Covid-19: Inequalities. Vulnerabilities. Solidarities. Issue 51 May 2020
UNRISD is an autonomous institution within the UN system that carries out interdisciplinary research and policy analysis on the social dimensions of contemporary development issues.


The network that receives this eBulletin is based in almost every country in the world. Some of you will be staying at home, trying hard to continue work while protecting your families. Others will be active in your local communities, particularly those of you who provide support to vulnerable people and groups.

The Covid-19 pandemic has cast a shadow over almost the entire world, but the strains and tragedies that it wreaks in each country and community are very different. The virus has revealed and exacerbated pre-existing inequalities and fractures in all our societies. Government support in some countries has meant that families can afford to lock down, at least for the time being. In many others, it has demanded the impossible choice of risking life or livelihood. After the health crisis subsides, the economic crisis in many countries in the global South risks being the far greater tsunami.

The virus has actively discriminated—by age, ethnicity, gender, poverty, and pre-existing health conditions. It has created far more risk where vulnerabilities overlap. Migrants in India returning to their home states. Black, Asian and minority-ethnic patients and medical staff in the United Kingdom and United States, and other higher income countries. People living in informal settlements, slums, townships and refugee camps. Older people and those living with disabilities who can no longer access essential services. Women and children suffering abuse in homes they now cannot leave.

At whatever point of progression each of us stands in this pandemic, a principle that unites us must surely be to protect and support vulnerable people through the crisis and its aftermath. To stop people being left even further behind, in the language of the 2030 Agenda. This was the motivation for UNRISD to launch its survey on Covid-19 and vulnerable groups, to contribute analysis in real time that can inform policies that are sensitive to the needs of those at greatest risk.

We will be including all survey responses received by this Sunday night, 17 May, in our first round of analysis. If you have a chance to do so, please take some time to contribute based on your experience and expertise. In this way the analysis will be grounded in diverse realities and your contribution will help to make it as useful and relevant as possible.

In the meantime, please keep safe and well.


Evidence for Transformative Change: UNRISD Survey on Responses to Covid-19 and Vulnerable Communities

As mentioned in the editorial above, this week is your last chance to contribute to the first round of our global survey gathering data to analyse how well current government policies on Covid-19 in all countries and regions are responding to the needs of vulnerable people. We are closing the first round of responses in a few days, so we hope to hear from as many of you as possible. As reactions to the pandemic develop, we may launch a second round. Watch this space, and other UNRISD channels, for updates.

Contribute your expertise in English, French or Spanish, or use an online translator and contribute in a language of your choice. Pass the word on—we’re looking for as many responses as possible: you can retweet this social media post.

Deadline for the first round: Sunday 17 May (midnight CET)

In Memoriam – Thandika Mkandawire

Former UNRISD Director Thandika Mkandawire passed away on 27 March 2020 in Stockholm. An intellectual giant and a staunch advocate of developmentalism from and for the global South, he was well regarded, well known and well loved. He will be well and truly missed. Our In Memoriam highlights some of Thandika's significant contributions, many from his time as Director of the Institute, where his legacy lives on in our work. Also make sure to visit CODESRIA's online book of condolences and tributes for Thandika.

New UNRISD Blog Series: Covid-19 Response

The impacts of both the Covid-19 pandemic itself and the crisis response are very unevenly distributed. This blog series, launched in the first throes of the pandemic, explores those patterns of distribution, drawing on UNRISD’s vast body of social development research, and its network members, to provide evidence-based responses to the current crisis. Browse through the entries we have so far:

UN-SSE Knowledge Hub for the SDGs now Available in French, Spanish and Portuguese

How can the social and solidarity economy (SSE) contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? This is the question the SSE Knowledge Hub for the SDGs aims to answer by curating research and resources on the topic. Now available in three more languages, the Knowledge Hub is more accessible than ever to a wide range of audiences. Click on the new button “Change language” top right to access this fantastic resource in French, Spanish and Portuguese.

The SSE Knowledge Hub for the SDGs is an initiative of the UN Inter-Agency Task Force on Social and Solidarity Economy (UNTFSSE) and is implemented by UNRISD.

Two New Faces at UNRISD

UNRISD is pleased to announce the arrival of two new research analysts to strengthen our ranks: Sam Brülisauer has joined the team working on SSE in Geneva, focusing particularly on the Sustainable Development Performance Indicators project. A Swiss national, his research interests mainly centre around cooperatives and SSE. In Bonn, our new office has recruited Paramita Dutta, who is originally from India. She holds a Master's in Public Policy and comes to UNRISD from the UN System Staff College. We look forward to working with them and to discovering the talents they bring to their respective programmes!

New Face for the eBulletin

UNRISD’s eBulletin has looked the same way for nearly a decade now, and the time has come for an update. We want to make the most of this regular channel into your lives and inboxes, and you should see the results in our next missive. Can’t wait!


Covid-19 and the Rapid Transition to Virtual Events

As we all face the impacts of the global pandemic, most organizations have had to rethink their approach to events, and UNRISD is no exception. Some events scheduled for March had to be postponed at short notice, such as World Social Work Day. Others are being tentatively rescheduled for later in the year when, we hope, they can be held in person – with appropriate physical distancing in place. This is the case for our workshop on Financial Crises, Poverty and Environmental Sustainability, which is now planned for December, and will also include papers on the Covid-19 induced financial crisis.

Other events are going virtual, such as our participation at this year’s High-Level Political Forum, the UN body which reviews progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. Read about one of our contributions below. Preparations are still under wraps for a second activity, and if all goes well UNRISD will be co-hosting a workshop at the SDGs Learning, Training & Practice Sessions on just transitions towards green economies via social dialogue, together with the International Labour Office (ILO) and its Training Centre in Turin (ITCILO).

HLPF Virtual Thematic Consultation on Sharing Economic Benefits

UNRISD is a co-convenor of one of the six virtual consultations being held to prepare the thematic sessions of the 2020 HLPF. The online process (which replaces the face-to-face expert group meetings of previous years) brings together experts from within and outside the UN system. The theme of the consultation, "Sharing economic benefits", looks at addressing inequality within and among countries, decoupling growth from environmental degradation, and achieving sustainable development for future generations. The other co-convenors for this theme are the UN DESA Division for Sustainable Development Goals, the International Labour Organization, UN Women, and the World Bank. The consultation will bring together state-of-the-art knowledge on the theme in a concise document, and shape the actual panel discussion at the HLPF, including identification of speakers, key sub-topics and guiding questions.

Online Seminar on Socially Sustainable Development (in German)

UNRISD is pleased to have contributed to a highly successful learning activity which brought the Sustainable Development Goals to the German national, local and individual levels. Dunja Krause (Research Officer) and Gabriele Koehler (Senior Research Associate) took part in an online seminar organized by the United Nations Association of Germany (DGVN), titled Gerechte Nachhaltigkeit? Die UN-Ziele für nachhaltige Entwicklung & Wir. They contributed video lectures and spoke at the concluding interactive webinar, held on 8 and 9 May 2020, which included a fishbowl discussion and a virtual world café where participants could brainstorm everything from systemic change to individual actions for achieving the SDGs.


Research and Policy Brief

Measuring Corporate Sustainability: Towards Accounting Fit for the SDGs
Author(s): Peter Utting Despite several decades of concerted efforts to improve corporate sustainability reporting, fundamental questions remain about whether this reporting machinery is fit for purpose in the 21st century. The socio-economic impacts of Covid19 are likely to further increase the scrutiny of companies' actions.  This Brief casts into startling relief the gaps in the system that need to be changed if sustainability reporting is to assess the issues, indicators and targets that really matter from the perspective of sustainable development.

Look out for the full report, to be published soon, as part of the Sustainable Development Performance Indicators project.

Working Papers

Public Policies Enabling the Social and Solidarity Economy in the City of Montreal
Author(s): Marguerite Mendell, Nancy Neamtan, Hyuna Yi This paper describes the development of the social economy in Montreal from 2013 to 2019, which was characterized by an ongoing process of policy co-construction, spearheaded by a diversity of actors. The paper highlights the importance of adopting and maintaining an integrated, ecosystemic approach; of establishing relations based on partnerships and not on the subordination of the social economy to a political agenda or to public administrations; and of integrating the social economy into an overall vision of ecological and social transition in an urban setting.

From the project Promoting SSE through Public Policies: Guidelines for Local Governments.

Le processus d’appauvrissement des classes moyennes en Haïti et ses conséquences économiques et sociales

Author(s): Alrich Nicolas Cette étude analyse les causes de l’affaissement des classes moyennes d’ancienne souche et ses conséquences sur la dynamique sociale et économique enclenchée par la chute de la dictature des Duvalier en 1986. Le déclin des classes moyennes a facilité l’accès des élites économiques au contrôle des institutions étatiques. Selon l'auteur de cette étude, ceci a contribué à délégitimer l’Etat aux yeux des populations, à réduire considérablement l’influence des classes moyennes dans la définition de politiques publiques et à faire reculer le mouvement social.

From the project Overcoming Inequalities in a Fractured World: Between Elite Power and Social Mobilization.

Working Paper Series: Universities and Social Inequalities in the Global South

Inequalities in Higher Education Access and Completion in Brazil
Author(s): Tristan McCowan, Julio Bertolin This study analyses trends in access and completion in higher education in Brazil in the period 2000-2018. It reveals evidence of a rapid increase in availability of places since the late 1990s, as well as some improvements in accessibility thanks to quota policies in federal universities and loan and grant policies for private universities. Yet horizontal disparities of opportunity remain a major challenge within the system, with a preponderance of disadvantaged students in lower quality for-profit institutions, in degree courses with lower value on the employment market, and in distance education.

Climbing the Ladder: Determinants of Access to and Returns from Higher Education in Chile and Peru

Author(s): Anja Gaentzsch, Gabriela Zapata-Román This paper investigates the role that higher education has played for social mobility in Chile and Peru. It uses analysis of secondary data sources to assess educational attainment, distribution of students to different types of tertiary education (public/private; vocational and technical/university) and differentiated by groups (male/female; indigenous/non-indigenous; rural/urban), as well as labour market returns. The paper finds that circumstances beyond the control of individuals (parental education, ethnic background, geography) are strong predictors for access to higher education, as well as for the type of institution attended. Returns to higher education are generally high, but are strongly differentiated depending on the type of institution attended.

“A Public and a Private University in One”: Equity in University Attendance in Kenya since the Liberalization Reforms of the 1990s

Author(s): Rebecca Simson, J. Andrew Harris Critics have worried that a recent increase in privately funded university tracks in Kenya has undermined equity in access to university education. This paper brings new empirical evidence to these debates by analysing inequalities in university access in Kenya since the 1990s and shows that horizontal inequalities in university access—between ethnic and religious groups, and between women and men—have declined, while vertical, “class”, inequality is likely increasing.


From Science to Practice: Strengthening Research Uptake to Achieve the SDGs
Author(s): Maggie Carter In the face of compounding global challenges and the pressing and ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the need for evidence-based policy making informed by rigorous scientific research has never been greater. It is in this context that a consortium of research institutes, think tanks, governmental bodies and international organizations committed to strengthening International Geneva convened a two-day conference to discuss the barriers to research uptake and identify possible pathways to a transformed science-policy interface.

Publications by former UNRISD Visiting Fellow

Property, Institutions, and Social Stratification in Africa
Author(s): Franklin Obeng-Odoom In this book, Franklin Obeng-Odoom engages and systematically questions existing explanations of inequalities within Africa, and between Africa and the rest of the world, using insights from the emerging field of stratification economics. Drawing on multiple sources—including archival and historical material and a wide range of survey data—this distinctive approach combines key concepts in institutional economics, such as reasonable value, property, and the distribution of wealth, with other insights into Africa's development and underdevelopment. Franklin considers the continent-wide situation as well as experiences of inequalities within specific countries.

Franklin also recently contributed to a special issue of the African Review of Economics and Finance on COVID-19, Inequality, and Social Stratification in Africa (Volume 12, Issue 1; June 2020); you can read his editorial here.


Surging or Subsiding? How Mining Sector Booms Impact Female Empowerment

Author(s): Audrey Au Yong Lyn Mexico experienced a major mining boom as a result of the 2007-2008 global financial crisis, which produced sharp increases in the prices of precious metals mined in Mexico such as gold and silver. Mining is a male-dominated profession, so what happened to female welfare during the boom? This think piece discusses the results of a study of data from mining communities in Mexico before and during the boom on two significant determinants of female empowerment, namely intra-household decision making and intimate partner violence.


The Politics of Social Inclusion: Knowledge, Policies, Social Change

In this interview, we hear from some of the editors and contributors of The Politics of Social Inclusion: Bridging Knowledge and Policies Towards Social Change, a book that looks at concepts and processes of social exclusion and social inclusion. It traces a number of discourses, all rooted in a relational power analysis, examining them in the context of the UN Agenda for Sustainable Development 2030 with its commitment to “leave no one behind.”

Banner photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger on Unsplash


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