Societal resilience, food security and social protection
Gisele Yasmeen October 29, 2015

Societal resilience, food security and social protection


We are a few weeks away from the Commonwealth Peoples Forum – an important meeting of civil society, which will inform the subsequent Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).

I am very excited to have the opportunity to participate both as the chair of the session on Responses to food challenges on Tuesday, November 24 at 11am and as a speaker the same day at 2pm in a plenary session entitled Equity and Resilience: Access to critical resources and services for all. I hope to meet many of you at these sessions. The two aforementioned topics are intimately related and I am delighted to have been invited to submit a blog entry to stimulate thoughts and discussions prior to the CPF.

Responses to food challenges


I have had the privilege of working on food security since 1991 and am pleased to see that one of our speakers, Peppi Gauci, has recently contributed a blog entry for the CPF on the concept of permaculture – which is a fundamental concept when addressing food challenges through the lens of environmental, economic and social sustainability.

Certainly, the right and access to food is at the heart of being able to create strong, resilient societies. But do we have enough food for all now and in the future? In fact, the situation may not be as bleak as some of us think. Participants may wish to consult my opinion piece in iPolitics published roughly a year ago following the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation’s Second International Conference on Nutrition last year. In that piece, I quote the FAO’s Director General, José Graziano da Silva who said “Malnutrition is the number one cause of disease in the world. If hunger were a contagious disease, we would have already cured it” speaking of the importance of leadership and political will when it comes to food security. For those who like videos, an interview in November 2014 with Dr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram, FAO Assistant Director-General and Coordinator for Economic and Social Development, provides an overview of the agency’s flagship report The State of Food Insecurity in the World. 

A final point on this the topic of food challenges concerns the gender dimension. A colleague recently shared with me a 2012 report by Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on the right to food. The report features compelling statistics and case on the immense difference that including women in all aspects of food-related challenges makes to food security.

This bridges nicely to the topic of the plenary session where I will have the opportunity to make a presentation.

Equity and Resilience: Access to critical resources and services for all


Access to resources and services for all is critical to achieving a just and equitable world. Education, health-care, income-security and necessities of life such as food, water and shelter might all be classified as essential for our ability to survive and thrive collectively in a world of abundance. However, we are at a crossroads where billions around the world do not have the access to these resources to live in dignity. What are the obstacles? Nobel prize winning economists such as Amartya Sen speak of entitlements – that is, to define some of these resources and services as basic human rights. The alternative is to focus on ‘inclusive growth’ to ensure incomes adequate enough to avail of basic goods and services. What is the best approach?

In this plenary, I plan to address the concept of ‘social protection’ which has emerged over the years to include a number of issues related to access to critical resources and services.  For a useful overview, I would suggest reading Francie Lund’s 2009 paper, which provides a very good background. Again, for those who like videos, there is an excellent recent presentation by Mexican economist, Dr. Santiago Levy. In his presentation, Dr. Levy argues that the social protection has become a very broad concept and, perhaps too much so. There are two core objectives that often underscore social protection: first, managing risks (health, unemployment) and second, poverty alleviation, normally through redistribution of income. The instruments used to meet these objectives are many – while many have been successful – sometimes do not yield intended results. My presentation will focus on some of the conceptual and operational opportunities and challenges related to social protection drawing from examples on the ground, particularly in Commonwealth countries.

I look forward to discussing all these important topics with many of you!


Equity and resilience

Responses to food challenges


Gisèle Yasmeen

Gisele Yasmeen Commonwealth People's Forum speakerGisele Yasmeen, currently Senior Fellow at the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Institute of Asian Research, has worked in research and higher education for more than 20 years. She has undertaken and managed research and related activities across sectors, and has published widely in scholarly and other types of publications and provides regular media commentary. Her work has taken her all over Canada and around the world.

Before joining the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) in 2007 as Vice-President of Partnerships and, as of 2010, Vice-President, Research, Gisèle worked in a number of research-related executive and managerial positions in the academic, public, private and not-for-profit sectors. She left SSHRC in January 2014 to begin a new life back on the west coast with her family. In addition to her affiliation with UBC, Gisèle has recently done consulting work for Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing (WIEGO), Genome British Columbia, Genome Prairie and the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research. She is also a member of the International Scientific Advisory Board for the Continuous Access to Cultural Heritage (CATCH) program funded by the Netherlands Orgnanisation for Scientific Research. Gisèle has a PhD from the University of British Columbia, an MA from McGill University and a BA Honours from the University of Ottawa.