UN Research Institute for Social Development

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Research Institute for Social Development United Nations Research Institute for Social Development

Organization type Research institute
Abbreviation UNRISD
management Paul Ladd
since 2015 United Kingdom
United KingdomUnited Kingdom 
status active
Founded 1963
Headquarters Geneva Switzerland
Upper organization ECOSOC
Headquarters of UNRISD in Geneva

The UN Research Institute for Social Development ( UNRISD ) is an independent research institute of the United Nations which "conducts multidisciplinary research and policy analysis on the social dimensions of current development processes." UNRISD was founded in 1963 to support the work of the UN Secretariat , international and national institutions with in-depth information on these subjects.

A small team of researchers coordinates the UNRISD's research programs, which focus primarily on developing countries, in collaboration with national research groups at universities and research institutes. A holistic, multidisciplinary approach that takes into account specific political and economic circumstances is chosen. The UNRISD is located in the UN office in Geneva (Switzerland) , which gives researchers direct access to political processes in events, meetings, conferences and working groups.


UNRISD was founded in 1963 to “promote research on the processes and problems of social development and on the field of tension between social and economic development”. It was given a grant from the Dutch government. The first chairman of the board of trustees was Jan Tinbergen , who was awarded the first Nobel Prize for Economics in 1969 .

A research focus of UNRISD in its early days was to find indicators to make development measurable. This should not be for economic reasons such as B. keep an eye on economic growth, but also on social factors such as nutrition, health and education. The importance of cooperatives and cooperatives as a means for development was an early important research area.

In the 1970s, global population growth made food production and supply a critical factor in development policy. UNRISD's position on the so-called Green Revolution (the spread of newly grown, high-yielding seeds to increase food production) was rather critical. In his view, the absolute amount of food available is only one factor in protecting against malnutrition and hunger in developing countries. Whether the individual has enough to eat or not is more related to an unevenly distributed influence on the mechanisms of food distribution.

After 1980 UNRISD grew both in terms of its financial base and its staffing. The tasks shifted more in the direction of population participation and topics such as refugee movements, while the previous focus on statistics took a back seat.

UNRISD continued to develop in the 1990s. A wide range of topics was covered, from political violence to the socio-economic impact of illegal drugs. The advancing globalization and structural adjustment programs in the developing countries led to crises, which were critically accompanied by the research of the UNRISD, whose thesis was that unregulated markets need a healthy public sector and a stable system of government in order to function without distortions.

Environmental policy was a central topic in development policy debates during this decade. UNRISD was critical of the fact that environmental concerns were often played off against social justice and the needs of minorities.

When the pace of globalization intensified after 2000 and extensive liberalization led to catastrophic social effects in some cases, UNRISD criticized the focus of the discussion on the protection of specific, particularly vulnerable groups and instead called for a fundamental reorientation of a universal social policy.

In 2015, a new global guidance system for development was created through the adoption of the 2030 goals for sustainable development by the member states of the United Nations. UNRISD continued to work on social policy issues, often in connection with issues of the 2030 agenda. It dealt with the new area of social and solidarity economics and their contribution to sustainable development. Environmental issues repeatedly turn out to be a key area, especially from the point of view of burden sharing with the consequences of climate change.

Topics and projects

In its current research agenda, UNRISD has focused on three major development policy issues. Inequality, Conflict and Unsustainable Practices. Gender injustices and global migration are also important issues.

A new instrument to initiate and support research activity is the "Ideas Incubator", in which partners are actively sought who can enrich and expand the research offerings.

UNRISD provides an online database with over 1300 publications. The majority can now be obtained free of charge.

A large number of conferences and seminars are held, with high-level collaborations being the rule ( UNITAR , ILO , ITC, etc.). Multimedia offers are also available from the events.


UNRISD personnel structure

UNRISD has a small core workforce based in Geneva that coordinates an international network of researchers. Cooperation with UNRISD can take place in different ways. Research contracts can be awarded directly as part of a centrally coordinated project. Alternatively, researchers can respond to calls for proposals and submit their research results for publication as part of a UNRISD project. The UNRISD also publishes food for thought from the scientists involved on its website.

More than 400 researchers are currently actively involved in the UNRISD network, the majority of them from southern countries.

Board of Trustees

UNRISD is accompanied by a board of trustees chaired by a chairman appointed by the UN Secretary General . The members of the Board of Trustees are appointed on the basis of their expertise and qualifications and confirmed by the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations (ECOSOC). The members of the Board of Trustees are appointed as independent experts and not as representatives of the UN member countries. The Board of Trustees reports to the Commission for Social Development (CSocD) every two years.

Chairman of the Board of Trustees origin from to
Jan Tinbergen NetherlandsNetherlands Netherlands 1963 1974
A. Onitiri NigeriaNigeria Nigeria 1975 1975
MT Diawara Ivory CoastIvory Coast Ivory Coast 1976 1982
Gustavo Esteva MexicoMexico Mexico 1983 1983
Paul-Marc Henry FranceFrance France 1984 1988
Keith Griffin United KingdomUnited Kingdom United Kingdom 1989 1994
Juan Somavia ChileChile Chile 1995 1997
Emma Rothschild United KingdomUnited Kingdom United Kingdom 1998 2005
Lourdes Arizpe MexicoMexico Mexico 2006 2011
Maureen O'Neil CanadaCanada Canada 2012 2017
Joakim palm SwedenSweden Sweden 2017 today


The Director reports to both the Board of Trustees and ECOSOC within the framework of the Social Development Commission . The Director is responsible for UNRISD's research activities, funding and relationships with the UN Secretariat, senior UN officials, other agencies, donors and other research institutions. The previous directors were also always involved in research.

director origin from to
Jan F. de Jongh NetherlandsNetherlands Netherlands 1964 1967
Donald V. McGranahan United StatesUnited States United States 1967 1977
Solon L. Barraclough United StatesUnited States United States 1977 1984
Enrique J. Oteiza ArgentinaArgentina Argentina 1984 1987
Dharam Ghai KenyaKenya Kenya 1987 1997
Thandika Mkandawire MalawiMalawi Malawi 1998 2009
Sarah Cook United KingdomUnited Kingdom United Kingdom 2009 2015
Paul Ladd United KingdomUnited Kingdom United Kingdom 2015 today


UNRISD relies entirely on voluntary support from governments, development aid organizations and foundations and does not receive any financial support from the United Nations budget. Although this situation harbors uncertainties, it guarantees the institute's independence and gives it the freedom it needs for its work.

Influence and impact of politics

The position of UNRISD in the UN system allows significant political influence, while its organizational and financial structure allows it an impressive independence. Its employees work in committees throughout the UN system, form task forces and expert groups, and cooperate in research projects with other UN bodies.


  1. UNRISD: Mandates & Mission - About UNRISD - UNRISD .
  2. United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD) - international organization .
  3. UN-NGLS Non Governmental Liaison Service: UN-NGLS Publications: NGLS Handbook .
  4. United Nations Secretary-General's Bulletin ST / SGB / 126, August 1963, accessed 3 December 2013 .
  5. Research for Social Change – Transformations to Equity and Sustainability: UNRISD Strategy 2016–2020, accessed March 15, 2019 .
  6. Ideas Incubator, accessed 19 March 2019 .
  7. UNRISD: UNRISD: Events .
  8. UNRISD .
  9. UNRISD Podcasts by UNRISD on Apple Podcasts .
  10. UNRISD: Our Current Network of Researchers - About UNRISD - UNRISD .
  11. http://www.unrisd.org/80256B3C005BF3C2/(httpPages)/350C8B0BC9FFF0B9802579F1004E7491?OpenDocument&Count=1000
  12. http://www.unrisd.org/80256B3C005BF3C2/(httpPages)/D3AAC2F1283530C98025792000332505?OpenDocument

Web links