Arab Forum "Towards a New Welfare Mix: Rethinking the Roles of the State, Market and Civil Society in the Provision of Basic Social Services"
Provision of affordable and quality social services such as health, education and social protection is a key concern in Arab countries. Provision of these services has traditionally been considered as the domain of the State. However, this has been subject to change globally and in the Arab region. Increased privatization efforts and technical as well as regulatory innovations have enabled non-state actors to contribute to the provision of basic social services. Some countries in the region have deliberately designed policies to allow private participation in some social sectors. In other countries, weakened state capacity led to the situation where gaps in public service provision left room for non-state actors who jumped in to fill these gaps. As the provision of affordable and quality social services will be a key of achieving the MDGs and beyond, it is pertinent to have a closer look at the prevailing welfare mix and social service provision by different providers and evaluate this welfare mix with regards to criteria of both social justice and existing state capacity.
In ESCWA member countries, non-state actors which provide social services run the gamut from private foundations to religious or political organizations to civil society organizations and (for profit) market institutions. These non-state actors contribute to fill important gaps left by the public sector. When the State is not able to provide these services, or is providing services in limited quality, users often welcome non-state contributions, even if they are provided at relatively high prices.
However, when these activities and contributions are not sufficiently regulated by the State, several concerns may arise. First, without proper regulation and governance, there is no assurance that these activities are following objectives of equity or equality. Second, there is little structure to ensure civil society actors’ accountability to their beneficiaries. Third, when services are provided on the basis of profit-gain principles, the poorer quintiles of society may not be able to afford those services. Similarly, many groups may not have access to services provided by civil society organizations based on kinship, sect or other affiliation.
In this context, the Arab Forum will (i) evaluate social services provided by non-state actors in the region; (ii)foster knowledge sharing and discussion of experiences of social service provision by the state, the market and civil society in the region and beyond; (iii) identify the challenges and opportunities in the provision of basic social services by non-state actors with specific focus on equity, governance, regulation and sustainability; and (iv) provide recommendations on a welfare mix addressing both criteria of social justice and limited state capacity.