1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Improving Knowledge on Social Development in International Organizations: First Annual Retreat, Bellagio

Date: 7 - 8 Nov 2000



In the future, the comparative advantage of international organizations will rest far more on their capacity to generate ideas and to shape the normative framework for development than on their ability to transfer resources. Yet existing arrangements for improving the knowledge base of the United Nations system are clearly inadequate. There is presently far too little exchange of information among international organizations, despite the fact that almost all of them have significant research budgets and generate important new insights on problems within their sphere of competence. Moreover, communication between most multilateral institutions and the academic community is weak. And although high-level officials are bombarded with information from many quarters, they rarely have an opportunity to discuss central concerns about the direction or pace of change with colleagues in other agencies.

One way to improve the flow of information among United Nations officials with an interest in social development research is to bring them together from time to time in an informal setting, where substantive questions of world development can be discussed outside the context of formal inter-agency meetings. The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) took a first step in this direction in early November 2000 when it sponsored a three-day retreat at the Bellagio Centre in northern Italy.

Fifteen high-level officials seized this opportunity to exchange views on issues they considered central to social development in the coming decade. Participants came from the ILO, UNCTAD, UNDP, UNESCO, UNHCHR, UNIFEM, WHO and the United Nations Secretariat, as well as from the Economic Commissions for Africa, Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Middle East. Each prepared a short note about major lines of work in his or her institution, which was circulated to colleagues before the meeting. UNRISD used these notes to prepare a document pointing out common areas of concern and asking questions about underlying assumptions and methodologies.

Using this common framework, participants exchanged views on the enabling environment for development, paying considerable attention to issues of debt, taxation, development assistance and social spending. They discussed the implications of global liberalism for poverty, equity and growth, and analysed some of the key political underpinnings of the current global order. Consensus emerged that annual, joint seminars would be a valuable tool for improving knowledge for social development in international organizations. It was agreed that each seminar would focus on a single theme, for which a small number of papers by eminent scholars would be commissioned.

This meeting was funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. For a full report on this event, please click the Related Information link on the right, then select Conference News from the list of publications.