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.  

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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.

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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

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

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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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Can middle income countries rise up to their citizens’ expectations?

By Mario Pezzini, former Director of the OECD Development Centre and Special Advisor to the OECD Secretary General on Development[i]

A call for a new social contract

Despite significant economic growth over the past years, middle-income countries (MICs) face increasingly complex challenges related to, among others, a growing demand from their new and still vulnerable middle-classes. As middle-classes have grown in recent decades, so have citizens’ aspirations and demands for quality public goods, better services and a more responsive and transparent state. More educated, better informed, and more connected than ever before, citizens are asking for more voice in public decisions. In parallel, growing aspirations confronted with chronic vulnerability of middle-classes tend to generate frustration and, more and more frequently, social turbulence. Discontent has been erupting for several years in many of these countries, going back to the Arab Spring, with recent examples like Lebanon, and some Latin American countries, including high-income countries like Chile. Today, challenges are exacerbated as the COVID-19 crisis pushes members of the middle class who had previously escaped extreme poverty, back into it. Governments seem increasingly incapable of understanding how people perceive their quality of life.

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