Strengthening social protection, security and welfare in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region

Strengthening social protection, security and welfare in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region

The MENASP-CP Network project is led by the MENA Social Policy Network (University of Birmingham) in partnership with the Overseas Development Institute (ODI). Funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Global Challenges Research Fund, the project brings together a host of UK and international research leaders and partner organisations to undertake an ambitious programme of cross-disciplinary innovation and capability development in the governance of social policy in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA).


Specifically, the project aims to forge a paradigm shift in the critical analysis and policy practices of conflict-prevention the Arab countries in the Southern Mediterranean region (the Levant and North Africa) – our geographical focus. It does this by advocating a move towards a welfare-centred, social policy perspective. It focuses on the governance and impact of social protection policies in tackling the most overlooked, yet urgently pertinent, drivers of civic unrest and conflict in MENA: horizontal and vertical inequalities.


The project plans to develop equitable and sustainable partnerships, support research capability development, develop pathways to impact and enhance inter-disciplinary work. This is through implementing:


  1. A strategic programme of network development activities in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) that will form a key part of the initial planning phase of the overall network project;
  2. Interactive and practice-based consultations with existing and new international and local experts, partners and practitioners regarding our network’s research agenda and approach;
  3. Face-to-face and online knowledge sharing and co-design of activities to enhance our network and partnerships.

Project objectives

The network has three core objectives:

  1. To forge new challenge-focused, interdisciplinary scholarship for integrating insights from social policy and social protection to the analysis of conflict and peacebuilding in the MENA region.
  2. To undertake a suite of capacity building and knowledge sharing activities to provide a space for a new generation of researchers and practitioners to take root and deliver on the planned paradigm shift.
  3. To support policy innovation through grant commissioning of new research and pilot projects on horizontal and vertical inequalities in the MENA countries.

Work Programme

Our Network is an opportunity structure for a four-year iterative and holistic programme of work operating at three key levels:

  1. Setting a new research agenda and advancing scholarship on social protection and conflict prevention in MENA;
  2. Enabling actionable social policy research for conflict prevention and peace-building in MENA through interdisciplinary problem-solving and active policy learning;
  3. Embedding our partnerships in an ethos of equitable North-South collaborations with potential to become a model of good practice for future AHRC networks.


We have three strands of work as follows:

  1. Scoping, research leadership and partnership development activities: We will work together to identify research needs and opportunities and co-design research agendas to be explored through devolved grants and knowledge exchange calls. The network management team will demonstrate intellectual leadership and orient the research agenda by conducting Proof of Concepts on various social policy and conflict prevention topics. Our partner organisations will also host visiting researchers and use the network to explore joint projects and outputs together. The AHRC development award has already set in motion a stakeholder mapping exercise and full evidence base review of conflict prevention in MENA which will support fine-tuning of research goals in 2020.
  2. Funding calls for innovative projects/activities: We will oversee a range of funding calls over the four years covering: (1) academic research to advance scholarship; (2) academic placements or exchanges including for ECRs to be hosted at the University of Birmingham and any of the partner organisations in this proposal as suitable; (3) training and capacity-building projects for civil society groups and government officials which may include demonstration projects for scalability, transferability or effectiveness of social protection-based conflict prevention measures; (4) knowledge exchange events such as conferences, workshops and seminars. We will use Network planning meetings to co-design the calls and in the interest of remaining responsive, we have organised our work plan to accommodate three funding calls over the lifetime of the project.
  3. Network legacy and synthesis of commissioned grants: Our Network’s embeddedness in the existing website provides evidence of our excellent legacy prospects. Our network will undertake a range of activities to consolidate its pioneering research ambitions and activist social policy agenda through (a) commissioning grants that support the next generation of MENA conflict-prevention researchers, (b) governance-oriented capacity-building for sustainable peace, (c) cutting-edge e-learning resources, (d) new spaces for cross-comparative conflict prevention knowledge exchange. Our partner organisations play a key role in this effort. Digital activities will include a self-paced e-learning course, two international webinars and an online forum to support mentoring. We will develop a library of filmed interviews based on proof of concepts and selected commissioned projects.

Target Audience

The project activities aim to reach a wide range of audience:

  • Leadership and capacity activities: established expertise, early career researchers, research centres, policy practitioners, civil society, government officials, partner organisations and institutions.
  • Commissioning grants: researchers, academics, civil society organisations and research centres.
  • Impact and outreach events: policymakers, government officials, media influencers, members of the public and international organisations

Project Platform

For building sustainable, cross-regional and equitable partnership working in conflict-affected MENA countries, the project is to communicate with the target audience through:

  1. The existing MENA Social Policy Network (
  2. The establishment of a network hub: Network Plus

Project funders

The project is a research grant for 4 years (2020-2024) and is funded by the GCRF-AHRC Networks Plus Scheme.



For further information, please contact us at


*As of November 2023, the University of Birmingham is the host of the MENASP Network and the institutional leader of its current projects.

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