Can civil society survive COVID-19?

By Elly Page, Senior Legal Advisor, International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL) and Simona Ognenovska, Research and Monitoring Advisor, European Center for Not-for-Profit Law Stichting (ECNL)

As the world confronts new waves of COVID-19 cases, civil society should be wary of a parallel surge of new emergency laws and measures that restrict fundamental freedoms. According to our COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker, 146 countries enacted 385 measures in response to the pandemic that affected human rights, during the initial waves of the virus from January to September 2020. While some may have been a necessary and understandable reaction to a public health crisis, many overreached, exacerbating existing challenges to civic space. In particular, existing barriers to foreign funding for organisations have remained in place during the pandemic, limiting their ability to provide support to vulnerable populations during the crisis. The onslaught urgently requires an international response to roll back restrictions and increase support for embattled civil society.  

Our Tracker, based on information from our worldwide network of civil society partners, reflects ways that governments’ responses to COVID-19 have affected civic space, and suggests ways that OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) members could respond. These suggestions are timely as the OECD-DAC takes further steps to develop a DAC policy instrument on enabling civil society.

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Why we need radical democratic innovation post-COVID

By Silvia Cervellini, Founder and Co-ordinator of coletivo Delibera Brasil

Although we have talked about inequality and sustainability in Brazil for a long time (we held the Rio de Janeiro Earth Summit in 1992 and the first World Social Forum in 2001 in Porto Alegre), the COVID-19 pandemic struck us in the middle of a “quasi” economic crisis, a declining Gini Index and increasing evidence of biomass destruction in Brazil’s Pantanal, Mata Atlântica and Amazonia forests.1

We have seen some consensual and immediate solutions to the different crises Brazil faces, e.g. quarantine and extra resources allocated to public health to fight the sanitary crisis; temporary financial support and food for the most vulnerable to tackle the hunger crisis; and firefighting to extinguish fires in the jungle. None of these measures, however, address the root causes of these problems, nor can they be sustained as permanent policies.

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Gaps in the trap: Neglected politics in middle-income trap analysis

By Richard F. Doner, Professor Emeritus, Department of Political Science, Emory University1


Scholars, advisors and policymakers alike have paid extensive attention to the middle-income trap. Despite some differences in definition, most agree that the “trap” refers to various conditions that have discouraged many middle-income countries from ascending to high-income status. Cross-national economic convergence has been nowhere near what was expected given middle-income countries’ access to advanced technologies and market opportunities.

Explanations for the trap vary but typically include some combination of low productivity, inconsistent macroeconomic policies, weak institutional frameworks, policies ill-adapted to promoting technology absorption, and weak human resource development. As a recent post by Alonso and Ocampo argues, these writings have been valuable in focusing attention on the challenges of a particular stage of development. Nevertheless, gaps, we might even call them blind spots, persist in analysis of the middle-income trap.   

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A new social contract for informal workers: Bridging social protection and economic inclusion

By Martha Chen, Senior Advisor, WIEGO and Lecturer in Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School, Laura Alfers, Director, Social Protection, WIEGO and Research Associate, Rhodes University, and Sophie Plagerson, Visiting Associate Professor, Centre for Social Development in Africa, University of Johannesburg

Photo by Martha Chen

Calls to renew the social contract have proliferated in recent years as the “standard” employer-employee relationship has ceased to be the norm, while traditional forms of informal employment persist and informalisation of once formal jobs is on the rise.1 However, there is a mismatch globally between traditional social contract models based on assumptions of full (male and formal) employment and the world of work today in which informal workers, both self- and wage employed, constitute over 60 per cent of the global workforce. Can the call for a new social contract really help to achieve greater recognition and a more level playing field for informal workers?

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Middle-income countries should not be rushed to graduate

By Otaviano Canuto, Senior Fellow at the Policy Centre for the New South, Non-Resident Senior Fellow at Brookings Institution, and Former Vice President at the World Bank; Matheus Cavallari, Senior Advisor and Tiago Ribeiro dos Santos, Advisor at the Board of Executive Directors of the World Bank Group. Opinions here are their own. The authors wrote chapter 12 of the recent book: Alonso, J.A. & Ocampo, J.A. (eds.), Trapped in the Middle? Developmental Challenges for Middle-Income Countries, Oxford University Press, 2020

Salvador, Bahia, Brazil

Many donor countries seem eager to see middle-income countries (MICs) “master out” and graduate to a non-client status in multilateral development institutions before fully achieving their development potential. We argue that such institutions can still significantly contribute to the sustainable development of MICs, while also seizing many benefits from this relationship (Middle income countries and multilateral development banks: traps on the way to graduation).  

Multilateral development banks operate in two main ways: regular lending and concessional finance. Regular lending uses interest rates close to market levels and relies on multilateral development banks’ wealth of knowledge to create attractive projects for MICs. Concessional finance on the other hand, is attractive for low-income countries, not only because of the banks’ knowledge, but also because it is much more financially favourable, offering low interest rates or grants.

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To measure real progress in education we must include out-of-school children

By Michael Ward, Senior Analyst, Education and Skills Directorate, OECD

In many low- and middle-income countries – including some that have participated in PISA – relatively large proportions of 15-year-olds are not enrolled in school or are not enrolled in PISA’s target grades (grade seven and above) and are thus not covered by the assessment (see figure 1). With an increasing number of low- and middle-income countries participating in PISA, and with 61 million children of lower secondary school age, out of school around the world, this population can no longer remain beyond the reach of programmes that try to evaluate the success of education systems.

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Education funding and COVID-19: what does the future hold?

By Laura Abadia, Policy Analyst, OECD Development Centre


This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.


With prolonged school closures affecting over 90% of all learners worldwide at the peak of the first wave, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the urgent need to explore new and more effective approaches to education delivery and content. From hybrid models that combine in-person with remote learning, to widening academic curricula to include social and emotional competencies, the opportunities for change are manifold. However, recovering from prolonged school closures and seizing these opportunities will require making significant headway against the deep structural challenges perpetuating inequalities in education.

To better understand how COVID-19 is changing education donor behaviour and priorities, the OECD Centre on Philanthropy analysed years of OECD data on official development assistance (ODA) and private philanthropy, and interviewed dozens of donors. Here is what we learned:

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Is there an institutional trap in middle-income countries?

By José Antonio Alonso, professor of Applied Economics at the Complutense University of Madrid. He is co-editor of the recent book: Trapped in the Middle? Developmental Challenges for Middle-Income Countries, Oxford University Press, 2020

It is assumed that, as countries progress, they require better institutions to manage the societal issues that emerge with more extensive and sophisticated markets and respond to the needs of a more demanding society. In other words, the development process requires a path of institutional change. However, economic and institutional processes do not necessarily evolve at the same pace, as institutions are subject to greater inertia. As a consequence, inertial institutions can fall behind social demands, or else changes in institutions may not be properly rooted in social behaviour.

These issues are particularly relevant to middle-income countries which tend to experience episodes of intense economic growth that put their institutional frameworks under pressure. Transforming expansive episodes into sustained economic convergence with high-income countries requires a continuous and successful process of institutional improvement. However, these two processes are difficult to synchronise.

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Fiscal policy in the time of COVID-19: a new social pact for Latin America

By Pablo Ferreri, Public Accountant and former Vice Minister of Economy and Finance of Uruguay


This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.

We could say that ultimately the role of government remains unchanged overtime: to achieve ever higher levels of development with the understanding that true development means achieving sustained economic growth while generating greater equity and social cohesion. This must be done through more and better exercise of civil rights and in an environmentally sustainable manner. But in achieving this ultimate goal, challenges change according to realities that governments must face.

Challenges that Latin America faced fifteen years ago, when it enjoyed high levels of growth and a commodity boom in an increasingly open world, are quite different to those that have been brought about by economic slowdown, lower international prices and new isolationist tendencies.

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We know what policies can fix the COVID-19 inequality emergency. But only people power can win them

By Ben Phillips, Advisor to the United Nations, governments and civil society organisations, former Campaigns Director for Oxfam and for ActionAid, and co-founder of  the Fight Inequality Alliance. He is the author of “How to Fight Inequality


This blog is part of a series on tackling COVID-19 in developing countries. Visit the OECD dedicated page to access the OECD’s data, analysis and recommendations on the health, economic, financial and societal impacts of COVID-19 worldwide.

COVID-19 did not create the inequality crisis. But COVID-19 is seeing inequality metastasise into the most socially dangerous global emergency since World War II.  The problem is clear. The OECD Secretary-General has rightly drawn the analogy with the Post-War reconstruction and Marshall Plan to illustrate the level of ambition needed. Opening the OECD conference on “Confronting Planetary Emergencies”, President Michael D Higgins of Ireland set out the need for a “radical departure” from “decades of unfettered neoliberalism” which have left people “without protection as to basic necessities of life, security and the ability to participate”. As he noted, “it is no longer sufficient to describe, however brilliantly, systemic failure. We must have the courage to speak out and work for the alternatives.”

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