27 October 2023
On 27 September 2023, PROCOL Lebanon organised a half-day workshop that brought together prominent stakeholders and academics from Lebanon to discuss ideas, experiences and research findings about Lebanon’s current policy priorities, and the research and solutions needed to advance socioeconomic and political reforms.
The first session was mediated by IGP Director Professor Henrietta Moore and brought together MP Ibrahim Mneimneh and Sami Atallah, Director of the Policy Initiative, to discuss the relationship between research, policy, and politics in Lebanon. The discussants highlighted the difficulties of implementing policy when parliamentarians are not interested in reforms and are only concerned with research that serves their party’s interests. MP Mneimneh highlighted the need to restructure the banking and financial sector as a priority, a recommendation also emphasised by the IMF in the Staff Level Agreement of April 2022. Reforming Lebanon’s judiciary body and social protection are further key priorities, Atallah added.
There are already many well-suited strategies and frameworks developed by think tanks, academics and civil society groups to put Lebanon back on the track of recovery. However, with the absence of an efficient and independent judiciary body to hold the status quo accountable for their continuous stalling on much-needed reforms, achieving policy transformation and social change is greatly hindered. Policy making has multiple layers, including community mobilisation which is lacking from Lebanon’s political milieu. There is a need for public engagement in political conversations, especially since most of Lebanon’s youth are either considering emigrating or have already left the country in search for better opportunities.
Nevertheless, both speakers saw a glimmer of hope in the new dynamics in Parliament, with new parliamentarians challenging the status quo by blocking decisions, forcing conversations or not allowing traditional politicians to use the “sectarian” card. There is also a good ecosystem of think tanks and researchers that are continuously working to provide evidence-based outputs and interventions that may assist in adjusting to the radical transformations that Lebanon’s economy and social fabric are facing.
The second and third sessions zoomed in on the delivery of policy change through a focus on citizens’ needs and micro-level, bottom-up approaches to policy making respectively. Speaker Mr. Nehme Nehme, researcher and education specialist, highlighted the significant role that education needs to play in the future of Lebanon as the sector’s current outlook is very inauspicious – especially with the number of teachers, the sector’s main productive unit, reducing at an alarming rate. Education should be regarded as more than just a commodity with economic value; it is a multidimensional service that offers people opportunities, empowers them, and fortifies their abilities. Improving teaching conditions, the infrastructure of public schools along with the curricula needs to be a policy priority for Lebanon in the coming years, as compromising on the education sector has far-reaching implications on every aspect of society.
Mayssa Jallad, researcher at PROCOL Lebanon, presented research findings on the coping strategies that people in Ras Beirut are being driven to adopt due to the lack of state-supported services, in order to meet their basic needs and access basic services. One important finding was that the people interviewed have actually critiqued these coping strategies such as relying on political parties and non-governmental organizations as they are often unreliable, unsustainable and discriminatory.
In light of the difficult social and political milieu, a possible pathway to policy change was discussed by our final speakers Mona Hallak, Director of the Neighbourhood Initiative, and Nahida Al Khalil, Landscape Architect and Political Activist. Both speakers highlighted the importance of localised, grassroots-level interventions in translating research into action. For such interventions to succeed, both speakers emphasised the need to talk and listen to the needs of people and engage them in the process. It is essential to include relevant local stakeholders and local authorities to ensure the interventions run smoothly. The participatory nature of these interventions restores the sense of civic responsibility among the people and more importantly, it increases people’s influence and control over local-level decision-making and action. Both speakers also stressed the importance of ongoing communication with local authorities, as they may initially delay or resist intervention proposals. However, through persistent follow-ups and diligent work, they can often be persuaded to address the needs of the public.
This workshop demonstrated that policy transformation can be achieved by bridging the gap between research and national policies through citizen and stakeholder engagement and collaboration.
We look forward to organising future workshops that delve deeper into this methodology as well as engaging with more stakeholders to explore possible means to alleviate the strain on peoples’ livelihoods in Lebanon.
Balsam Gharib is a research assistant at PROCOL Lebanon in Beirut. She works on the AHRC/MENA SP Network project ‘Livelihoods Networks and Political Experience in Beirut, Lebanon’ where she specialises in policy development. She holds a BA in Political Science/International Affairs along with a minor in Multimedia Journalism from the Lebanese American University. Her current research endeavours include studying the relationship between livelihood strategies, experiences of governance, and social and political identity in Lebanon.
Image courtesy of JossK/UNSPLASH
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