Research after thirty years

When UNU-WIDER was founded, and I was privileged to be associated with the research being undertaken by the new institute—the main challenges of development included the huge burden of poverty across the world as well as extensive economic and social inequalities, related to class, gender and other barriers. There were also major differences between nations, and sometimes within large nations, as in China, India, or Brazil. Some of these challenges are being systematically addressed in ways that the research initiated at UNU-WIDER thirty years ago helped to identify. There has been progress in these fields, though much more needs to be done, and these problems of deprivation and disparity must remain on the agenda of what we called ‘research for action’ in the early initiatives by UNU-WIDER.

One of the new problems, the understanding of which has vastly expanded over the last few decades, is the fragility of the world’s environmental balance, connected with, for example, global warming. In seeking remedies to reduce carbon emission the possibility of nuclear power being used is being increasingly utilized, but this ‘solution’ is also creating problems of its own, related to the possibility of accidents, sabotage, and theft of nuclear materials by organized terrorist movements. The entire issue of sustainable energy has come much more to the forefront demanding new research

There is also the problem of terrorist disruption of economies and societies, and the disorder and suffering created by ill-thought-out attempts to fight terrorism, creating development problems of new kinds. The overall challenge of sustainable and injustice-reducing development includes new problems as well as old adversities. The 30th anniversary of UNU-WIDER’s establishment is a good moment to think about the needed priorities of ‘research for action’ today.