2. Social Protection, Inclusive Innovation and Development


Franziska Gassmann
Zina Nimeh

For a complete overview of all our research activities, publications and events, please visit the social protection website at: http://socialprotection.merit.unu.edu.

Around the world, over one billion people still live in extreme poverty, the distribution of  income is persistently uneven, and the magnitude of income disparities across countries remains large. Moreover, growing economic, social and technological inequalities and the marginalisation of certain groups in society may amplify recent trends of political and social polarisation within and between countries. Poverty, vulnerability, inequality and exclusion continue to be pressing global social challenges which require comprehensive inclusive human development initiatives in order to achieve equity and well-being in multiple – income and non-income – dimensions.

This research theme is concerned with two areas which play multiple and integral roles in the achievement of human development, and relate to the proximate, intermediate and ultimate sources of economic growth; namely Social Protection and Inclusive Innovation.

Our research in Social Protection goes beyond its more traditional interpretation. It also considers policies related to labour market participation, public health, education and policies of inclusion aimed at improving the lives of the poor and the realisation of equal opportunities.

It is widely acknowledged that social protection policies strengthen the resilience against economic, social and climate shocks, support growth and productivity and act as social stabiliser. Over the last decade a paradigm shift took place whereby policies to protect and improve the livelihoods of individuals, families, communities and societies are no longer seen as just a cost for an economy, but instead as a long-term social investment. This stems from the recognition that countries with well-functioning social protection systems (which include efficient and accessible social service delivery) appear to be the most effective in reducing poverty and inequality as well as promoting human development.

Just like access to proper social services, access to new technologies can play an important role in human development and economic growth. Our research on Inclusive Innovation also moves beyond the traditional, to not only address the needs of the poor and vulnerable through novel ways of (social) service delivery, but also through the potential of technological innovations to address key challenges that keep large parts of society in different parts of the world from improving their livelihoods. Research on the role of innovations for the poor and vulnerable considers to what extent new technologies lead to affordable access of the poor to basic goods and services. Innovative delivery platforms of essential commodities like water, sanitation and medicines, or mobile banking systems can directly benefit those at the bottom of the pyramid, create employment opportunities, improve public health, education and contribute to the overall development.

The analysis of the effectiveness of policies aimed at the reduction of poverty and inequality features prominently in this research agenda, both from an ex-ante and ex-post perspective. The focus is not only on a better understanding of which policies function best given a specific economic and social environment, but includes the critical assessment of the potential long-term effects of public and private investments; both from a socio-economic, public finance and human rights perspective.

Research under this theme is predominantly empirical, often at the micro level, and applies both quantitative and qualitative research methods in a complementary way. At the conceptual level, our research contributes to the theoretical and empirical understanding of the links between social protection, institutions and human development; it includes contributions to what different concepts of poverty, inequality and well-being mean, and how they can be measured in a given societal context.

The research group connects researchers with a diverse network of alumni and practitioners from all over the world.

1. The Economics of Knowledge and Innovation
2. Social Protection, Inclusive Innovation and Development
3. Economic Development, Innovation, Governance and Institutions
4. Sustainable Development, Innovation and Societal Transitions
5. Innovation Systems Indicators and Policy
6. Migration and Development
7. ICT-enabled Innovation and Societal Transformations
8. Population, Development and Labour Economics