The first regional workshop on social protection reform
in Arab countries
25 to 28 February 2019
UN House, Beirut
Ladies and gentlemen,
Welcome to the United Nations House in Beirut. It is an honour to open this workshop on Social
Protection Reform in the Arab Region, which focuses on one of the most pressing issues currently
facing our region: social protection. Demands for universal access to basic social protection and for
the equitable redistribution of resources have become increasingly pronounced worldwide, and the
Arab region is no exception. Social protection is a key policy tool for reducing inequality and poverty,
and for protecting against lifecycle risks. Together with labour market policy, social protection is
crucial to ensuring social inclusion and social justice, and to delivering on the 2030 Agenda’s promise
to “leave no one behind”.
Across the world, social protection systems are becoming increasingly complex and are subjected to
intense pressures. The forces of globalization, internal and external migration, and rapidly changing
labour markets are producing new risks and vulnerabilities and unprecedented social realities.
Conflict in several Arab countries has made it harder, but also more critical, to meet those severe
challenges. As such, social protection systems must undergo significant and fundamental reforms in
order to provide adequate support to all population groups.
The increasing complexity of social protection systems requires ever closer cooperation between a
wider range of stakeholders. We are therefore honoured to welcome the Minister of Social Affairs of
Lebanon, Mr. Richard Kouyoumjian; and the Minister of Labour, Mr. Camille Abousleiman, to this
workshop. Your participation highlights the Lebanese Government’s focus of social protection
policies as a means to address social and economic challenges, and to increase people’s trust in the
capacity of Government to protect and support.
I would also like to warmly welcome Ms. Mai Farid, Assistant Minister of Finance of Egypt; and Ms.
Maha El Rabbat, Executive Director of the MENA Health Policy Forum. We greatly appreciate your
The current workshop also benefits from the participation of distinguished government experts from
various ministries and agencies, including ministries of planning, social affairs, education, health,
governance, and finance. We also welcome the support of specialists from the World Bank, the
International Labour Organization, the World Health Organization and OECD, and of academics
from the American University of Beirut and the American University in Cairo. Only through
concerted efforts can we build solid, comprehensive and coherent social protection systems that
ensure access to basic social guarantees for all.
We have a long and challenging path ahead. The region is suffering from high informality and youth
unemployment rates. Social insurance systems are challenged by fragmentation, resulting in struggles
to extend coverage and maintain financial sustainability. Basic public services, like health and
education, are overburdened, which translates into unequal opportunities for human capital formation.
All these issues are further compounded by high levels of internal displacement and migration.
Nonetheless, almost all Arab countries are currently reforming their social protection systems.
Consequently, the main objective of this workshop is to exchange expertise, knowledge and
experience to guarantee success. Furthermore, the workshop encourages a systems approach to social
protection. In order to adapt to new social and economic realities, social protection systems must be
better integrated across their different components. They should facilitate social and labour market
mobility and provide support for people to invest in their future.
In line with the mandate of ESCWA to use its convening power and to facilitate regional cooperation
and integration, I am proud to open this first regional workshop on social protection reform. I wish
you every success in your work.
We at ESCWA are ready to support you to the best of our ability.