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ICSD Africa colloquium explores social development approaches to Climate Change, Crises, and Gender Equality

On March 14 and 15, 2023, the African branch of the International Consortium for Social Development (ICSD) conducted its inaugural colloquium in Johannesburg. The theme of the event, which was hosted by the University of Johannesburg (UJ) Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA), was “When Crises Collide: Social Development Responses to Intersecting Crises in Africa” – and, from the plenary session to the breakaway discussions, it was clear that the continent’s social development scholars and practitioners have a great deal to offer in terms of solutions to those myriad, complex crises.

Prof Leila Patel (Left) – Professor of Social Development, Founding Director of the Centre for Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg and Prof Abye Tasse – Chief of Mission, Expertise France, in the opening plenary session titled ‘Reflections on the field of Social Development in Africa: Key Successes & Ongoing Challenges.’

Importance of the Africa branch and encouraging involvement

The Africa branch is the newest member of the consortium’s “family”; it was launched at the 22nd ICSD biennial conference, an online event hosted from South Africa in July 2021. Professor Lauren Graham, the director of the CSDA, is the branch chairperson and said in opening the colloquium that she was delighted to welcome 62 delegates from 12 African countries. Graham encouraged delegates to join the branch as it works to, in the words of ICSD president Professor Manohar Pawar, “join hands … and (reach) every corner of the continent”. “Getting involved is a chance for people to be at the forefront of helping to grow the field of social development and to showcase social development expertise from across the continent,” Graham said.

Those in the room and others in the African social development space were well placed to offer “innovative responses to the continent’s multiple crises … and to offer evidence of what’s helping to shift the needle on these”.

Funding and welcome address by Professor Kammila Naidoo

The colloquium was funded by the National Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences (NIHSS) and the faculty of the humanities research committee at the University of Johannesburg. Professor Kammila Naidoo, the Executive Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at UJ, welcomed delegates ahead of the plenary session and outlined some of the discussions she foresaw unfolding at the colloquium: “As a team of international scholars, your work and your events should raise very critical questions and interpretations of the nature of these crises. What do we mean by these crises? How do we layer these crises? To what extent are the crises in Africa different from other parts of the world? How are the world systems complicit in exacerbating and deepening the crises in present-day Africa?”

Professor Pawar, who is currently serving his second term as ICSD president, also addressed delegates, saying he was thrilled to be visiting South Africa for the first time for this “historic event in the life of the ICSD”.

Origins and purpose of the ICSD

He outlined the origins of the organisation: a European branch was established in 1989 and an Asia-Pacific branch launched in 2004 and 2005. The aim was, Pawar said, to “share and promote knowledge of social development in their respective regions”.

“Both for ideological and practice reasons, we were very keen to establish an Africa branch to serve the same purpose,” he said.

Plenary session and discussion on major social development successes in Africa

The plenary session was chaired by Professor Tanusha Raniga, interim SARCHi Chair in Welfare and Social Development, who posed questions to CSDA founder Professor Leila Patel (who held the Chair from 2016 to late 2022) and Professor Abye Tasse, chief of mission of expertise France for the TELEMA Project in the Congo Brazzaville and a past president of the International Association of Schools of Social Work. A key question she posed to the plenary speakers was what the major social development successes had been on the continent.

Professor Patel described social protection – “which has evolved in the global south, emerging from the ground up” – as the key macro social development policy of the past three decades. Northern states, she pointed out, had tended to take the route of social insurance while the global south had forged a “path to inclusion” through social assistance, most commonly in the form of cash transfers for older people (pensions), child grants and “programmes targeted directly at women”.

“There’s a diversity of other programmes we often forget about: school feeding schemes, food relief, public employment programmes … but cash programmes lead the way” she said.

She added that, while African countries had much to do to ensure these programmes covered many more people, “social assistance development in southern Africa (in particular) has much to teach us”.

Professor Tasse, meanwhile, reflected on the fact that “social development” has become, in the past 25 or 30 years, “an accepted concept” – a globally recognised approach and a term used “even by those who object to some of the tenets”. He cautioned that this acceptance may be “superficial” and pointed out that while tens of countries today use cash transfers as social protection, these disbursements often “fall very short of people’s needs” and, in some cases, “won’t cover even a month’s expenses”.

The pair also discussed social development’s contributions to gender equality and gender justice, as well as exploring the challenges social development practitioners face in building partnerships for integrated, coordinated programmes.

Insights from the plenary session fed into the colloquium’s eight breakaway sessions, which each centred on a particular theme. These were:

– Social development effects of and responses to climate change

– Responding to crises through a social development approach

– Social development responses in promoting gender equality

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