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Shifting the paradigm: building inclusive, lifecycle social security systems in the MENA region 

Tannourine El Faouqa, Lebanon.

An effective social security system is a core component of any successful and sustainable economy and underpins the building of a strong social contract and a cohesive society. This truth has perhaps never been clearer than in the wake of COVID-19 and the havoc it has wreaked on the global economy.  Indeed, emerging research on Government responses to COVID-19 is demonstrating that those countries that had already invested in developing inclusive, lifecycle social security systems are better equipped to cope with the crisis.  

Across the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA), while most countries have social insurance schemes in place, they mainly provide support to those in the formal economy. The rest of the population is only offered poor quality programmes for the poor: transfer values are often low while the selection of recipients is inaccurate, with high exclusion errors.  

The dominant social security paradigm across the region is, therefore, social insurance schemes for the better-off and social assistance for the poor, while a large proportion of the population living on middle incomes is excluded from social security, the so-called missing middle. The alienation of the missing middle from social security – and other public services – has become major challenge across middle-income countries and is increasingly a key source of public unrest.  

In response to these challenges, Development Pathways, with support from a Ford Foundation grant, is undertaking an 18month project to build the evidence on social security across the MENA region and strengthen capacity across civil society to make the case for inclusive social security systems that offer income security to everyone, across the lifecycle. The project will undertake analysis of the effectiveness of current social security systems across the region, build the case for inclusive social security alongside costed proposals, publish a range of papers, develop and deliver training courses and build a network of organisations and individuals committed to inclusive social security. The work will be undertaken in collaboration with national civil society partners in the regionDevelopment Pathways will also create a website that acts as a knowledge hub, storing the regional research and other information relevant to social security in the MENA region. This project commenced in November 2020 and will run for 18 months until April 2022, focusing initially on Lebanon, Jordan and Tunisia.  

Project timeline: November 2020 – April 2022 


1. Assessing the scope and adequacy of social protection responses to the COVID-19 crisis in the MENA region – a focus on tax-financed income transfers – by Daisy Sibun

2. The myth of a resilient Lebanon: Isn’t it time to end the global paradigm of gender equality? – By Anasuya Sengupta

Photo credit: N BarbarAgha/ Unsplash