Issue No. 3 January 2011
UNRISD is an autonomous institution within the UN system that carries out multidisciplinary research on the social dimensions of contemporary development issues.


Reflections on a year at UNRISD

The beginning of a new year, and the end of my first year as Director, provides an opportunity for reflection. My tenure started with an outstanding conference in late 2009 on the political and social dimensions of the global financial crisis. The discussions heralded themes that have dominated 2010—globally and within the Institute.

The global context was marked by fiscal retrenchment, cuts in social spending, high unemployment, tightening aid budgets, and ongoing debates about viable policy alternatives for achieving balanced growth without compromising the poverty reduction and social gains of recent years. For the Institute, these trends translate into new and urgent demands for research on social development, but also a restrictive resource environment for launching such work. The past year was marked above all by a high level of uncertainty: we enter 2011 with hope for greater security for all.

For UNRISD, the highlight of the year was the publication of our long-awaited report Combating Poverty and Inequality. The key messages, alongside detailed empirical support and policy options, speak directly to development debates and challenges that have been intensified by crisis: that addressing the multiple facets of inequality is inextricably bound up with reducing poverty and achieving inclusive growth; that the creation of productive employment must be a core goal of economic development; that social policies play an essential role in growth, equity, social reproduction and social cohesion—all of which are necessary for sustained poverty reduction; and that poverty reduction requires a serious analysis of the political arrangements that enable the poor to have voice in policy processes.

As the review below notes, the report has been widely presented and positively received among diverse audiences—academics, policy makers, politicians, civil society groups and trade unionists. Feedback from audiences from Beijing and Bangkok to Beirut, Addis and Abuja, suggest a strong resonance with different country and regional concerns and the search for policy alternatives: we are excited about opportunities that have been created for future research partnerships.

2010 also marked our transition to a new research agenda. The 2005–2009 strategy drew to a close with a number of key outputs and encouraging evidence of policy influence. Building on past work, the new agenda (coming soon on our website) responds to the changed and uncertain environment. We continue to focus on critical social issues, indicators and policies that need to be factored centrally into development thinking and policy. This will be complemented by research on the political and institutional arrangements that are inclusive of the poor and that foster positive social change. We retain our strong analysis of gender inequalities across all our work, and will for the first time attempt systematically to integrate a focus on the implications of climate change for social development.

During the past year, UNRISD has benefited from close collaboration with our donors, research partners, other UN agencies, civil society groups and our Board members—all of whom have contributed to refining a new research agenda for a complex and still uncertain climate, and to reducing the uncertainty facing the Institute. On behalf of all the staff at UNRISD, I would like to thank you all for your generous support and collaboration. I look forward to our continued engagement in the coming year.

With best wishes for a successful and more secure 2011.


Social development needs to be prominent on G20 agenda

The time has come to put social development on the G20 agenda to help deal with the multiple crises the world is facing. This was agreed by participants at the Development Forum for the G20, organized by UNRISD and the Graduate School of Public Administration at Seoul National University in Seoul on 21–22 October 2010.

The Development Forum for the G20 addressed policy challenges to economic and social development in the context of global crises. It explored different policy solutions for local contexts to provide stakeholders with ideas on how to restructure the global economic governance and development framework. It also discussed different paths to economic and social development and demonstrated how they respond to multiple crises. Participants shared experiences of national development and the response to multiple crises in countries with heterogeneous developmental paths, using the example of the Republic of Korea, which transformed itself from aid recipient to donor country. The forum aimed to, among other things, contribute to discussions of the G20 process and the G20 meeting in Seoul by putting social development at the centre of global economic recovery efforts.

The last session of the Development Forum was organized as a panel discussion and was filmed and broadcast by the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS).

To see the the KBS broadcast, click here.

Reflections on the poverty report

UNCTAD Virtual Institute features launch of UNRISD report
The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Virtual Institute now features the launch of UNRISD’s 2010 flagship report on Combating Poverty and Inequality. The Virtual Institute displays two videos on the report’s launch at the Palais des Nations in Geneva on 3 September. Presentation slides accompany both videos.

Some highlights from media coverage of the report
Since the launch of the UNRISD 2010 Flagship Report, Combating Poverty and Inequality: Structural Change, Social Policy and Politics, on 3 September in Geneva, the report’s reach has gone global. The report has been presented in several countries worldwide and featured in major media outlets in print, radio and television. Below are excerpts from some of the mentions in the press and blogosphere.

Lebanon’s Daily Star quoted UNRISD Director Sarah Cook speaking at the report’s launch in Beirut: “Combating poverty and inequality is not just about having the right economic policies: it is also about pursuing comprehensive social policies and types of politics that elevate the interests of the poor in public policy.”

In The Global Times, a Sierra Leone newspaper, Lansana Gberie suggested that “the report’s original – and important – contribution to the debate on poverty” was “the idea that the state must play an active role in fashioning social policies that would reduce inequality, create employment opportunities, and remove inherent disabilities, like discriminatory cultural practices that, for example, limits educational opportunities for women.” This is in contrast to a weak state that depends on outside help to reach those in need.

In India, The Hindu said in an editorial, “The over-arching message from the report, which is important at a time when the global targets for poverty reduction appear elusive, is this: poverty and inequality are too serious issues to be left to the markets.”

The Curious Capitalist blog on the Time magazine website said that “the institute wisely criticized ongoing development efforts for not addressing certain key issues that could help uplift the poor in a sustainable way. Governments have been too focused on targeted social welfare programs and not enough on job creation.”

The director of Accountability, a global think tank on corporate responsibility and sustainable development, said in a think piece called AccountAbility Insights, “a report from the UN Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) has highlighted the limitations of ‘targeting’ as a development tool. Combating Poverty and Inequality maintains that discrete policy and targeting interventions, such as the MDGs, do not sufficiently tackle the underlying social and economic structures that allow poverty to persist. Economic growth needs to be supported by comprehensive and universal social policies.”


Agrarian debates and gender relations: “Now you see them, now you don’t”

Gender analyses of land tenure institutions have exposed the complex ways in which laws, customs, social norms, and power relations conspire to construct women as gendered subjects, sometimes excluding them from ownership and control of property, said UNRISD Research Coordinator, Shahra Razavi, at an international seminar on Du Grain à Moudre: Genre, Développement Rural et Alimentation at The Graduate Institute in Geneva on 28–29 October 2010.

Razavi highlighted the problematic nature of efforts to superimpose Western constructs of absolute and exclusive land rights on the more inclusive African systems of relative and “nested” rights. In such local-level management systems, a number of people and community groups may hold different rights to a piece of land. With formalization and privatization, most of those rights have been brought together and claimed by one person, a process in which women have tended to lose out. The fact that women enter the market system with no property, little cash income, minimal political power and a family to maintain works to their disadvantage.

Gender politics in international governance

There seems to be growing adherence to the view that if economic liberalization (both domestic and external) is to stay on course and not be derailed by social protest and simmering unrest, it needs to be “embedded” through social policies and anti-poverty programmes (that ostensibly seek to mend the ravages of neoliberal stabilization and restructuring). The effort to re-embed the economy through social policy has taken place without abandoning the neoliberal basics centred on economic liberalization, fiscal restraint, and a nimble state that facilitates the integration of people into the market. This has often meant the continued reproduction of gender and other social inequalities through markets and macroeconomic policies which, according to UNRISD Research Coordinator Shahra Razavi, are deeply gendered.

Razavi addressed a conference on Gender Politics in International Governance at The Graduate Institute in Geneva on 6–8 October 2010. This conference was co-organized by Humboldt University of Berlin, the State University of New York (Potsdam) and The Graduate Institute.


Annekathrin Ellersiek, visiting research fellow at UNRISD

Annekathrin is from Germany and is working on global justice activism and policy reform in Europe.

Tell us a little about your background.
I actually trained to be a psychologist. But during my studies I started volunteering for several human rights groups and became involved in joint projects with other NGOs and agencies on advocacy and campaigning. I became interested in the issue of organizing collective action among diverse organizations. This led me to do a PhD in Organization Studies at the University of Tilburg in the Netherlands. My PhD investigates the impact of different partnership governance forms on the effectiveness of partnerships between NGOs, public agencies and businesses in international development cooperation.

Can you tell us more about the research project you are working on with Peter Utting [UNRISD Deputy Director]?
Peter and I are editing a volume on NGO advocacy. The volume deals with the impact of civic justice activism on policy change, in and across different European and transnational contexts (which was the subject of an UNRISD paper I wrote with Jem Bendell). The aim of the project was to identify and compare these issues in the policy environment and within the internal organization of activist networks that can explain their impact (or lack thereof) on policy processes in several justice-related issue areas, such as trade, development, business transparency and accountability, debt and global taxation.

The purpose of the volume is to compare and analyze the status quo in light of the recent rise of international NGOs and advocacy networks. We are looking at activism from two perspectives. On the one hand, we place justice activism in an European context, comparing countries’ colonial/traditional trajectories and their impacts on justice-related advocacy. On the other hand, we compare different activist mobilizations with regard to the impact of variation in the organization and approaches to effectively engage with politics. The focus on the internal organization of civic advocacy networks directly relates to my research interest in the governance of networks.

Have European countries and NGOs been successful in applying international policy reforms?
There is still space for improvement in integrating and implementing cross-border and “universal” ideas and proposals for justice into policy and reform, in particular at the present when security issues dominate political agendas. The recent multiple crises seem to provide a basis for the development of new ideas and comprehensive proposals for change. However, the implementation of such proposals is a daunting task.


Gender research findings published in journal special issues

International Labour Review, Special Issue: Underpaid and Overworked–A Cross-National Perspective on Care Workers, Vol. 149, No. 4, December 2010
Edited by Shahra Razavi and Silke Staab This collection on care workers pays particular attention to developing country contexts where issues of worker insecurity and exploitation are most intransigent, and where research has been sparse and data challenges are often significant. It raises questions about who the care workers are, whether they are recognized as workers, how their wages compare to those of other workers with similar levels of education and skill, the conditions under which they work, and how their interests could be better secured.

Third World Quarterly, Special Issue: The Unhappy Marriage of Religion and Politics—Problems and Pitfalls for Gender Equality, Vol. 31, No. 6, 2010
Edited by Shahra Razavi and Anne Jenichen This special issue explores how religion as a political force shapes and deflects the struggle for gender equality in contexts marked by challenges of ethnic diversity, different state-society relations, and relations between state power and religion. It shows how “private” issues have become sites of intense public contestation between conservative religious actors wishing to regulate them, and feminist and other human rights advocates basing their claims on pluralist and time-and-context specific solutions.

See also Open Democracy .

Social Policy in Small States Series

The country case studies and thematic papers in this series, published jointly by UNRISD and the Commonwealth Secretariat, examine social policy issues facing small states and their implications for economic development.

Defining and Measuring Social Cohesion
Jane Jenson Social cohesion is a concept with multiple definitions and uses in the development community. Its general aim is to ensure that all citizens, without discrimination and on an equal footing, have access to fundamental social and economic rights. The author examines social cohesion concept in policy debates and assesses its role in social development.

Social Policies in Grenada
Patsy Lewis The author assesses developments in social policy approaches and delivery in the post-colonial period in Grenada, including the economic strategies pursued and their effects on social policy, particularly in respect of children. She looks at the challenges faced by governments and presents a brief case study of Hurricane Ivan as an instance for exploring community and national responses, resilience and innovation.

New UNRISD Programme Papers

Social Policy and State Revenues in Mineral-Rich Contexts
Leonith Hinojosa, Anthony Bebbington, Armando Barrientos and Tony Addison
Programme on Social Policy and Development, Paper No. 44

Claiming and Framing in the Making of Care Policies: The Recognition and Redistribution of Care
Fiona Williams
Programme on Gender and Development, Paper No. 13

Religion, Culture and the Politicization of Honour-Related Violence: A Critical Analysis of Media and Policy Debates in Western Europe and North America
Anna C. Korteweg and Gökçe Yurdakul
Programme on Gender and Development, Paper No. 12

Faith-Based Organizations and Service Delivery: Some Gender Conundrums
Mariz Tadros
Programme on Gender and Development, Paper No. 11

Social Movements and Poverty in Developing Countries
Anthony Bebbington
Programme on Civil Society and Social Movements, Paper No. 32


A 2004 UNRISD conference, Social Knowledge and International Policy Making, has led to a new Oxfam publication, Deconstructing Development Discourse: Buzzwords and Fuzzwords. In the preface, editor Deborah Eade writes that a presentation, “Taking on Board New Concepts and Buzzwords”, given by co-editor Andrea Cornwall at the conference, provided inspiration for the 320-page book. Deconstructing Development Discourse: Buzzwords and Fuzzwords is a compilation of 29 essays, all of which explore terms common to development.

UNRISD hosted a seminar on Social Pensions by Bethan Emmett and Astrid Walker-Bourne, Social Protection Advisors at HelpAge International, on 24 November. They focused on the roles and implications of universal social pensions using case studies from South America and Asia. They stressed that universal social pensions do not only have an impact on welfare, but on capital investment, social stability, human development and rural growth.

Former UNRISD Research Fellow, Imraan Valodia, has a book out: Taxation and Gender Equity: A Comparative Analysis of Direct and Indirect Taxes in Developing and Developed Countries.


United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD)
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