One Year On: Reflections from our Early Career Researchers Representatives

One Year On: Reflections from our Early Career Researchers Representatives

Dear colleagues,


We were happy to see many of you during the coffee morning a few weeks ago! It was nice to get to know you a bit better and to hear your thoughts on how we can proceed with the next academic year. Before we go into next year, we as the ECR representatives would like to take a brief moment to reflect on a successful past year with you.


This was the first year of activities for the Early Career Researchers that are part of the MENASP Network. After consulting with ECRs via a survey, we set off to kickstart a programme combining mentoring sessions, roundtables, and informal catch-ups. We also created a living document with resources for funding, relevant links and news forums (multilingual), or data sources, which is subject to ongoing updates.


We started off with a marvellous session on Researching social policies in the MENA region: opportunities and challenges for ECRs with Dr Rana Jawad, Convenor for the MENASP Network, and Dr Ghada Barsoum, American University of Cairo. Both of our speakers highlighted important topics that concern ECRs, such as the available opportunities for funding research about MENA and social policy, how to write a fundable proposal (general tips on what to do or don’t), and the research themes that could attract funding.  Dr Rana Jawad highlighted that research impact may take various forms from influencing ideas, behaviours to impacting direct policy writing. She emphasised the importance of disseminating research and public engagement.


Following this, the ECRs enjoyed a  very interesting discussion on Inequality in the MENA region with Dr Khalid Abu-Ismail and Dr Vladimir Hlasny from UNESCWA where they built on their previous work on “Wealth Inequality and Closing the Income Gap”; “Rethinking Inequality in the MENA” and lastly “Impact of COVID-19 on Money Metric Poverty in Arab Countries”. They highlighted how education outcomes and opportunities, inequality income and wealth is concentrated. Nonetheless, various MENA countries face a poor fiscal space. Thus, the public, private sector and state share a responsibility to lift people out of poverty. One of these pathways could be through introducing a solidarity wealth funds. As they also showed, the cost of closing the income gap is only a small fraction of wealth health by the richest decile. Nonetheless, we also need to consider the political element. Alongside Dr Khalid Abu-Ismail and Dr Vladimir Hlasny, we were very honoured to have Nadim Houry, Executive Director at the Arab Reform Initiative, joining the discussion, who provided a critical reflection on the political challenges and current societal context in which these challenges should be placed. You can see the video of the presentations by the speakers here or listen to the podcast here.


Continuing the theme of inequality, Noor Alabbas also interviewed Gilbert Achcar, Professor of Development Studies at SOAS, University of London. The podcast can be found here. The discussion focused on inequality in the MENA region and the impact of COVID-19. Prof Achcar started by explaining the meaning of socio-economic inequality and the different ways to measure it. He emphasised that sources of data that are used to measure socio-economic inequality are not reliable enough to reflect the actual socio-economic inequality in the MENA region. For instance, the household survey does not include all the economic categories within the population. However, many other indicators, such as property prices, or pays to executives indicate the disparity in wealth. Prof Achcar explained that the demand for social justice by people in the MENA region corresponds to a lived reality of people who experience increasing socio-economic inequality. He highlighted that the increase in inequality is a global phenomenon, but this situation is even worst in the MENA region due to the absence of democracy. The COVID-19 provoked a global economic crisis all over the world but even more so, in the MENA region as it coincided with a decline in oil prices. Thus, the COVID-19 pandemic only further aggravated the socio-economic inequality in the region.


The last main event for this academic year was the joint roundtable on The role of social policy in promoting Human Security in the MENA region with the TG Human Security at the Human Development and Capabilities Association (HDCA). We were very pleased to welcome such a great line up of speakers: Prof Dr Des Gasper and Dr Mahmood Messkoub, both based at the Institute of Social Studies in the Hague, Dr Wali Aslam, Bath University, and lastly, Dr Nathalie Milbach-Bouché, strategic advisor to the UNDP Regional Hub in Amman. Each of the presenters brought different perspectives to the discussion and even though their focus differed, complementarities could be found. Overall, the speakers agreed that the vulnerabilities of individuals should be placed at the foreground of any discussion and social policy. However, the realisation of this is compromised by the weakening social contract, the shocks that have occurred in the region – including the War of Terror, the refugee influx and recent COVID-19 pandemic – and unaccountable governance. Though while the COVID-19 has led to numerous restrictions by governments, it might also provide a window of opportunity for thinking about social policy. As Dr Mahmood Messkoub concluded: to be able to return to universalist social policy ideals of a developmental state, this should be placed within a democratic political environment that promotes genuine popular engagement and participation, as well as transparency and accountability, in order to arrive at an inclusive and new social contract. You can see the video of the presentations by the speakers here or listen to the podcast with Prof Dr Des Gaspar, Dr Mahmood Messkoub, Dr Wali Islam, and Dr Nathalie Milbach-Bouche. Also, if you would like to look at the slides again, you can access them here.


To start of the next Academic Year, we look forward to seeing many of you at the next mentoring session Planning for publication: where to start? sometime in the second half of September. During this event we look to advise ECRs about the publication journey. We will discuss the following themes: the importance of establishing a publication strategy, the difference between publishing process for books, journal article, and an edited chapter, the criteria that makes publications accepted by a publisher. So keep your eyes out for further details!


We would like to take a brief moment to thank all of you~ These events would not have been possible without you! Further, we would like to briefly thank Dr Rana Jawad, Olivia Perry, Gihan Ismail and Islam Muhammed for their support in the background in getting these events going and providing logistical support!


We look forward to continuing our next sessions. Keep an eye on our coffee mornings and/or brownbag seminars, every second Wednesday of the month at 11 am UK time.  We wish you all a great Summer break ahead!


Best wishes,

Noor and Tamara


About our Early Career Researchers Representatives:

Noor Alabbas is a Teaching Associate at the University of Nottingham- School of Sociology and Social Policy. Her research interest covers Governance, state-society relationship, and labour market policies in the Arab Gulf States.


Tamara A. Kool is a Research fellow at Maastricht Graduate School of Governance and UNU-MERIT in the finalising stages of her PhD. Her research interests pertain to the potential of social (protection) policy for marginalised communities, with a focus on the MENA region.


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