Opportunity Grant report: Exploring potential for a Southeast Asian Social Policy Research Network

Workshop in progress

If Southeast Asia were a single country, it would already be the seventh-largest economy in the world. With the third-largest labour-force in the world and with the productivity improvements, it is projected to be the fourth-largest economy by 2050. Southeast Asia is home to more than 600 million people, larger than the European Union or North America. It also has incredible diversity in terms of religion, language, ethnicity and culture. All of those features come together with social challenges and also opportunities which are the concern of Social Policy.

While there are some social policy networks focusing on specific regions such as the EASP (East Asia Social Policy) network already established, there is not currently a social policy network for researchers studying social policy issues in Southeast Asia. This is a potential gap in terms of  developing theories and knowledge of social policy from a Southeast Asian perspective, promoting comparative social policy within this region, and also advancing the study of policy making, practice and wider public debates.

As a starting point, and with funding from a Social Policy Association Opportunities Grant, we convened a half-day workshop to exploring the potential for a new Southeast Asian Social Policy (SASP) research network.  This was held on the 3rd September 2019 at the University of Birmingham. This was an initial step that brought together participants from various backgrounds to gather potential ideas and plan whether and how best a new network might be taken forward. In total, we received 41 responses from researchers and policy experts who showed their interest in this initiative.  On the day itself, 14 participants from different universities and organizations attended the workshop. We were particularly pleased to welcome some participants attend who were normally based in Southeast Asia (Malaysia and Indonesia).

The workshop began by dividing participants into one of three main groups to reflect their research interests.  These were: Health and Welfare; Financial Inclusion and Development; and Education and Financial Capability.  Following these initial discussions, the workshop focused on identifying the potential aims, benefits, scope and barriers to setting up a network. This was followed by discussions on potential next steps forward.

Several possible steps for the next plan of action were discussed. A jiscmail list (http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/SEASPN-UOB) has now been set up to maintain communication with those interested in this initiative, and we welcome people joining the list. Additionally, workshop participants were encouraged to invite other relevant stakeholders to join the network to pool for more potential scholars and experts. We also discussed the possibility of getting in touch with other existing groups for research or events collaboration, such as workshops and seminars, and working papers publication. There were also suggestion to organize a symposium at the next Social Policy Association conference.

Amer Azlan Abdul Jamal, Bimo Arianto, Karen Rowlingson, Resya Kania, University of Birmingham.