Led by the MENA Social Policy Network, University of Bath, www.menasp.com (founded in 2012 and convened by Jawad, PI), in partnership with the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), this proposal 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 MENA. The distinctive contribution this network will make is to introduce a paradigm shift in MENA conflict prevention research, policy and practice that will enhance the social welfare politics of Arab countries in the Sothern Mediterranean region (Levant and North Africa) - our geographical focus. These are ODA compliant countries, the highest exporters of economic migration to Europe and historically, at the nexus of armed conflict in MENA. The Network management team includes expertise in ethics, mental health and disability, Middle East history, anthropology, urban planning and the environment, gender, visual arts and education.
Our Network vision is: to demonstrate, through a mutually supportive framework of innovative, cross-disciplinary research and capacity development for policy change, how effective social policy governance in MENA can provide nuanced and contextualised pathways to peace and emerging localised solution-driven initiatives. We will do this through a programme of work that will serve GCRF goals as follows: (1) maximising the impact of Co-I-led proof of concepts and an £800,000's worth of LMIC and UK-led commissioned research strand that is co-designed with LMIC partners and builds on localised expertise; (2) fostering shared learning across innovative peacebuilding research projects and testing the feasibility, scalability, transferability and effectiveness of different approaches across diverse fragile MENA countries; (3) bringing conflict prevention research more centrally into sustainable development planning and programming through the apparatus of social policy governance and its affiliated concept of social protection thereby addressing directly SDGs 1, 3 (reduce poverty; achieve wellbeing across life course), 5 (achieve gender equality), 10 (reduce inequalities) and 11 (promote inclusive peace). Our aims are: (1) Cross-disciplinary innovation: to improve knowledge bases and practices in conflict prevention and sustainable peace in MENA by focusing on the interconnections between community-level social justice grievances and the macro-level governance of social policy; (2) Capacity development of existing research and policy practice: we will support policy learning and "design thinking" such as through policy labs, social policy governance seminars and an e-learning course for policy-makers.
We argue that there is momentum for a fresh and expanded reassessment of the nature and scope of conflict in MENA which directly addresses the long-overlooked question of community-level social justice grievances and how these react against or are reproduced by macro-level political decision-making. We will advance current knowledge and practice by showing how conflict prevention and social policy governance share common concerns: how to enable communities to live cohesively and share resources equitably. This is a fundamentally cross-disciplinary question about state-society relations, otherwise referred to in the contemporary international development literature as "political settlements". It is an issue of relevance to volatile MENA countries that are now implementing austerity policies at a time when they are also mandated to produce national development plans supporting the universal social protection vision of the SDG 2030 agenda. The challenges of social and income inequality in MENA are stark: in a 2015 report, the World Bank acknowledged the need to address the "quality of life" grievances that had fueled the Arab uprisings.