1963-2018 - 55 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Social Policy and Development

Social Policy as a Key to Sustainable Development

  • Project from: 2010 to 2011

This research, commissioned by the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ), was an opportunity for UNRISD to provide guidance and practical advice on the relevance of social policy and sustainable social development for the conceptual, strategic and practical work of development cooperation agencies.

The Research Issue in Context
For a long time, the social dimensions have been marginalized in mainstream approaches to development. However, policy shifts since the mid-1990s have drawn attention to the importance of social sectors and policies for economic development strategies, recognizing, for example, the contribution of social expenditures to human capital formation, macroeconomic stabilization, productivity and growth.

It is important to build on this to advance the way “the social” is integrated into development thinking and practice, with regard to both the instrumental and the intrinsic value of social policy—the latter grounded in the recognition that social security and access to basic social services are fundamental human rights. Challenges in achieving this integration are manifold: they include balancing social and economic investments in ways that foster sustainable development outcomes; creating equitable and sustainable financing mechanisms for social policies; expanding coverage of social services and social protection programmes and improving their quality, efficiency and democratic governance; and creating the political support and participatory institutions to guarantee the long-term stability and responsiveness of policies and institutions.

Research Objectives and Questions
  • Build stronger partnerships between academic research, United Nations organizations and bilateral development cooperation agencies.
  • Provide practitioners with some key basic assumptions and recent research findings in the area of social policy and development in order to equip them with sound evidence and clear analytical concepts that can contribute to the quality and effectiveness of their work.

The report draws conclusions and recommendations from UNRISD research, in particular the 2010 Flagship Report on Poverty and Inequality. It analyses social policy approaches in international organizations through available literature (theoretical/conceptual, as well as policy documents and reports) and publications from the UN Intellectual History Project. It also incorporates discussions, presentations and results from working groups from the workshop held in 2010 in Berlin (see Outputs).

Outputs and Activities
The main output is a paper, submitted to GIZ, titled Social Policy for Sustainable Social Development: Implications for Policy and Practice.

The paper is divided into three sections:
  • Section 1 analyses the content and evolution of different social policy approaches and their relationship with development models. It describes the role of different actors in the international development community in shaping these approaches as well as global initiatives such as the MDGs, the Decent Work Agenda and the Social Protection Floor.
  • Section 2 delves more deeply into specific thematic areas related to social policy, such as labour markets, social protection and social services, governance and institutions, civil society and participation, gender and care work, migration, financing and climate change.
  • Section 3 explores implications for development policy and practice and presents some conclusions and areas for future work.

Expert meeting on Social Policy Perspectives,13 December 2010, GIZ, Berlin, jointly organized by GIZ and UNRISD.
Panel discussion at a public symposium on Social Policy in a Social Market Economy: A Success Model for Countries in the South?, 13 December 2010, GIZ, Berlin.

The results of the workshop and symposium are to be summarized in a workshop report, forthcoming from GIZ.

This activity was commissioned and funded by the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ).