Social Contracts: A Pathway for More Inclusive Societies

Publication: Report

States and societies are in crisis around the world, as questions arise around the nature and quality of existing social contracts. COVID-19 has laid bare profound vulnerabilities within and across societies. The global pandemic is revealing deep failures in policy visions, institutional fragility, and incapacities of states to harness societal compliance where trust and a sense of national belonging is weak. At the same time, our interdependencies have never been so clear, as all countries, developed and underdeveloped alike, confront similar challenges. Crisis, however, offers opportunity to do things better, to build forward better – strengthening social contracts at all levels. How then, can social contracts, and compacting in times of crisis, offer pathways to address inequality and exclusion?

Tunisia - Elections 2011 Photo: © Ezequiel Scagnetti / Flickr User: European Parliament. Retrieved from, (CC BY-NC 2.0)

This paper considers how social contracts can offer frameworks to foster new thinking and shape transformative policy to build more inclusive societies. Such frameworks should tie bold new policy visions to robust and resilient institutional arrangements that uproot harmful structural legacies with lasting effect for inclusive and peaceful societies. They must also offer means to address material conditions of inequality, and those related to recognition, identity, and dignity. The cases of South Africa, Tunisia, Colombia, and South Korea reveal that, while not easy nor predictable, such pathways exist. Key findings in this briefing include:

  • Inequality and exclusion stem from policy choices and are fueled by corruption; they undermine foundations of inclusive and resilient national social contracts, e.g. trust in government and societal willingness to consent to difficult policy choices;
  • Participation in formal electoral processes is declining while protest is rising, indicating a lack of faith in existing politics and institutional mechanisms for resolving conflict and fostering consensual politics; and
  • Civil society movements in and across countries are advancing more inclusive social contracts that tackle vulnerability and risk through a variety of innovative means that deserve greater support.

Read the full paper: Social Contracts: A Pathway for More Inclusive Societies

This policy paper is part of the Pathfinders Grand Challenge on Inequality & Exclusion. More information about this initiative can be found here.

More Resources

  • Publication: Analysis May 17, 2023 CIC Perspectives

    Managing Opportunities, Challenges, and Expectations for the New Agenda for Peace

    Ahead of the policy brief expected from the UN Secretariat in June 2023, this piece provides a historical glance at past UN reforms, identifies the primary challenges and opportunities the UN and its member states face as they undergo this process, and looks forward to the key priorities that can be taken up from a realistic and practical perspective. Highlighted is how the New Agenda for Peace “provides a rare opportunity for the United Nations to examine and reflect upon the totality of the peace and security work of the Organization to uncover and better understand the synergies and contradictions of the existing processes and structures.”

  • Publication: Policy Brief April 24, 2023

    Does the Present Interpretation of the UN Principles Cause Harm in Syria and Yemen?

    This policy brief takes a comparative examination of how the United Nations has adopted a paradoxical interpretation of its guiding principles to address the complex humanitarian crises in Syria and Yemen. It offers approaches that could change the course of international humanitarian operations and protect them from further politicization, weaponization, and diversion.

Stay Connected

Join our mailing list to receive regular updates on our latest events, analysis, and resources.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.