Professor Leila Patel, the founder of the Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA) at the University of Johannesburg, has stepped down from her role as South African Research Chair (SARChI) in Welfare and Social Development.
Leila has held the Chair since 2016 and has, in the past seven years, used the position to build on the role she envisioned for the CSDA when it was established in 2004: as a site for innovative social development research from and about the African continent, and one from which to build the capacity of future generations of social development scholars.
Leila will remain connected with the work of the CSDA and the SARChI as she remains a Professor of Social Development. She will also continue to lead our flagship Communities of Practice for Child Wellbeing study until its completion in 2024.
At a conversation that was hosted between Leila and Honorary Professor James Midgley hosted in December last year, Lauren paid tribute to Leila not just for her work at the Centre and in the Chair, but also for her wider influence: “Leila has done an enormous amount for this country. She’s built policy, and she’s made a tremendous impact in the field of social development, and social policy both at home and abroad. Importantly her influence has been both academically and practically impactful.”
As South Africa’s first Director General of Social Welfare in President Nelson Mandela’s government, Leila played a leading role in developing South Africa’s welfare policy after apartheid and was among those who spearheaded the creation of the country’s social grants architecture – a system which is recognised and hailed globally for the support it offers to tens of millions of South Africans.
Her work has spanned academia, government, non-profit organisations and private sector social development initiatives. She holds a B1 rating from the National Research Foundation. As such, she enjoys considerable international recognition for the quality and impact of her research and is recognised by many as a leading global scholar in her field. Her research interests include social welfare policy, social protection, socio-economic rights and democracy, gender, care, the social services and children and youth.
Collaboration and mentorship have been important to Leila throughout her career. During the conversation held late last year, she reflected on her long academic partnership – and friendship – with Professor James Midgley, one of the foremost global scholars in this field. The pair met by chance in 1990; in the ensuing three decades they have frequently collaborated. At the December event Leila reflected on the ways in which their lives and careers dovetailed, diverged and reconnected.
The two, she said, share a “passion and commitment” to social development. She urged the CSDA’s postgraduate students, who were just embarking on their academic careers, to think about those they’d already met and those they would connect with: “What holds you together? What are you both passionate about? What is it that you bring to the partnership?”.
Leila has supervised 47 masters, doctoral students and postdoctoral research fellows. She spearheaded the introduction of one of UJ’s first interdisciplinary masters programmes, the MPhil in Social Policy and Development, to grow a new generation of scholars, practitioners and leaders in the field. Over and above that she has mentored many social development scholars who have gone on to careers in the field locally, in Southern Africa and internationally. Lauren reflected on the role that Leila has played in her own career and life during the conversation saying “For me personally, I would not be where I am today were it not for Leila’s kind but firm mentorship and guidance over the years. I am privileged to have been mentored by her and feel fortunate to take her work forward as the centre director.”
Leila remains a valued mentor and professional collaborator to many: she recently edited the Edward Elgar title, Handbook on Social Protection and Social Development in the Global South (due out in September 2023) alongside two of her former Post-Doctoral Fellows. Dr Isaac Chinyoka and Dr Sophie Plagerson. It was Midgley who suggested that the prestigious scholarly publisher approach Leila for this work which she described at the December event as “one of the few global books on social policy and development that is wholly based at a southern research Centre and by three southern editors”. In this way the work of the CSDA is contributing to growing knowledge and practice of southern social and welfare policies. Currently, she is co-editor of a new handbook commissioned by Oxford University Press on social policy trajectories in the global south with Armando Barrientos, Matthew Carnes, Huck-Ju Kwon, Herbert Obinger and Carina Schmitt.
Introducing Prof Tanusha Raniga: Interim SARChI Chair
Professor Tanusha Raniga, also of the University of Johannesburg, is the Interim SARChI Chair in Welfare and Social Development. She trained as a social policy analyst at the ex-University of Natal and did her doctorate on youth sexuality and HIV/AIDS at University of KwaZulu-Natal. Prof Raniga’s research focus is social protection policy, feminization of poverty and sustainable livelihoods. She has published widely in national and international journals and has presented at Social Work conferences. “We are delighted to welcome Prof Raniga and look forward to a fruitful collaboration in the coming years” said Prof Lauren Graham, Director of the CSDA, which is home to the Chair.
We look forward to continued collaboration with Leila in her new role and to working with the Interim Chair Prof Raniga.