Economic and Social Research Council
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Two new ESRC centres to help world's poorest and vulnerable

The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is pleased to launch two new research centres that will benefit developing countries.

The five year centres commenced on 1 April 2017 and form part of the ESRC's contribution to the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), a £1.5 billion UK Government investment to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries.

CPAID (The Centre for Public Authority and International Development) will be led by Professor Tim Allen at the London School of Economics and Political Sciences.

The RELIEF (Refugees, Education, Learning, Information Technology, and Entrepreneurship for the Future) Centre will be led by Professor Henrietta L Moore, Director of the Institute for Global Prosperity at University College London.

The two centres will address some of themes that ESRC identified as priority areas for building foundations of inclusive growth in developing countries:  

  • Building effective institutions in conflict-affected and fragile states
  • Migration, mobility and development
  • Dynamics of inequalities
  • Innovation and inclusive economic growth
  • Shocks, security, risks and resilience.

Chief Executive of the ESRC Professor Jane Elliott says:

"Improving the lives and prosperity of the world's poorest and most vulnerable populations is a global challenge, especially in the face of war, conflict and mass displacement of persons."

"It is vital that development agencies have the best evidence to hand when deciding how to direct their efforts. These two centres will bring together world leading experts from a diverse range of academic fields and across a range of countries. Their research will help us understand the needs of the most vulnerable communities, and how we can best meet them."

The focus of CPAID will be on conducting research into how societies in impoverished, marginal and/or conflict affected states in Africa are governed.

Countries included in the research programme are those involved in prolonged conflict, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Somalia, and Burundi, as well as the now relatively peaceful states of Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Uganda and Ethiopia. In these states formal government institutions can be ineffective, weak and exploitative, which is why development policies aimed at strengthening them often fail and result in humanitarian aid helping only a minority.

Instead, research at the centre will expand its focus to look at how countries are actually being ruled. For example academics will look at how immediate family units, clans, religious institutions, aid agencies, civil social organisations, rebel militia and vigilante groups contribute to governance, as well as formal and semi-formal government institutions. The research will hear the voices of ordinary people, and in particular vulnerable, marginalised and excluded groups and populations.

The aim of the centre is to produce high-quality research that will inform local, national and international development policies so that they successfully promote economic growth and stability in these fragile states. For example by strengthening those forms of public authority that actually serve and help their populations.

"If the pessimistic headlines and official statistics about Africa were all true, most people in Africa would be dead," says Professor Tim Allen. "Yet, when you travel to places where the reach of governments are limited and political upheavals make the provision of formal services limited, we encounter vibrant social lives. Mutuality is possible even in circumstances in which it appears to be impossible from the outside. How it happens is unclear. What is apparent is that ideas about good governance are tangential. Something else is clearly going on. That is what we will investigate in this project."

The RELIEF (Refugees, Education, Learning, Information Technology, and Entrepreneurship for the Future) Centre on the other hand will coordinate a programme of research into improving the prosperity of Lebanon, the country that contains the most refugees as a percentage of its population in the world.

Research at the centre will focus on how we can measure prosperity and growth in a country that is experiencing such a massive displacement of people, moving beyond indices like GDP to include measures of well-being, health, employment and education. The centre will examine how Syrian refugees can work alongside their host Lebanese communities to design more resilient and better quality living environments. It will also look at how new technologies can be used to deliver affordable education to both refugees and Lebanese citizens, equipping people with the skills and capacities for managing conflict, and improving their environments and well-being. In addition the centre will conduct research into how Syrian cities, institutions and communities can be rebuilt and strengthened once the current conflict is over.

Professor Henrietta Moore says "63.5 million people around the world are currently forcibly displaced from their homes presenting a huge challenge for global prosperity."

"Lebanon is host to over a million refugees and is at the epicentre of this crisis of displacement. The RELIEF Centre will explore how to make countries like Lebanon and Syria more prosperous, and improve the life of all in the face of such mass displacement".

"Prosperity isn't just about improving GDP, you also need to fight inequality, promote social cohesion, and provide education, health, and decent employment. Giving people hope for the future."

"My hope is that the RELIEF Centre will ultimately improve the quality of people's lives through a programme of research, education and civic engagement that develops a vision of future prosperity for Lebanon."

The end result of the research project will be to enhance future prosperity for Lebanon with indicators that ordinary citizens can use to determine whether their communities and governments are on track to achieve their vision. The model could also be used in other countries affected by global migration

Notes for editors

  1. The Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is the UK's largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK's future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government.
  2. The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) is a £1.5 billion fund announced by the UK Government as part of the UK's Official Development Assistance (ODA) to support cutting-edge research which addresses the problems faced by developing countries. The fund, to be administered through delivery partners including the Research Councils and national academies, will address global challenges through disciplinary and interdisciplinary research, strengthen capability for research and innovation, within both UK and developing countries and provide an agile response to emergencies and opportunities.
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