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Social welfare and development – UJ researcher receives WISA award

UJ researcher Prof Leila Patel received a 2014 Woman in Science Award for her work in social welfare and development in South Africa.​​

On Friday 15 August the Department of Science and Technology (DST) honoured Leila Patel, Professor of Social Development Studies, with a Distinguished Women Scientists award in the Humanities and Social Sciences category.

Reducing inequality

Prof Patel has made a critical contribution to social welfare and social development, including child support grants, in South Africa.

Her PhD research was on the social welfare and development initiatives of anti-apartheid organisations in the 1980s and its implications for welfare policies in a post- apartheid society. This work shaped South Africa’s welfare policy.

Says Prof Patel: “My current research continues to be inspired by this earlier work. I really appreciate the acknowledgement of the WISA award and hope that it will contribute to promoting social development as a worthy research focus area and field of social enquiry.

“This research is hard work: it requires dedication and commitment over a long period of time. However it is a career well worth pursuing as the rewards are great both personally and to society at large.”

Working for greater benefit

Social grants, some argue, promote voting for the incumbent government, a rise in teenage pregnancies and lack of initiative to look for employment.​


However earlier this year Prof Patel and her colleagues found that voting behaviour among people receiving social grants is influenced by a number of factors, and that ‘vote buying with grants’ is not a valid argument.

When she gave the Helen Joseph memorial lecture in 2013, she addressed the employment and teenage pregnancy criticism against social grants.

“Social grants solve more problems than they may create,” Prof Patel said. “Researchers have found that grant beneficiaries who were without work were extremely motivated to get work and… place a high value on paid employment. “Grants do make a difference in reducing inequality. Without grants, income inequality would be much larger.”

See Prof Patel’s complete lecture, “Do social grants create more problems than they solve?” here.

Establishing a research centre

Prof Patel joined the University of Johannesburg in July 2002 after a break from her research and teaching career.

Soon after, she broke new ground.

“UJ supported my proposal to establish the Centre for Social Development in Africa which was established in 2003. I was subsequently seconded to the CSDA as the Director of the Centre,” says Patel.

“UJ invested significantly in the CSDA financially and in the provision of research support. I was able to dedicate myself to research and postgraduate supervision which benefited my own research.

“UJ support for the research programme of the CSDA also helped to build social development as a field of social enquiry and as a research niche area at the University. The CSDA complements a strong undergraduate and post-graduate programme in social work education at the University.

Prof Patel concludes: “I am most grateful for being given this opportunity and am proud to be associated with the University.

Her research

Prof Patel is Director of the Centre for Social Development in Africa (CSDA), Faculty of Humanities, University of Johannesburg.

CSDA conducts multi-disciplinary research in these focus areas: poverty and vulnerability; social protection and development; children and youth; social policy development; as well as state, civil society and private sectors relations in development. The CSDA also conducts evaluation research that contributes to innovation in social development.

Prof Patel supervises Masters and Doctoral students from different disciplines.

Prof Patel’s Google Scholar Profile here.



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