Social Policy for Development (SPD)

About Social Policy for Development

  • Are you concerned about poverty, inequality or social exclusion?
  • Do you want to know more about population growth, employment creation, or children and youth in the Global South?
  • Did you know that most of the policies directly addressing these subjects fall into the category of social policy?

The Major in Social Policy for Development (SPD) offers an interdisciplinary, critical approach to the analysis of the problems of social reproduction and social provisioning – or of societal responses to social need – within a context of development and associated social and structural transformations. Emphasis is given to the question of how social policy can be used as a force for progressive transformation and for sustainable, equitable, gender-aware and socially-just development within a context of contemporary globalization and profound population transformations such as migration and urbanization.

The Major privileges a focus on some of the most pressing issues of the world today, such as persistent poverty, rising inequality, exclusion and discrimination, high levels of unemployment and insecure informal employment, persistent gender gaps, child labour, or the provisioning of comprehensive and, ideally, free and equitable social services to all members living within a society, including those living in the grey areas of statelessness, such as refugees, illegal migrants, and discriminated ethnic minorities. In addressing these issues, the major draws on the world-leading critical political economy tradition of development studies at ISS, together with extensive international experience among its staff and a strong commitment to the potential for achieving social justice and equity through social policy tools in development.

Four social policy related specializations are also proposed by the Major in order to allow participants to gain more in depth knowledge and research experience in a selection of sub-fields in which the ISS has strong expertise. The four proposed specializations are poverty studies, population and social development, children and youth studies, and work and employment, although students can also combine the core major training in social policy with other options from across the ISS.

Target group

The Social Policy for Development Major is an interdisciplinary degree devised to meet the needs of professionals, researchers, teachers, community based workers, activists and others working on social policy related themes in international development agencies, national governments, national and international donor organizations, non-governmental organizations, or in advocacy and social movements.

It also meets the needs of people working with governments but in the private sector, such as in consultancies that increasingly work on social development and social policy related issues.


Within the MA programme students have an option to specialize further. Take a look at the current specializations on offer.

Check out our video content about SPD

SPD students engage with social policy innovations around the world

In a series of videos, MA students demand more inclusive forms of social protection

Baby receiving medication

Social Policy for Development (SPD) webinar session 2024

In this webinar, ISS staff and students answer questions about the SPD major

Social Policy for Development

An informational video about the SPD major 

Check out what our students have to say about the SPD major!

I gained a lot of new perspectives and ideas about my professional and academic goals. It has reinvigorated my passion for academia as a transformational opportunity
Daniel Robert Soucy

SPD Field Research Fund

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