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United Nations Research Institute for Social Development

The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) is an autonomous research institute within the UN system that undertakes multidisciplinary research and policy analysis on the social dimensions of contemporary development issues.
United Nations Research Institute for Social Development
Leadership team

Paul Ladd (Paul Ladd)

Azita Berar Awad (Chair of the Board, Iran)

Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim (Board Member, UAE)

Ha-Joon Chang (Board Member, Republic of Korea)

Olivier De Schutter (Board Member, Belgium)

Graziella Moraes Silva (Board Member, Brazil)

Godwin Murunga (Board Member, Kenya)

Imraan Valodia (Board Member, South Africa)

Headquarters
Geneva
Region served
worldwide
Year stablished
1963
Address
Palais des Nations, Geneva, 1211, CH
Social Media
Summary

The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) is a research institute established in 1963 with the mandate of conducting policy-relevant research on social development that is pertinent to the work of the United Nations Secretariat, regional commissions and specialized agencies, and national institutions. UNRISD collaborates with researchers and institutions in its global network to co-design research and co-produce knowledge. The Institute's work takes a holistic, multidisciplinary and political economy approach.

UNRISD's location within the United Nations system gives it unique entry points for bringing knowledge into development thinking, policy, and practice. The Institute engages in transdisciplinary collaboration with researchers, policy actors, advocates, and practitioners to build synergies across all stakeholders, ensuring that research is relevant, evidence is robust, and findings are tailored for uptake by the development community to effect change.

The global network of researchers mobilized by UNRISD is estimated to be 420 researchers, of whom nearly 40% are from the global South, and nearly 50% are women. The majority of collaborating researchers are commissioned on the basis of open competitive processes. The Institute also works with country-level research teams to ensure that empirical findings are grounded in local realities, build research capacity, and knowledge.

Researchers in UNRISD's network have access to rich networking opportunities, activities such as methodology workshops and interdisciplinary analysis, which open up new methods and debates, and a platform for raising the visibility of their work on the global stage and bringing their knowledge into the United Nations system. UNRISD's work has a far-reaching impact and has helped shape debates, frame policies and approaches, and guide policy makers and practitioners in their efforts to combat poverty, inequalities, injustice, and unsustainable practices and to achieve more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable development outcomes.


History

The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) was founded in 1963, thanks to the efforts of Nobel Laureates Jan Tinbergen and Gunnar Myrdal, who understood that neglecting social issues in development thinking and practice would undermine the development project itself. They recognized the importance of an independent research function at the heart of the UN, separate from advisory and operational work but able to feed directly into "action programmes of the United Nations system." UNRISD was granted autonomous status within the UN system by then Secretary-General U Thant to ensure that it could freely conduct critical research, even on politically sensitive issues. In its early years, UNRISD focused on developing social indicators to measure development, including not just economic growth but also social factors such as nutrition, health, and education. UNRISD was also interested in cooperatives as a tool for development, which produced some controversial results.

As global population growth became a key topic in development during the 1970s, UNRISD focused on the so-called Green Revolution, the introduction of newly bred high-yield grain seeds to increase food production. UNRISD took a critical view and highlighted the fact that the quantity of food available was only one factor in ensuring populations in developing countries were not subject to hunger. Power inequalities impacting the distribution of foodstuffs played a key role in determining who got enough to eat and who did not. UNRISD continued to grow in size during the 1980s, and its remit diversified to cover popular participation and refugee issues, gradually leaving some of its early preoccupation with statistics behind.

In the 1990s, UNRISD thrived, and it addressed a wide range of topics, ranging from political violence to the socioeconomic impact of illicit drugs. Globalization in the modern era and structural adjustment programs in developing countries brought about social crises, which UNRISD researched and criticized. It argued that unregulated markets required a healthy public sector and stable governance to function properly. Environmental issues also took root in development debates during this decade. UNRISD's take was typically critical, as it argued that whatever the benefits of conservation, it was often happening at the expense of social justice and the livelihoods of minorities.

In the 2000s, as globalization continued apace and social dimensions began to be reintroduced in the face of the sometimes catastrophic impacts of wide-ranging economic liberalization, UNRISD criticized a narrow social policy focus on safety nets and the targeting of vulnerable groups. Instead, it argued in favor of universal transformative social policy. In the 2010s, the adoption of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development by UN member states in 2015 established a new global roadmap for development. UNRISD continued to work on social policy, often in conjunction with questions related to the 2030 Agenda. It also took up the new issue of the social and solidarity economy (SSE) and its contribution to sustainable development. Despite challenges, UNRISD has remained true to its founding vision of independent research on social issues directed towards policymaking and responsive to changes in the global context, and it continues to play a crucial role in shaping development policy at the UN and beyond.


Goals and Purpose

The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) has the overarching goal of promoting social equity, inclusion, and justice in development. The institute aims to achieve this goal by focusing on the social aspects and impacts of development processes that are often overlooked in traditional development approaches. UNRISD recognizes the importance of social institutions, relations, and actors in shaping development policies and pathways, and aims to shed light on these aspects through its research and activities.

In addition to its research focus, UNRISD is also committed to engaging policymakers, civil society actors, and researchers from around the world in generating and sharing knowledge related to social development. By doing so, the institute aims to influence policy both within and beyond the UN system, ensuring that social considerations are taken into account in development decision-making at all levels.

UNRISD also recognizes the importance of building research capacity in developing countries. The institute aims to collaborate with individuals and institutions in these countries, providing opportunities for collaborative inquiry and strengthening research capacity.

Finally, UNRISD provides a platform for the exchange of ideas and alternative policy options. The institute aims to give voice to marginalized viewpoints and challenge mainstream development thinking. By doing so, UNRISD hopes to contribute to the development of more socially equitable, inclusive, and just societies.


Impact

The United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) has a significant impact on shaping social development policies, practices, and approaches. Their research provides evidence-based insights that guide policy makers and practitioners in their efforts to combat poverty, inequalities, injustice, and unsustainable practices. UNRISD's location as a research institute within the UN family provides unique opportunities to inform and influence development thinking, policy, and practice. They interact with a variety of UN bodies, provide advice to the UN Secretariat, and have channels into national policy-making through their relationship with UN inter-governmental bodies.

UNRISD's cutting-edge work on the social and political economy of care helped position unpaid care work in the Sustainable Development Goals. They identified persistent and growing inequalities as one of the main barriers to poverty reduction, which is now a key driver behind Agenda 2030. Their research also influences regional policies, as seen in the African Union Commission's Social Policy Framework for Africa, which drew inspiration from UNRISD's work on social policy in a development context.

Thanks to their position at the heart of the UN system, UNRISD has channels to bring empirical evidence from their global research networks to member states, such as via side events at intergovernmental meetings. This research uptake has led to significant impacts on policy-making, as policy decision-makers and advocates alike use UNRISD's evidence and arguments to push neglected issues up the political agenda. The institute has 503 members in their network and has produced an average of 126 research outputs per year from 2018-2020. With an expenditure of $2,430,000, UNRISD's research continues to contribute to more equitable, inclusive, and sustainable development outcomes globally.


References
United Nations Research Institute for Social Development
Leadership team

Paul Ladd (Paul Ladd)

Azita Berar Awad (Chair of the Board, Iran)

Hanif Hassan Ali Al Qassim (Board Member, UAE)

Ha-Joon Chang (Board Member, Republic of Korea)

Olivier De Schutter (Board Member, Belgium)

Graziella Moraes Silva (Board Member, Brazil)

Godwin Murunga (Board Member, Kenya)

Imraan Valodia (Board Member, South Africa)

Headquarters
Geneva
Region served
worldwide
Year stablished
1963
Address
Palais des Nations, Geneva, 1211, CH
Social Media