Ash Center: Asia Public Policy Forum – A Look Back

July 15, 2013
Ash Center: Asia Public Policy Forum – A Look Back
Held in Jakarta, Indonesia, this year’s Asia Public Policy Forum convened over 125 scholars and policymakers from 19 countries.

Poverty, Inequality, and Social Protection in Asia

Rapid economic growth has delivered rising living standards across Asia. Poverty rates have fallen dramatically in most countries in the region, and important improvements have also been recorded in other quality of life measures, notably educational attainment, life expectancy, and child and maternal health.

Yet the rise in average incomes does not mean that everyone is better off: extreme poverty exists side by side with rising prosperity in many of the emerging economies of Asia. Moreover, the process of economic development itself increases some forms of risk. Despite larger proportions of the labor force now working in the waged or salaried sectors, macroeconomic fluctuations now have a more direct impact on the livelihoods of those that live at or near the poverty line and their ability to access healthcare, housing, and education.

Held in Jakarta, Indonesia, this year’s Asia Public Policy Forum convened over 125 scholars and policymakers from 19 countries to examine the role of social protection programs in reducing vulnerability to poverty and moderating the rise of economic inequality in the region’s dynamic economies.

Asian societies generally accept the proposition that the government has an important role in providing social assistance to low-income individuals and groups, and to reduce vulnerability to poverty for all citizens. However, the precise form of social protection varies markedly from country to country, and even among regions within the larger Asian countries. These differences reflect the specific economic, political, and cultural background of each nation and locality.

“The demand for social protection is rising across Asia for a variety of economic, demographic and political reasons,” said Jonathan Pincus, the Forum’s organizer and resident curriculum advisor for the Ash Center’s Vietnam Program. “This year’s Forum gave policymakers a chance to compare notes on how different countries in the region—and beyond—are attempting to match needs and expectations with the resources available to them.”

The sessions held at the Forum recognized the great variety of experience in the region and also sought comparative perspectives, including papers addressing approaches to social protection in Europe, Latin America, and Africa. Participants engaged in spirited discussion of the relative strengths and weaknesses of targeted and universal approaches to social protection in areas such as health provision, insurance, and pensions. The financing of social protection programs was a topic that generated considerable interest, particularly among the policymakers in attendance.

An exit survey at the end of the Forum indicated that participants were eager to follow up and network with fellow conference participants on several practical aspects of social protection, such as monitoring and evaluation of existing programs, overcoming implementation problems, and developing sustainable financing plans for all social programs, including social protection. Some of the papers from the Forum will appear in a special edition of the Journal of Southeast Asian Studies in 2014.

The Forum was co-sponsored by the Indonesian government’s National Team for the Acceleration of Poverty Reduction (TNP2K), a cross-agency body that coordinates social welfare policy and planning. A group of international Forum participants of the Forum met with Vice President Boediono in his capacity as chairperson of TNP2K for an open discussion of the issues to be addressed at the conference.

Financial support for the Forum was provided by the Australian Agency for International Development (AUSAID) and the Rajawali Foundation.

Click to view the agenda.

Click to view the program speakers.

Click to view the presentation slides.

Click to view an overview of the journal articles published on the Journal of Southeast Asian Economies (Volume 31 Number 1) resulting from the 2013 APPF Forum.

Click to view a listing and download the journal articles published on the Journal of Southeast Asian Economies (Volume 31 Number 1)