Issue No. 1 June 2010
In this Issue...
In the Headlines
UNRISD is an autonomous institution within the UN system that carries out multidisciplinary and policy-relevant research on the social dimensions of contemporary development issues.


Safeguarding capitalist economies more urgent than protecting human beings: The neglected dimensions of the global crisis

UNRISD Conference on Social and Political Dimensions of the Global Crisis: Implications for Developing Countries
12-13 November 2009, Geneva

View the speaker notes from the conference


Welcome to the first issue of the UNRISD e-Bulletin. This replaces the previous print edition of UNRISD News. It will initially be produced quarterly with the purpose of informing diverse audiences—in academia, civil society, the UN and government—about UNRISD research, events, publications and other activities, as well as commenting on current issues in the field of social development.

The contemporary global context offers the potential for paradigmatic change in the development field (as discussed at the UNRISD conference, Social and Political Dimensions of the Global Crisis reported below), but this potential may be eluding us. In response to multiple crises, policy alternatives are being tested which place employment, equity, social protection and environmental sustainability higher on national policy agendas. At the same time, a strong perception persists that the dominant response globally remains focused on shoring up the same institutions that created financial and economic havoc. Just as more resources are desperately needed to assist individuals, communities and economies in recovering from, and building resilience to, unprecedented levels of insecurity, those economies that can provide necessary resources are struggling to control their own fiscal deficits.

At least as important as resources, however, are the ideas and evidence for alternative approaches, and a commitment to test and implement them. The crisis in ideas reflects in part an underinvestment in types of research and research capacities, globally and particularly in the South, that recognize the value of diversity in ideas and policy choices that can be tailored to local conditions. Without both resources and alternatives that are informed by solid research and reliable evidence, the international community may miss this opportunity to give adequate weight to socially equitable and environmentally sustainable patterns of growth and recovery, in which economic growth is the mechanism for achieving core development goals such as well-being, equality and social justice, rather than an end in itself.

In this context of uncertainty, UNRISD is developing a new research strategy for 2010–2014, which will engage networks of institutions and scholars in numerous countries. We will continue to pursue research on policies and processes—in both the social and economic spheres—that contribute to improvements in social well-being, social relations and social institutions while reflecting the heightened insecurities linked to recent and ongoing crises. We will also focus on the political dynamics and institutional arrangements required for achieving progressive social change. In the coming months we will share with you further details of this agenda.

In September we will publish our flagship report on poverty reduction, titled Combating Poverty and Inequality, the outcome of a multi-year, multi-country research initiative on the effectiveness of different approaches to poverty reduction. The report will be launched prior to the MDG Summit and we hope it will contribute to discussions and debates, both on making progress to 2015 as well as on a longer term global poverty reduction agenda. The key messages of the research and report are highlighted in UNRISD Research and Policy Brief 10, which has also been issued as EC–ESA Policy Brief 1.

We welcome your comments on any aspects of this newsletter and our work.


Social protection will help vulnerable benefit from growth in Asia

Promoting Inclusive Growth through Social Protection
Appropriately designed social protection can provide a way out of poverty and promote more equitable growth, according to Sarah Cook, who was speaking at a seminar organized by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in Tashkent. Many social protection interventions focus on protection against specific shocks rather than addressing the underlying causes of vulnerability. Social protection can however be designed to achieve developmental outcomes. Citing Cook, an article published in The Economist (The Elusive Fruits of Economic Growth, 13 May 2010) said that inequalities and social exclusion have been seen as a residual outcome of necessary market-led growth. This approach, which prioritized getting markets right and then dealing with any remaining pockets of the poor, was called into question by persistent poverty and growing social exclusion.

Safeguarding capitalist economies or protecting people? The neglected dimensions of the global crisis

UNRISD Conference on Social and Political Dimensions of the Global Crisis: Implications for Developing Countries
The global crisis affected countries, communities and individuals in all parts of the world. The initial response was to stabilize the financial, at the cost of, especially in the North, overlooking policy solutions that emphasized social aspects. It is crucial to examine ways in which social implications can be integrated into policy and look at how relations of power can explain the crisis. An international conference, hosted by UNRISD in November 2009, aimed to better understand the social and political dimensions of this crisis and the subsequent policy and institutional reforms, as well as their implications for developing countries. A summary of the conference is available in an issue of UNRISD Conference News. An edited volume is forthcoming.

Listen to UNRISD podcasts from the conference.

Social integration is back

A recent resolution passed by the UN Commission for Social Development has put social integration firmly back on the UN agenda. This is the first time that the Commission has taken up this issue, reflecting current concerns with social development that had been sidelined for several decades by neoliberal policies. The recent global economic crisis and loss of confidence in the financial system have raised questions about this approach, and social development is once again clearly at the forefront. Two UNRISD researchers, Katja Hujo and Ilcheong Yi, have been involved in the ground-breaking work that has led to the drafting of this resolution. Yi presented a paper at the Expert Group Meeting on Social Integration: Policies to Promote Social Integration, held from 2–4 November 2009 in New York. Hujo drafted a background paper for an Expert Group Meeting on Social Integration—Practical Strategies to Promote Social Integration: Lessons Learned from Existing Policies and Practices, organized by DESA from 16–20 November 2009, in Accra, Ghana.


Looking at a post-MDG world: UNRISD’s flagship report on poverty

What accounts for the persistence of poverty when concern for its reduction has been high on the policy agenda? In September 2010, as world leaders gather for the MDG Summit intended to redouble efforts toward meeting the goals, UNRISD will launch its flagship report, Combating Poverty and Inequality. The report assesses contemporary approaches to poverty reduction, including those reflected in the MDGs and PRSPs. It provides important new evidence that should both contribute to national and international progress up to 2015, and also stimulate discussion of longer term poverty reduction strategies beyond this date.

UNRISD Web-Based Development Forum for G20

UNRISD has recently launched an online discussion forum as part of work relating to its Development Forum for G20—a set of activities that will also include a conference and TV debate, both of which will be held in Seoul, Republic of Korea in October 2010. We are inviting people interested in our work to participate in the online debate.

Seminar on human development in East and Southeast Asian economies

Guest speaker Minquan Liu, Chair of the Department of Economics and Director of the Center for Human and Economic Development Studies at Peking University, gave a seminar at UNRISD on “Human Development in East and Southeast Asian (ESA) Economies since 1990: A Review”. Liu talked about six areas he felt made for a successful human development strategy: agricultural and rural development; human capital formation/accumulation; inclusive urbanization to reduce dualism; cleaner industrialization; public participation and empowerment in decision making and governance; and closer regional and international cooperation.

Civil society, participation and democratic participation

Enrique Peruzzotti, a visiting research fellow at UNRISD, presented his research on civil society and the relationship between different forms of participation and democratic representation to UNRISD staff. According to Peruzzotti, there are three main conceptual approaches to the study of civil society and participation: the social capital model, the public sphere model and the pressure group politics model. Each of these approaches focuses on specific types of participation involving specific actors. By doing so, each provides a partial understanding of participation, which by itself is inadequate. A more differentiated theory of participation is needed to account for the diversity of civic initiatives that form civil society.

Does modernization lead inevitably to secularization?

According to an article on Religion, Politics and Gender Equality by Shahra Razavi, UNRISD Research Coordinator, religious actors, movements and idioms have gained renewed public and political visibility over the past three to four decades caused by a number of seemingly unrelated yet almost simultaneously unfolding developments, such as the 1979 revolution in Iran and the rise of Solidarnosc in Poland. She discusses how the narrative of declining faith and diminished public role for religion therefore seems to have had only a partial and localised significance, thereby questioning the grand predictions of sweeping secularization as the inevitable companion to modernization and development.

The relationship between religion and gender is highly controversial, among both scholars and public actors, and how the divisions among scholars are profound and often revolve around the question of whether religion is “good” or “bad” for the status of women in society, with often opposing arguments.

The article was published on the Open Democracy’s “50.50” website on Religion, Gender and Politics. The website, funded by the Heinrich-Böll-Foundation and the Dutch Humanist Institute for Cooperation with Developing Countries (HIVOS), is also supported by UNRISD and the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID).

For information on the UNRISD project on Religion, Politics and Gender Equality, click here.


Youssoufou Congo, visiting research fellow at UNRISD
Youssoufou is from Burkina Faso and is working on microfinance.

Tell us a little about your background.
I have two PhDs: one in agricultural economics from the National University of Côte d’Ivoire and one in economics from the University of Liège. I teach courses in monetary economics, statistics and applied mathematics at the University of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. I have been working on the issue of microfinance with a specific focus on microfinance institutions in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Can you tell us more about your work on microfinance institutions?
In December 2009, I conducted a survey on the performance of microfinance institutions in the Congo. I found that the institutions there are very successful in their spread—they tend to have a large number of clients. However, they are neither viable nor sustainable. This is due to several reasons: the personnel are not qualified; they do not have access to management tools; and they do not innovate. And to make it more difficult, the economic and social environment in the country, in terms of institutions, is not favourable.

What should be done to help microfinance institutions improve?
The first thing is capacity building: train the staff and provide the institutions with appropriate management tools. And improve the environment in which these institutions work.

What do you see as the three big challenges that face Africa today?
First, and most important, good governance. There can be no development unless there is an end to corruption and bad governance. Second, we need to change our mindset; we need to realize that we can rely on ourselves and not be dependent on aid. And third, we need to start thinking in the long term and not look only at short-term gains. It is crucial to manage well the resources that we do possess.



Combating Poverty and Inequality
Research and Policy Brief No. 10 Poverty reduction is a central feature of the international development agenda, including being one of the Millennium Summit goals. What then accounts for the persistence of poverty when concern for its reduction has been high on the policy agenda? In contrast to the experiences of countries that were successful in reducing poverty and inequality, contemporary poverty reduction strategies have increasingly focused on “targeting the poor”. Such approaches often fail to consider key institutional, policy and political dimensions that may be both causes of poverty and inequality, and obstacles to their reduction. UNRISD research shows instead that progress has occurred principally through state-directed strategies which combine economic development objectives with active social policies in ways that are mutually supportive.


Business, Politics and Public Policy: Implications for Inclusive Development
José Carlos Marques and Peter Utting (eds.) Globalization and liberalization have profoundly altered power relations, institutional arrangements and business strategies that historically engaged business as a partner in social development. Through conceptual and historical analysis, as well as case studies from Brazil, Chile, India, Mexico, Peru, Russia and South Africa, this collection examines the predominant means by which corporate interests directly and indirectly influence social, labour market and development policy, the reasons for their positions and the scope of their influence.

Corporate Social Responsibility and Regulatory Governance: Towards Inclusive Development?
Peter Utting and José Carlos Marques (eds.) This book assesses the global rise of private regulation and CSR from the perspective of social and sustainable development. By adopting a multidisciplinary lens, it looks at why the experience of CSR pales in comparison with the promise, what needs to be done to address “the intellectual crisis” of CSR, and the forms of corporate accountability and regulation that are more conducive to inclusive patterns of development.

Financing Social Policy: Mobilizing Resources for Social Development
Katja Hujo and Shea McClanahan (eds.) This book examines financing options that would contribute to social development, creating and strengthening sustainable social programmes that work together with economic policies. It also explores the economic, social and political implications and developmental impacts of a wide range of potential resources—including taxation, aid, mineral rents, social insurance, pension funds and remittances—for financing social policy in developing countries.


Why Care Matters for Social Development
Research and Policy Brief No. 9 Care work, both paid and unpaid, contributes to well-being, social development and economic growth. But the costs of providing care are unequally borne across gender and class. Families in all their diverse forms remain the key institution in meeting care needs. The challenge is to forge policies that support them and are grounded in certain key principles: recognize and guarantee the rights of care-givers and care-receivers; distribute the costs more evenly across society; and support professional, decently paid and compassionate forms of care. Care underpins social and economic development, yet arrangements for its provision in developing countries have been little studied. UNRISD research has begun to fill this gap.


The Changing Coordinates of Trade and Power in Latin America: Implications for Policy Space and Policy Coherence
Manuel Mejido Costoya, Peter Utting and Gloria Carrión
Markets, Business and Regulation Programme, Paper No. 7

Childcare Service Expansion in Chile and Mexico: For Women or Children or Both?
Silke Staab and Roberto Gerhard
Gender and Development Programme Paper No. 10

The Changing Shape of the Care Diamond: The Case of Child and Elderly Care in Japan
Aya Abe
Gender and Development Programme, Paper No. 9


United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD)
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