The Covid-19 pandemic has presented an opportunity to examine which capacity deficits are truly structural and which might be overcome through a combination of technical assistance and political will, a recent event by the College of Public Policy (CPP) at Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU) was told.
The launch of the new Annual Social Policy Research Forum explored how lessons learned from social responses to the pandemic in the MENA region, and how they can translate into better social policies.
The first annual forum, organised by the Program for Social Policy Evaluation and Research (PROSPER), convened scholars to discuss the social policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic in the MENA region, which have been exacerbated and exposed by its economic and social consequences. They also explored the future of social policy and the social contract. The event was chaired by Dr Anis Ben Brik, associate professor at CPP and founding director of PROSPER.
Dr Ben Brik, who also moderated the discussions, said: “The pandemic is having profound social implications for the large majority of households and is testing MENA countries’ institutional and governance constraints.
“Our aim through these important discussions is to help inform institutional responses that can ensure we emerge from the pandemic having learned lessons that actually reshape the goals, design, and implementation of social policies. As an outcome of our first forum, participants will be contributing to a policy-oriented report that addresses the issues.”
Among the speakers were academics, researchers, social policy analysts, and experts from the London School of Economics, King’s College London, The American University in Cairo, the American University of Beirut, and the University of Rabat. Speakers also represented the United Nations Development Programme, Unicef Middle East and North Africa, the UN Economic and Social Commission for West Asia, the International Labor Organisation Regional Office for Arab States, the Arab Barometer, and the German Development Institute.
The research forum featured two sessions, commencing with “Social Policy Responses to the Pandemic in the Mena region”. Speakers explored the key factors that account for the variety of social policy responses across the region and the lessons that can be distilled. Examining the gaps in service delivery and inequalities that have been exposed, particularly among vulnerable populations hardest hit, policy responses and the role of social protection in mitigating Covid-19’s impacts came to the fore.
Session Two, titled “The Road Ahead,” examined what the welfare state and the social contract may look like after the pandemic and what steps governments should take today to ensure that lessons translate into better social policies.
Commenting on the launch of the Social Policy Research Forum, Dr Leslie Pal, founding dean of CPP, said: “The forum adds significantly to HBKU’s efforts as a research university to contribute to policy-focused responses to challenges. One of CPP’s roles is to facilitate dialogue that critically reflects on these challenges, and explore evidence-based solutions. The response to this outstanding forum will build momentum to engage with like-minded institutions in the social policy community regionally and globally to identify effective public policies.”