: An End to Corporate Tax Havens?” SLU Law Journal Online, 73. https://scholarship.law.slu.edu/lawjournalonline/73.

Deloitte Insights. “Global Minimum Corporate Income Tax. How Might Countries with ‘Low’ or ‘No’ Taxation Respond?” https://www2.deloitte.com/xe/en/pages/tax/articles/global-minimum-corporate-income-tax.html.

Prinz, Dániel and Eszter Kabos. “Miért van szükség globális társasági minimumadóra?” [Why Do We Need a Global Minimum Tax?]. Qubit. https://qubit.hu/2021/08/02/miert-van-szukseg-globalis-tarsasagi-minimumadora.

Hungarian National Assembly. “Az Országgyűlés 24/2022. (VI. 21.) OGY határozata a globális minimumadó bevezetésére vonatkozó európai uniós irányelv elfogadásának elutasításáról” [24/2022 (VI. 21) Decision of the Hungarian National Assembly Rejecting the Adoption of an EU Directive Introducing a Global Minimum Tax].

Kiss, Rajmund. “Kerékbe tört versenyképesség? A globális minimumadó súlyos kockázatairól” [Competitiveness in Tatters? The Serious Risks of the Global Minimum Tax]. Mathias Corvinus Collegium. https://corvinak.hu/gazdasag/2021/05/19/kerekbe-tort-versenykepesseg-a-globalis-minimumado.

Government of Hungary. “A globális minimumadó jelentené a kegyelemdöfést az európai gazdaságnak” [A Global Minimum Tax Would be a Coup de Grâce for the European Economy]. https://kormany.hu/hirek/a-globalis-minimumado-jelentene-a-kegyelemdofest-az-europai-gazdasagnak.

Pardavi, László. “Néhány gondolat a globális minimumadó történetéről, bevezetésének okairól és lehetséges magyarországi hatásairól” [A Few Thoughts on the History of the Global Minimum Tax, the Reasons for Its Introduction, and Its Possible Impact on Hungary]. In Barna Arnold Keserű, Katalin Szoboszlai-Kiss, and Richárd Németh, eds., Salus Vocalis. Csegöldi indulás - Győri érkezés. Ünnepi tanulmányok Fazekas Judit tiszteletére. Győr, Universitas-Győr Nonprofit Kft, 2023.

Adó Online. “Niveus: Magyarország a globális minimumadóról szóló csatát hamarosan elveszítheti [Niveus: The Battle over the Global Minimum Tax Could Soon Be Lost for Hungary]. https://ado.hu/ado/niveus-magyarorszag-a-globalis-minimumadorol-szolo-csatat-hamarosan-elveszitheti/.

Government of Hungary. “Az Egyesült Államok nyomást akar gyakorolni Magyarországra” [The United States Wants to Put Pressure on Hungary]. https://kormany.hu/hirek/az-egyesult-allamok-nyomast-akar-gyakorolni-magyarorszagra.

Pálszabó, Tibor, Veronika Oláh, and Dániel Bajusz. “USA-magyar adóegyezmény felmondása: mi lesz veletek expatok?” [Termination of the US-Hungarian Tax Treaty: What Will Happen to Expats?]. EY. https://www.ey.com/hu_hu/tax/usa--magyar-adoegyezmeny-felmondasa--mi-lesz-veletek-expatok-.

Dajkó, Ferenc Dániel. “Sérülnek az amerikai-magyar kapcsolatok? – Szakértők a kettős adóztatás felmondásáról” [Are US-Hungarian Relations Damaged? Experts on the Termination of Double Taxation]. novekedes.hu. https://novekedes.hu/interju/serulnek-az-amerikai-magyar-gazdasagi-kapcsolatok-szakertoket-kerdeztunk-mi-varhato-a-kettos-adoztatas-egyezmeny-felmondasa-utan.

European Parliament. “European Parliament Resolution of 6 July 2022 on National Vetoes to Undermine the Global Tax Deal (2022/2734(RSP)).” https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2022-0290_EN.html.

Mattiassich, Enikő and Károly Szóka. “Impact of the Introduction of A Global Minimum Tax.” In Mustafa Göktuğ Kaya and Haldun Soydal, eds., International Congress of Finance and Tax. March 10–11, 2023, Konya, Türkiye.

Council of the European Union. “Council Directive (EU) 2022/2523 of 14 December 2022 on Ensuring a Global Minimum Level of Taxation for Multinational Enterprise Groups and Large-Scale Domestic Groups in the Union.” Official Journal of the European Union, L 328, 22.12.2022, pp. 1–58. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/eli/dir/2022/2523/oj.

 

Rice Bran and Gut Health: Unravelling the Molecular Mechanisms behind Colitis Suppression

February 26, 2024
By 30578

Rice bran has been shown in recent studies to help reduce inflammation in the digestive tract, but the mechanisms by which it affects the body have yet to be clearly elucidated. Using an SRG award, Kazuki Tanaka (Keio University, 2020 and 2021) isolated individual bacteria with the potential to produce colitis-suppressing substances and hopes to commercialize an anti-inflammatory agent in cooperation with a startup.

*     *     *

Japanese dishes like sushi and ramen are famous worldwide. And many Japanese foods are known for making us healthier, notable examples being natto (fermented soybeans), miso (fermented soybean paste), and matcha (green tea powder),[1][2][3] which feed our gut’s good bacteria to help us stay in shape.[4] Think of them as helping the water in our inner fish tank stay clean.

Another such food is rice bran[5]—the outer layer of brown rice—which has been shown in recent studies to help reduce inflammation in the colon, which is a part of the large intestine.[6][7][8][9] Rice bran is rich in fiber, vitamins, and antioxidants—nutrients that work like a multivitamin pill[7][8][10][11] to not only nourish the body but also to make our gut happy and potentially reduce inflammation. Science, though, is still trying to figure out exactly how rice bran affects the body.

Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a debilitating condition characterized by inflammation of parts of the digestive tract. Many of the genes linked to this disease have been identified, yet the number of people getting IBD in Japan has skyrocketed in recent decades.[12] This suggests that the disease is not just about genetics; something else is at play—many scientists believe that an imbalance in the gut’s bacteria population might be a big factor. Using advanced DNA techniques, various studies have tried to pinpoint which bacteria trigger IBD and which ones inhibit it. But understanding the world of bacteria is like solving a giant jigsaw puzzle without knowing what the final picture looks like.[13]

The gut is always changing, and this makes studying it tricky—it is like trying to figure out the story of a movie by only seeing random scenes. Plus, everyone’s gut movie is different because of discrepancies in our diet,[14] lifestyles,[15] and environments.[16] So, to fully understand the many bacterial stories, scientists believe we need a big-picture approach.

Isolating Colitis-Suppressing Bacteria

In my research that was funded in part by SRG, I used a special mouse model to dig deeper into how eating rice bran might affect our gut, particularly whether rice bran might hold the key to keeping inflammation at bay. I adopted a technique that allowed me to look at a lot of data from multiple angles to get the clearest story possible.

Thus far, I have been able to identify a specific group of gut bacteria that seem to have a suppressive effect on colitis. Initially, I conducted a replication experiment to determine whether this bacterial group truly had a suppressive effect on colitis. For this, I compared the suppressive effect in germ-free mice and mice that were administered this colitis-suppressing gut bacterial group. As a result, mice with the colitis-suppressing gut bacterial group indeed showed a suppressive effect on colitis.

To understand which bacteria within this group were responsible for suppressing colitis, I attempted to isolate the different strains. I cultivated bacteria from this group under various conditions, using different media and under anaerobic states, and managed to isolate approximately 200 individual bacteria. Upon further investigation of their metabolic capabilities crucial for colitis suppression, five of these bacteria were found to potentially have the ability to produce substances vital for suppressing colitis. When I extracted and analyzed the genomic DNA of these five bacteria using next-generation sequencing, it turned out that all five were from the same bacterial species.

 

The inflammation-suppressing bacterial candidate strains on a plate medium.

A microscopic image of inflammation-suppressing bacterial candidate isolate.

 

Subsequently, I administered this colitis-suppressing bacterium to germ-free mice to evaluate its suppressive effect. However, a single species of the colitis-suppressing bacterium did not show any suppressive effect on colitis. That no significant increase in substances crucial for colitis suppression was observed in the intestines of these mice suggests that the presence of other gut bacteria is also necessary. Moving forward, I aim to isolate other gut bacteria that are needed for this colitis-suppressing bacterium to be effective.

Lastly, I conducted a whole genome analysis of the colitis-suppressing bacterium. Given that no previous reports suggested that gut bacteria produce substances vital for colitis suppression, this finding could be of great academic significance. However, despite several attempts under different conditions, I was unable to extract DNA of adequate quality for analysis. External agencies also faced challenges when trying to extract it. In the future, I plan to explore the conditions appropriate for DNA extraction.

Achieving High Impact

I expect that the detailed molecular mechanism by which rice bran intake leads to colitis suppression can eventually be clarified. In conventional nutritional science, importance is placed on the components contained in foods, and little has yet been elucidated regarding the mechanism of gut microbiota. In my research, I hope to promote a fuller understanding of the role gut microbiota plays in how food intake affects the body. Such findings can be expected to have a high social and academic impact, and I hope to publish them in a well-known international scientific journal. In addition, an application for an international patent will be filed to develop a new therapeutic drug for colitis based on the findings of the colitis suppression mechanism. I thus believe that my research will be able to contribute to patients with unmet medical needs.

Research results must be commercialized in order for them to be disseminated to the public. A patent for an anti-inflammatory agent is scheduled to be granted next year. A new patent is pending in collaboration with a startup company, and our research team is currently in discussions with the company to commercialize the product. We have presented our findings at conferences to promote food developments not only for rice bran but also for many other foods worldwide, and we will be writing papers this year to disseminate our findings.

 

[1] Takechi R, Alfonso H, Hiramatsu N, Ishisaka A, Tanaka A, Tan L, Lee AH. Elevated plasma and urinary concentrations of green tea catechins associated with improved plasma lipid profile in healthy Japanese women. Nutr Res. 2016;36(3):220–6.

[2] Nakata T, Kyoui D, Takahashi H, Kimura B, Kuda T. Inhibitory effects of laminaran and alginate on production of putrefactive compounds from soy protein by intestinal microbiota in vitro and in rats. Carbohydr Polym. 2016;143:61–9.

[3] Shirosaki M, Koyama T. Laminaria japonica as a food for the prevention of obesity and diabetes. Advances in Food and Nutrition Research. 2011;64:199–212.

[4] Kanai T, Matsuoka K, Naganuma M, Hayashi A, Hisamatsu T. Diet, microbiota, and inflammatory bowel disease: Lessons from Japanese foods. Korean J Intern Med. 2014;29(4):409–15.

[5] Yano JM, Yu K, Donaldson GP, Shastri GG, Ann P, Ma L, et al. Indigenous bacteria from the gut microbiota regulate host serotonin biosynthesis. Cell. 2015;161(2):264–76.

[6] Al-Fayez M, Cai H, Tunstall R, Steward WP, Gescher AJ. Differential modulation of cyclooxygenase-mediated prostaglandin production by the putative cancer chemopreventive flavonoids tricin, apigenin and quercetin. Cancer Chemother Pharmacol. 2006;58(6):816–25.

[7] Islam MS, Murata T, Fujisawa M, Nagasaka R, Ushio H, Bari AM, et al. Anti-inflammatory effects of phytosteryl ferulates in colitis induced by dextran sulphate sodium in mice. Br J Pharmacol. 2008;154(4):812–24.

[8] Komiyama Y, Andoh A, Fujiwara D, Ohmae H, Araki Y, Fujiyama Y, et al. New prebiotics from rice bran ameliorate inflammation in murine colitis models through the modulation of intestinal homeostasis and the mucosal immune system. Scand J Gastroenterol. 2011;46(1):40–52.

[9] Shafie NH, Esa NM, Ithnin H, Saad N, Pandurangan AK. Pro-apoptotic effect of rice bran inositol hexaphosphate (IP6) on HT-29 colorectal cancer cells. Int J Mol Sci. 2013;14(12):23545–58.

[10] Choi JY, Paik DJ, Kwon DY, Park Y. Dietary supplementation with rice bran fermented with Lentinus edodes increases interferon-γ activity without causing adverse effects: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group study. Nutr J. 2014;13:35.

[11] Islam J, Koseki T, Watanabe K, Ardiansyah, Budijanto S, Oikawa A, et al. Dietary supplementation of fermented rice bran effectively alleviates dextran sodium sulfate-induced colitis in mice. Nutrients. 2017;9(7):747.

[12] Jostins L, Ripke S, Weersma RK, Duerr RH, McGovern DP, Hui KY, et al. Host-microbe interactions have shaped the genetic architecture of inflammatory bowel disease. Nature. 2012;491(7422):119–24.

[13] Ridenhour BJ, Brooker SL, Williams JE, Van Leuven JT, Miller AW, Dearing MD, Remien CH. Modeling time-series data from microbial communities. ISME J. 2017;11(11):2526–37.

[14] Sonnenburg JL, Bäckhed F. Diet–microbiota interactions as moderators of human metabolism. Nature. 2016;535(7610):56–64.

[15] David LA, Materna AC, Friedman J, Campos-Baptista MI, Blackburn MC, Perrotta A, et al. Host lifestyle affects human microbiota on daily timescales. Genome Biol. 2014;15(7):R89.

[16] Cervantes-Barragan L, Chai JN, Tianero MD, Di Luccia B, Ahern PP, Merriman J, et al. Lactobacillus reuteri induces gut intraepithelial CD4 + CD8αα + T cells. Science. 2017;357(6353):806–810.

Enhancing Immigrant Integration through Social Connections: An Experimental Study in Sweden

February 7, 2024
By 28006

Olle Hammar’s (Uppsala University, 2020) Sylff Research Grant focused on evaluating a program aimed at promoting social inclusion of immigrants and refugees in Sweden. The project, involving a randomized controlled trial in partnership with an NGO, assessed the impact of contact with natives on immigrants’ social, economic, and cultural integration. Preliminary results suggest potential benefits, including sustained relationships and increased job opportunities for immigrants.

*     *     *

Introduction

My project on “Social Networks and Immigrant Integration: Experimental Evidence from Sweden,” conducted together with Mounir Karadja and Akib Khan at Uppsala University, seeks to understand and enhance immigrant integration in Sweden, a country known for its progressive social policies but which is now grappling with the challenges of integrating its growing foreign-born population (Statistics Sweden 2019). The project began with a deep interest in understanding immigrant integration in Sweden. Intrigued by the pivotal role social networks can play, we aim to explore the impact of social interactions between immigrants and native Swedes on the integration process.

The study is conducted in partnership with Nya Kompisbyrån (New Friend Agency), a Swedish nongovernmental organization facilitating informal meetings between immigrants and natives in Sweden. Immigrants, predominantly from low- and middle-income countries, are matched with native Swedes, fostering opportunities for language practice, cultural exchange, and network expansion. Through a randomized controlled trial, we assessed the effectiveness of this program.

 

Nya Kompisbyrån operations manager Mardin Baban, left, and Mounir Karadja of Uppsala University’s Department of Economics.

The COVID-19 pandemic posed significant challenges to this project, temporarily forcing participants to shift from direct, in-person interactions to digital meetings. Thankfully, solutions to these challenges were facilitated by the SRG, which allowed for the implementation of a more structured and sustainable survey data collection approach.

Background and Methodology

Sweden has experienced a significant influx of immigrants from diverse backgrounds, and their social and economic integration has become a key issue (Statistics Sweden 2019). Our research focuses on evaluating the effectiveness of social networks in facilitating this integration by working closely with Nya Kompisbyrån, one of the largest NGOs of its kind in Sweden.

In this project, we use a randomized controlled field experiment to evaluate a novel program administered by Nya Kompisbyrån.

The methodology is based on the observation that, since more immigrants than natives sign up for this program, not all immigrants can be matched with a native Swede. As such, our evaluation uses a randomization design where two immigrants are selected as potential matches for each native, based on common interests, gender, and age.

One of the immigrants is randomly assigned to meet with the native, while the other is placed in the control group. Individuals in both groups, as well as the participating native Swedes, were surveyed by an external survey company (co-financed by SRG) during the implementation period between October 2022 and September 2023. Using this data and methodology, we are able to assess the causal effects of contact with natives on immigrants’ social, economic, and cultural integration.

While the data collection phase is now finished, which was the aim of the SRG-funded part of the project, our next step will be to analyze the data and assess the final results. Preliminary findings suggest large potential benefits for the participating immigrants. Most matched pairs continue to meet after their first contact, indicating that a large share of matches results in meaningful and sustained relationships. In addition, many of the job-searching participants indicate that they have received a job or internship through their native Swedish contact. The interactions also seemed to facilitate stronger social networks for participating immigrants.

Adapting to COVID-19

The pandemic posed significant challenges to our original plan of studying in-person meetings between the participants. We adapted to these circumstances by shifting to a more sustainable format of long-term survey data collection, which allowed us to continue our research without compromising the integrity of the participants or the depth of our analysis. The project had to be temporarily suspended when COVID-19 made in-person meetings impracticable, but we were able to continue conducting fieldwork thanks to SRG.

The project will potentially have broad implications for Sweden’s approach to immigrant integration. It examines the importance of social connections and cultural exchange in breaking down barriers and fostering a more inclusive society (Allport 1954). The findings will offer valuable insights for policymakers, demonstrating how initiatives promoting direct social interactions between immigrants and natives can enhance the integration process.

Another contribution of this project is its experimental attempt to evaluate an NGO-driven intervention for immigrant integration. Many NGOs are active in the field of integration across the globe and often have innovative approaches based on voluntary participation, as well as low operating costs (Lundberg et al. 2011). In Sweden, the government identifies civil society as an important actor for integration. Yet, despite public and private investments, there is a lack of knowledge on the causal effects of civil society organizations in this domain (Osanami Törngren et al. 2018). As such, this project also contributes to evaluating civil society’ broader role in immigrant integration.

Both Academic and Practical Benefits

This journey has been both challenging and rewarding. Adapting to the unforeseen circumstances posed by the pandemic while maintaining the integrity of our research project was a significant learning experience. We are very grateful for support from the Sylff Association in helping us quickly adapt to these changed circumstances. The SRG funding was instrumental in the success of this project, enabling us to navigate unforeseen obstacles and contribute significantly to the field. It has also allowed me to continue my collaboration with my research colleagues and the NGO, as well as other actors in the area of immigrant integration in Sweden and abroad.

The project has been pre-accepted for publication in the Journal of Development Economics (Hammar, Karadja, and Khan 2023), based on a pre-results review. This, we believe, is a testament to its academic significance and practical relevance. The insights gained from this research will contribute not only to the academic understanding of immigrant integration but also offer practical insights for NGOs and policymakers on the potential of social networks and informal meetings. It strengthens our belief in the power of simple human connections to bridge cultural divides and enhance societal cohesion.

Our next step will be to analyze and disseminate the final results of this project. Going forward, we will further explore the dynamics of immigrant integration in different cultural and societal contexts. Our research also highlights the need for more innovative approaches to policymaking in the realm of migration and integration.

 

Social integration through coffee?

References

Allport, G.W. 1954. The Nature of Prejudice. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.

Hammar, O., Karadja, M., and Khan, A. 2023. “Social Networks and Immigrant Integration: Experimental Evidence from Sweden,” Journal of Development Economics, Accepted (Pre-Results Review).

Lundberg, E., Brundin, P., Amnå, E., and Bozzini, E. 2011. “European Civil Societies and the Promotion of Integration: Leading Practices from Sweden, Great Britain, the Netherlands and Italy.” In Social Rights, Active Citizenship and Governance in the EU. Baden-Baden: Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft.

Osanami Törngren, S., Öberg, K., and Righard, E. 2018. “The Role of Civil Society in the Integration of Newly Arrived Refugees in Sweden.” In Newcomer Integration in Europe: Best Practices and Innovations since 2015.

Statistics Sweden. 2019. “Integration: En beskrivning av läget i Sverige,” Integration 13.

The Viability of Coproduction in South Africa’s Local Governments

January 15, 2024
By 28866

Leon Poshai (University of the Western Cape, 2020) used an SRG award to conduct interviews with both local leaders and residents in five South African municipalities to assess the extent to which coproduction—the formalized process by which local governments engage with citizens—can be used to address community problems and enhance the effectiveness of service delivery.

*     *     *

My research sought to assess the viability of coproduction as a strategy for ensuring that citizens have a voice in the policymaking processes in the context of local governance in South Africa. Coproduction refers to the formalized process by which the government engages with citizens when making decisions that affect them (Khine et al. 2021). In the context of local governance, coproduction involves consulting and engaging with residents and their local leaders when reaching decisions on how services should be delivered. The process of coproduction has been regarded as a best practice for the cogeneration of actionable knowledge to address community problems (Osborne, Radnor, and Strokosch 2016).

The overall aim of the study was to assess the extent to which the coproduction model can be used to enhance the effectiveness of service delivery in South Africa’s local government institutions. In this regard, the research explored the various measures that local governments in South Africa are using or can use to ensure that there is regular engagement between local government leaders and residents as recipients of services. For example, the photo below shows ward councillors interacting with residents on community development, which can be seen as coproduction in action.

Citizen-government interaction forms the core of the process of coproduction, https://twitter.com/CityofJoburgZA, accessed June 16, 2023.

Through a qualitative research approach deploying the interview method, I was able to interact with residents and local government leaders in five cities in South Africa, namely, Cape Town, Mpumalanga, Pretoria, Limpopo, and Johannesburg. Their selection was based on the fact that they are major municipalities in South Africa, making them a rich social laboratory for the collection of diverse data from a larger population. I combined both convenience sampling and purposive sampling in selecting the participants. Both face-to-face interviews and telephone interviews were used, based on the availability of the participants.

Through the interviews, I managed to obtain a balanced overview of the utility of coproduction from both the residents and local leaders. I traveled to these cities to interact with residents and obtain an in-depth understanding of the issue investigated in its natural context. This enabled me to gain an appreciation of the need for coproduction as a response to the different service delivery challenges facing South Africa’s local governments.

The study was guided by the following research question:

  1. What are the current strategies for promoting the codesign of policy solutions to address local government challenges in South Africa?
  2. What can local government institutions in South Africa do to improve their citizen engagement methods toward the codesign of solutions to challenges confronting their communities?

The main findings of the study indicate that in local governance, coproduction is the glue that binds societies together, as it brings the governors (leaders) and the governed (residents) together in defining the problems affecting their communities and in designing appropriate solutions to address those challenges. The photo below shows the leadership-resident interface in a South African local government.

Deliberations between a local leader and residents on policy issues, https://twitter.com/CityofJoburgZA/status/1115171024973312000/photo/3, accessed August 21, 2023.

The study also revealed that coproduction enables the kind of regular interaction between the local leadership and residents that is crucial for local development, allowing for collaboration and idea transfer. Without coproduction, it is difficult for local leaders to know what problems are affecting residents and what solutions are needed to address the problems. Thus, the study found that the development of relevant policy responses to local problems hinged on the engagement or collaboration between the leaders and the residents, which is made possible through coproduction.

The study also revealed that when coproduction is not practiced, residents often resist the resolutions passed by their local leaders, sometimes leading to protests or unrest in the communities. Thus, citizens expect that they are duly consulted by their leaders in the decision-making process, and when this is not done, they feel that they are neglected. Residents will not support decisions made without their participation. Interactions with residents revealed that the main reason for protests in different South African municipalities was because of the imposition of decisions by their leaders without their input. Picketing at government offices occurs when residents feel that they are sidelined in the formulation of decisions that have a direct bearing on their lives, and this underscores the need for leaders to engage residents in the decision-making process and the need for coproduction. Interviewed residents highlighted that they feel valued if their leaders engage them before making decisions that affect them, and if this is not done, they will protest against that decision as reflected in the image below: 

Picketing because of poor government-resident engagement, https://www.groundup.org.za/article/tembisa-residents-meet-councillors-over-reblocking-demolitions/, accessed October 25, 2023.

Residents interviewed in Limpopo noted that coproduction is the only way in which they can share their grievances with their local leaders. They indicated that solutions for community problems should come from the members of the community themselves and not be imposed by their leaders. As such, residents indicated that they expect to be consulted by their leaders, such as mayors, councillors, and municipal managers, when decisions affecting their lives are made. The residents indicated that the main service delivery functions that they expect to be consulted on as part of the process of coproduction include issues of water provision, road construction and maintenance, sewer reticulation, waste management, and general good governance. The views shared by the residents emphasized the need for coproduction, which allows for regular engagement between local leaders and residents in designing solutions to problems faced in their areas.

Furthermore, the study showed that coproduction contributes to greater transparency in local governance. The use of local financial resources (local budget) can be done in a more transparent manner if there is open dialogue and communication between the leaders and the residents, which coproduction enables. In particular, transparency in financial resource utilization is achieved through agreements on the areas of resource prioritization. The existence of a pre-agreed strategic plan on the utilization of financial resources enables residents to monitor if the utilization process is in line with the agreed plans, and this helps to minimize the chances of corruption and abuse of public funds (Bandola-Gill et al. 2023). Interviewed municipal officials in Pretoria and Cape Town indicated that they consult and involve residents in developing local budgets and keep them in the loop regarding financial decision-making. This is a major component of coproduction, which creates a sense of transparency in the utilization of financial resources. The residents also concurred that they are consulted in the budget formulation process, and, as ratepayers, this helps them to check the extent to which their rates are being used for agreed priorities.

The research also established that coproduction is key to bridging the gap between governments and citizens. It represents the principal avenue for citizens and the government to engage on issues that matter most, particularly issues of service delivery, helping to build trust between the leaders and the residents. Trust is a fundamental pillar of sound governance, as it nurtures an honest relationship between the government and the citizens (Campanale 2020). Coproduction engenders dialogue between the government and the citizens, which helps in cosetting the local development agenda and policy priorities. 

The study revealed that coproduction should be promoted through public consultations, public opinion surveys, local hearings, and community engagement programs—activities that help provide residents with the necessary information in the decision-making process. Coproduction in South African municipalities creates an open space where residents can share their concerns, offer feedback, and develop proposals for action with their leaders. This helps to ensure that the decisions made by the leaders are resonant with the expectations and realities of the residents. The interview with community leaders in Mpumalanga indicated that the policy decisions made using the coproduction model are highly likely to be responsive to the challenges faced by the communities.

Scholars like Moallemi et al. (2023) have argued that coproduction enables the sharing of information on activities and programs being implemented by the government and helps raise awareness on policy issues. In addition, the process of coproduction leads to greater clarity on the roles that both leaders and residents must play in the efforts to resolve community challenges. Some residents indicated that information on government programs remains erratic, however, as most decisions continue to be made without their input. This raises concerns about the effectiveness of stakeholder engagement in the South African local government system. It has been argued that the disclosure of information allows citizens to gain an understanding of the issues that affect them. Thus, local government institutions are encouraged to promote the proactive disclosure of relevant information in a clear and timely manner.

The topic of coproduction was chosen because it enables an examination of the interface between the local government leadership and residents. The topic provided a formal way of demonstrating why collaborative engagement between the governors and the governed are important. The findings of this study can contribute to society by enhancing understanding of the need for government and residents to collaborate in defining problems and in generating solutions to address them together. These findings can help local government practitioners in different parts of the world develop strategies for engaging residents and formulate relevant solutions to the challenges facing contemporary local government institutions.

References

Bandola-Gill, Justyna, Megan Arthur, and Rhodri Ivor Leng. 2023. “What is co-production? Conceptualising and understanding the co-production of knowledge and policy across different theoretical perspectives.” Evidence & Policy 19(2), 275–298.

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