The United Nations has tasked the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Institute of Population and Public Health (CIHR-IPPH) to lead the research roadmap to identify priorities that will support an equitable global socio-economic recovery from COVID-19 within the broader framework of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). As the world grapples with the impacts of COVID-19, identifying the research agenda and partnering with academic institutions and think tanks have become more essential than ever before.
Citizens, healthcare professionals and governments—from Bandung to Baltimore, Calcutta to Cancun, Palawan to Pretoria, and Tokyo to Toulouse—are using the COVID-19 data of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center (CRC) to get real-time information on new cases of infection and deaths from the disease. The world is benefitting greatly from the expertise of this academic institution and its ability to pool information globally. This is a testament of an extraordinary power of research to step up international cooperation.
So what would happen if we were to explore key aspects of this research agenda based on the Asia-Pacific experience as highlighted in ESCAP COVID-19 framework? Let us focus on three research topics.
Identifying social inclusion solutions through political economy perspectives
Political economy research within COVID-19 recovery plans could highlight how social inclusion interacts with the dynamics associated with national institutional frameworks. It can further emphasize the role of governance and stakeholder engagement within the broad parameters of underlying national economic interests. These research topics can underline the influence of entrenched cultural, institutional and political systems that shape realities of social inclusion in challenging circumstances.
Political economy perspectives also help institutions to mature in addressing the practical realities in which they operate. By managing social inclusion and enhancing social opportunities pragmatically, decision makers could overcome complex political economic contexts and improve citizens’ trust in governance as highlighted through research projects at the Graduate Institute. As such, research on social inclusion with a focus on home-grown approaches to poverty eradication actions and social well-being must look beyond 'easy solutions' or 'quick fixes' based on narrowly defined policy assumptions.
Engaging an economic research agenda through rigorous evidence
Globally, most countries and their research institutions are in the process of developing their own COVID-19 tracking systems to recognize the unprecedented economic contraction from this pandemic and the disproportionate burden of its impact on society’s most vulnerable groups. During the past six months, economic research agendas have clearly shared the view that we are not in this together: our societies are drifting apart, calling for a greater attention on overcoming a deep economic divide created by the crisis. As wealth and income inequalities exacerbate around the world, COVID-19 widens the gap and pulls apart an increasing number of economies.
Recent research from the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) highlights that the COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered deep-rooted disparities in access to healthcare, education, jobs and income, threatening countries’ ability – economically and socially—to safeguard progress on the SDGs. The crisis has also underscored the importance of protecting households who are likely to be beneficiaries of fiscal stimulus packages. These financing measures are aimed at providing loans to small and medium-sized enterprises, which face considerable barriers in securing funds equitably from existing financial sectors. The pandemic has, indeed, exposed serious fault lines in our economies, creating a space for imagining new economic growth models and development strategies.
Building research capability for sustainability
New University of Oxford research suggests that investment in climate-friendly policy initiatives could offer the best economic returns coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on surveys of more than 200 senior economists and economic officials, the research finds that interventions with the greatest impact on both economic return and positive environmental outcomes include investing in clean physical infrastructure, education and training, natural capital projects and clean R&D.
The research roadmap on environment, through public and private sector partnership, needs to focus on the development and deployment of new technologies which improve countries’ sustainability. It involves providing market incentives, promoting commercial demonstration projects and encouraging the scaling-up of innovation-led manufacturing capacity and green job opportunities. Bolstering human capital and labour skills in areas such as value chain R&D, information technology and big data will also be important to ensure rapid roll out of successful green and clean technologies in post-COVID-19 recovery plans.
Scaling up partnership for research
As governments are navigating policy options, it is time to enable complementarities between public-funded research activities and privately-funded innovation projects, while making strategic investment planning for the post-COVID-19 era.
Ensuring social inclusion, building robust economic recovery and preparing for climate resilience over the next decade will provide critical insights for leading the research agenda for building back better.