Sarah Cook Bids Farewell to UNRISD; UNRISD Classics; Events on Gender, Social Protection: Issue 24 June 2015
UNRISD is an autonomous institution within the UN system that carries out multidisciplinary research and policy analysis on the social dimensions of contemporary development issues.


My final e-bulletin contribution as Director of UNRISD provides a moment to reflect on almost six remarkable and challenging years.

For an academic researcher, UNRISD offers an extraordinary and privileged position from which to gain insights into the processes of the UN system and global policy making, and to engage with an international community of policy makers, practitioners, researchers and activists. Its unique status as an autonomous research body within the UN system gives the Institute a power and role well beyond its scale and resources – enabling it to convene and challenge, to shape debates and engage in policy dialogue, and to bring diverse and often marginalized viewpoints to the table. Its small scale and flexibility enable it to be responsive as well as to undertake more politically sensitive work "below the radar", contributing to critical analysis and diversity in perspectives that are essential for continued progress. These characteristics of the Institute, combined with the team of talented and committed staff, ensured that my time at UNRISD remained to the end exciting and rewarding.

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UNRISD Classics

UNRISD Classics is a set of three volumes—Social Policy and Inclusive Development, Gendered Dimensions of Development, and Revisiting Sustainable Development—that bring together 50 selected essays from 50 years of UNRISD research. The contributions both highlight some of the Institute’s most influential and ground-breaking research and, through new introductions, demonstrate its relevance to today’s development debates. The volumes on gender and sustainable developmnet are available online; the one on social policy will be published in the coming weeks.

Volume II: Gendered Dimensions of Development
Compiled and introduced by Shahra Razavi and Silke Staab UNRISD's research over the last half-century has lent a voice to those who believe that sustainable development, social justice and gender equality are more than a pipe dream. At a moment when a "new" global consensus is in the making, UNRISD research on gender and development provides important insights for those who believe that it is necessary to push the boundaries of political discourse beyond its current focus on economic growth and poverty reduction toward a broader understanding of development that includes human well-being, equity, sustainability, democratic governance and social justice.

Cover art: The Silent One by Sana Jamlaney (India), chosen from UNRISD's Visions of Change call.

Volume III: Revisiting Sustainable Development
Compiled and introduced by Peter Utting Over five decades, a significant body of UNRISD research has examined the challenge of better integrating economic, social and environmental dimensions of development, and understanding the relationship between social development and environmental change. From this body of work emerge numerous insights related to social, political and structural dimensions of environment and social change that can inform contemporary discussions and debates. This work is particularly important now, as the international development community is thinking about the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals.

Cover art: Human Natureby Kuros Zahedi (Iran), chosen from UNRISD's Visions of Change call.

Research Papers

Transnational Social Movements in ASEAN Policy Advocacy: The Case of Regional Migrants’ Rights Policy
Jenina Joy Chavez This paper examines how two transnational social movements (TSMs) egage with ASEAN. The two TSMs studied are the Migrant Forum in Asia, which already engages in international processes while also focusing on ASEAN, and the Task Force on ASEAN Migrant Workers, which was formed to respond specifically to newly opened regional spaces. The paper looks at how the TSMs respond to the emerging political opportunity structure and explores the dynamics of "going regional" from different approaches, as well as potential and actual impacts on shaping policy in ASEAN.

Oil Rents, Policy and Social Development
Franklin Obeng-Odoom This paper arugues that the way Ghana uses its oil rents—primarily on road construction and maintenance, loan financing, agricultural modernization and capacity building—may not necessarily be the most effective for socioeconomic development. It shows that channelling oil rents into an alternative holistic social energy programme would drive sustainable social change through energy security and sovereignty, the creation of green jobs, and the reduction of actual and perceived income, wealth and gendered inequalities in the country in a way that makes such social change both desirable and feasible.

Working Papers

The PDRM Project in the Context of the 2015 Finance for Development Debate
Nathalie Both This literature review serves as a background paper to the UNRISD project Politics of Domestic Resource Mobilization for Social Development (PDRM). It defines key points made by actors participating in Finance for Development debates, including the World Bank, the United Nations and developing countries themselves. It aims to better understand how their positions on the post-2015 Financing for Development debate, and in particular, on domestic resource mobilization, relate to the aims and findings of the UNRISD PDRM project.

Mining and Resource Mobilization for Social Development: The Case of Nicaragua
Hilda María Gutiérrez Elizondo This paper seeks to contribute to the global debate on the political and institutional contexts that enable impoverished countries to mobilize domestic resources for social development and to improve understanding of the politics of domestic revenue mobilization from the mining industry and resource bargains in developing countries. It analyses the potential impact of mining on resource mobilization for social development in Nicaragua by using two entry points: economic benefits of mining, and political and institutional aspects.

Universalizing Health Care in Brazil: Opportunities and Challenges
Ana Luiza d'Ávila Viana, Hudson Pacífico da Silva and Ilcheong Yi This paper explains the development of the Brazilian Unified Health System (SUS) within a hybrid development policy regime of neoliberal and new developmentalist policies. Focusing on three key dimensions of health system development in the Brazilian federative context, namely regionalization of health care, financing and public-private partnership, this paper highlights the opportunities and challenges in moving towards a universal health care system in a context of great regional inequality, chronic underfunding and complicated relations between the public and private sectors.


Aiding Social Transfers in Low-Income Countries: Is There a Catalytic Effect?
Cécile Cherrier Non-contributory social transfers have great potential to tackle poverty and inequality and to support inclusive socioeconomic development. However, they also represent a long-term financial commitment, and in environments where they are most needed, the state does not always have the necessary resources. To remedy this, foreign aid actors have been allocating resources to support the expansion of social transfers in low-income countries. This brief, co-published with the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth, looks at how foreign aid affects the mobilization of domestic resources in low-income countries.

The UNRISD working paper on which the brief is based has generated a lot of interest among practitioners and was used in a video discussion among DFID offices in London, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Tanzania and Uganda about the political economy of building social protection systems.One of the participants referred to the papers as,"the best overview of political economy and social protection issues in Africa".

Articles by UNRISD Staff

--UNRISD Research Coordinator Valeria Esquivel, "El cuidado: de concepto analítico a agenda política." Nueva Sociedad, La economía invisible: Feminismo, cuidados y poder, no. 256.
--UNRISD Gender Expert Andrea Kaufmann, with Katharina Heitz Tokpa and Franzisca Zanker, "The Ebola Outbreak in Comparison: Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire", German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA).
--UNRISD Senior Research Fellow Magdalena Sepulveda, "Beyond Legal Empowerment: Improving Access to Justice from the Human Rights Perspective", The International Journal of Human Rights, 19(3); 242-259.
--UNRISD Visiting Fellow Franklin Obeng-Odoom, "The Social, Spatial, and Economic Roots of Urban Inequality in Africa: Contextualizing Jane Jacobs and Henry George." The American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 74(3):550-586; and
"Africa’s Development Post 2015: A Critical Defence of Postcolonial Thinking, Journal of Pan African Studies, 8(1), 37-45.
--Former UNRISD Deputy Director Peter Utting, "Corporate Social Responsibility and the Evolving Standards Regime: Regulatory and Political Dynamics." In Kiyoteru Tsutsui and Alwyn Lim (eds.), Corporate Social Responsibility in a Globalizing World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Bringing Southern Voices into the International Domain: UNRISD Researchers Share Expertise on Women’s Claims Making

6-8 July, Norwich, and 8-10 July, Geneva After the success of the side-event at the 59th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the team of the UNRISD project When and Why Do States Respond to Women’s Claims? is back with two more events, this time bringing the researchers from the country teams to international fora to present and discuss their findings. At the International Gender Conference: Gender Relations and Rising Inequalities organized by the University of East Anglia, the teams will be participating in a panel on Feminist Mobilization and Policy Change. The teams will also participate in a special session on Domestic Workers: Claiming Labour Rights during the Fourth Conference of the Regulating for Decent Work Network, hosted by the ILO.


Substantive Equality for Women: Connecting Human Rights and Public Policy

15 June 12015, Geneva UNRISD co-organized this workshop with UN Women and the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights to help bridge the gap between global human rights norms and concrete policies on the ground. The workshop brought together key individuals from human rights bodies, UN agencies, civil society and academia who have worked on gender, economic and social rights.

A Global Policy Laboratory: Reforming Pensions in Developing and Transition Countries

12 May 2015, Geneva Pension systems are one of the most dynamic areas of social policy reform. But what is their developmental role? How does pension reform contribute to poverty reduction and social development? What are the reform trends, toward which models of pension policy, and what drives them? In this UNRISD seminar, Katja Hujo, Fred Hendricks and Markus Loewe discussed the pension system reform strategies and outstanding challenges of powerful emerging markets, as well as selected countries in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Latin America. The seminar drew on the book Reforming Pensions in Developing and Transition Countries, edited by Katja Hujo and co-published with Palgrave. A brief based on the book is forthcoming.

Social and Solidarity Finance: Tensions, Opportunities and Transformative Potential

11-12 May 2015, Geneva This workshop brought together an interdisciplinary group of around 25 experts—in the fields of alternative finance, economic sociology and the anthropology of money—to look at the transformative potential of social and solidarity finance from a South-South and triangular cooperation perspective at a time when financing for development and the post-2015 sustainable development agenda are high on the UN’s list of priorities.The event was co-organized with the International Labour Office and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.

The Power of Knowledge: UNRISD Classics Launch

15 April 2015, Geneva We launched the UNRISD Classics (see Publications section above) with a panel of dynamic speakers who engaged with the role of research in development policy and practice, and, more broadly, how ideas have influence. The legacy of UNRISD research over the past 50 years served as a backdrop and as an inspiration for reflection and discussion. Panellists were Bina Agarwal, Jimi Adesina and Charles Gore, with introductory remarks by Maureen O’Neil, Sarah Cook and Olivier Bürki. Ilcheong Yi moderated the panel.

Watch the video.
Listen to the podcast.

When Women Govern Forests: From a History of Absence to the Impact of Presence

14 April 2015, Geneva In this seminar, co-organized with the Graduate Institute, Bina Agarwal examined the difference women make by participating in forest governance institutions, and how their participation affected decisions on forest use and outcomes for conservation. She drew on her recent book, Gender and Green Governance, which is based on significant field work undertaken in India and Nepal.


Road to Addis and Beyond

We have a new series of short essays, The Road to Addis and Beyond Series, that engages with current Financing for Development debates. The series is being launched to coincide with the third and final drafting session of the outcome document of this summer's Third International Conference on Financing for Development. A series of Research Notes summarizes highlights and key findings from the ongoing UNRISD project on the Politics of Domestic Resource Mobilization for Social Development. They are complemented by a Think Piece series discussing a range of topics largely not covered in the research project on how to fund social development and raising provocative or alternative perspectives that can generate further ideas and debates.

Watch the video.

Donors Express Support for UNRISD

We had an intense week of activities in April, with the launch of the UNRISD Classics, a seminar on women and forestry, a meeting with our current and potential donors, and our annual Board meeting. On 15 April, donors met with UNRISD to discuss the Institute’s strategic direction over the coming five years and to explore options for further consolidating the Institute's position. It followed on from a stakeholder meeting in September 2014. Donors were supportive of UNRISD’s new research agenda and recognized the Institute’s convening power and valuable capacity-building role.

Magdalena Sepúlveda at Post-2015: Social Protection for All Conference

UNRISD Senior Research Fellow Magdalena Sepúlveda attended Post-2015: Social Protection for All, a conference hosted by the ILO and Belgium's Federal Public Service in Brussels on 27 April. The meeting identified ways to ensure that a rights-based approach to social protection is an integral part of the post-2015 agenda. Magdalena Sepúlveda appeared on an expert panel where the discussion focused on links between social protection and post-2015 goals such as combating poverty and inequality, and inclusive economic growth, with a target of universal social protection by 2030.

Visit the new Social Protection and Human Rights platform.

Ilcheong Yi Participates in Special Technical Panel for Ministerial Meeting in Timor-Leste

UNRISD Research Coordinator Ilcheong Yi attended the 13th Meeting of the Community of Portuguese-Speaking Countries (CPLP) Ministers of Labour and Social Affairs. This year’s meeting, entitled The Extension of Social Protection to All and Relations with the Labour Market, Promoting Development and the Fight against Poverty, was held on 27 April-1 May in Timor-Leste. Ilcheong Yi's presentations proposed alternative strategies for tackling poverty and achieving social development, supported by evidence from UNRISD research, particularly relevant to Timor-Leste as a newly formed state. Among the key messages was that social policy is a transformative and productive instrument in enhancing macroeconomic and industrial policy.

International Expert Meeting on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to Social Protection

Access to social security is a crucial element of inclusive societies. For persons living with disabilities, it plays an especially important role in providing an adequate standard of living and basic income security, thereby reducing vulnerability and levels of poverty. This expert meeting brought together policy makers, researchers, and practitioners to explore best practices and opportunities for collaboration, discuss the coordination of social protection systems, examine the role of special programmes geared towards persons with disabilities and discuss states' challenges in ensuring the right to social protection. The meeting fed into the report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities for the UN General Assembly's session later this year.

Visit the new Social Protection and Human Rights platform.

Why Time Matters in Agriculture-Nutrition Pathways

UNRISD Research Coordinator Valeria Esquivel (and former Visiting Research Fellow Imraan Valodia) provided expert advice for a recent systematic review on agriculture, time use and nutrition. For a short article on the findings, read Why time matters in agriculture-nutrition pathways on the IFPRI website. The findings of this systematic review confirm previous conclusions about the gendered nature and impact of agricultural practices and interventions, contradict the assumption that rural residents in low- and middle-income countries have surplus labour time, and yield mixed evidence on the nutritional implications of agricultural practices and interventions.


Collective Empowerment? Producer Cooperatives versus Women’s Groups in Kenyan Ethical Trade

Kiah Smith Part of the rationale behind fair and ethical trade is to improve the economic empowerment of smallholder farmers in the South, but also contribute to environmental sustainability, more equitable trading and decision-making relationships, and often, gender equality. However, the extent to which women’s participation in particular schemes contributes to their empowerment is highly variable. This think piece considers in particular the extent to which women’s empowerment is enhanced or reduced through their participation in ethical and fair trade decision-making structures, such as producer cooperatives, as well as other collective strategies, such as women’s groups. This Think Piece was published in conjunction with the UNRISD conference "Potential and Limits of Social and Solidarity Economy".

Low Oil Prices and New Departures in Saudi Arabian Social Policy: A Promising Sign for Development?

Ben Craven As a major oil exporter, Saudi Arabia has been facing an economic downturn since petroleum prices began to drop in 2014. Yet social programmes have managed to remain largely unaffected, benefiting from a combination of political necessity and improved fiscal policy. If this paradigm is maintained, it could bode well for development in the kingdom.

The Road to Addis and Beyond

Bridging the Gap: Sovereign Wealth Funds and Financing for Development
Sven Behrendt Sovereign wealth funds (SWFs), government-owned investment vehicles, have become substantial players in the global financial architecture. As such, they are considered a potential source of financing for sustainable development. For the time being, however, sustainable development is not a theme that is represented prominently, if at all, in SWFs’ investment policies. That can only change if the sustainable development agenda’s cause is framed in the policy context in which SWFs operate.

Let’s Walk Our Talk: Making Concrete Commitments on Financing the Sustainable Development Agenda
Inge Kaul and Donald Blondin There is concern that the Third Financing for Development (FfD) Conference is likely to produce another long list of declarations of intent, statements on what one might wish to consider or what should ideally be done—but few concrete commitments on who will deliver what means of implementation (MOI) and by when. If the FfD Conference is to produce more than just a non-committal piece of paper, it must meet a twofold challenge and do so in the next few days. It must (i) close the "specificity gap" by moving from declarations of intent to concrete, actionable MOI commitments; and (ii) close the "ambition gap" by identifying the MOI issues that are of strategic relevance to the successful implementation of the Post-2015 Agenda.

Talking about Women's Rights: 20 Years after the Beijing Platform for Action

20 Years of Shamefully Scarce Funding for Feminists and Women’s Rights Movements
Lydia Alpízar Durán For decades, the women’s rights movement and organizations have been severely underfunded. AWID research in 2010 revealed that the median annual budget for 740 women’s organizations all over the globe was USD 20,000, compared to Save the Children International (USD 1.442 billion) and World Vision International (USD 2.611 billion). This is in spite of recent research which proves what feminists and activists have known for a long time—that women’s movements have been the key drivers defending women’s human rights and gender justice worldwide. As the world commemorates the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Conference this year, creates theSDGs, and holds the 3rd International Conference on Financing for Development, it is critical to remember that real systemic impact for women’s rights needs significant resources.

Twenty Years after Beijing: Re-evaluating Policy Engagements with the State?
Kalyani Menon-Sen Two decades after Beijing, the Indian balance sheet on feminist efforts at policy influencing is blotched with red. Gains on the social policy front have more often than not been neutralized by economic policies. Past advances are being rolled back as the government moves to insulate policy making from public scrutiny. Is it time for feminists to walk away from the policy table and join the struggles and movements that are challenging neoliberalism on the streets.

Eliminating Sex Discrimination at Work: Recent Court Decisions since Beijing+20
Jane Hodges A fresh way of assessing outcomes of the "Women and the Economy" section of the Beijing Platform for Action is to track how national judicial systems are enforcing the new generation of labour laws. This think piece look at how courts have reacted to the profound changes of the past years concerning sex discrimination at work, and complaints lodged relating to any one particular area of employment discrimination law. It also asks whether international labour standards (ILS) inform judges as they assess the facts and evidence within domestic legal frameworks, and suggests what might be done to improve matters in the future.


Katja Hujo Talks about the Road To Addis and Beyond

UNRISD Senior Research Coordinator Katja Hujo introduces the Road to Addis and Beyond series and how it contributes to the financing for development debates. Listen to her views on how the ideas conveyed in the series, such as the political dimensions of aid and domestic resource mobilization, and the need to connect financing debates with social policy, should be taken up during the Third Financing for Development conference to be held in July 2015.

Watch the video

Global Goals as National Goals: Lost in Translation?

The video and podcast of the UNRISD Seminar with Charles Gore on the MDGs are now available. In the seminar, Charles Gore argued that although the MDGs were important as shared goals, the misunderstood translation of those global goals into national goals shifted responsibilities and national priorities. As a result, the poorest and least powerful countries in the world made the most national effort to achieve the goals, with some damaging outcomes. According to Charles Gore, it is important that the SDGs not be misunderstood in the same way.

Watch the video.
Listen to the podcast.

The Power of Knowledge: UNRISD Classics Launch

The video and podcast of the launch of the UNRISD Classics are now available. Panellists were Bina Agarwal, Jimi Adesina and Charles Gore, with Ilcheong Yi moderating. Maureen O’Neil, Olivier Bürki and Sarah Cook made introductory remarks. Speakers discussed the role of research in development policy and practice, and, more broadly, how ideas have influence.

Watch the video.
Listen to the podcast.

Women's Mobilization for Gender-Egalitarian Policy Change in the 20 Years since Beijing: A Side Event at the Commission on the Status of Women

The video and podcast of the side event, co-organized with Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung—New York Office, are now available. Speakers include Nitya Rao, Anne-Marie Goetz, Rob Jenkins and Elisa Vega Sillo, with UNRISD Research Coordinator Valeria Esquivel chairing.

Watch the video.
Listen to the podcast.

Banner photo: Suroor Alikhan


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