The Research Project

The Research Project on Employment, Income Distribution and Inclusive Growth, launched in 2012, is a national multi-year, collaborative, independent research initiative funded by the National Treasury and managed by the University of Cape Town's Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit (SALDRU). This research programme is aimed at deepening our understanding of the dynamics of employment, incomes and trends in social outcomes and, notably, the interconnections between these three areas.

Murray Leibbrandt (Director of SALDRU) is the overall Project Director. Frederick Fourie (of the Department of Economics at the University of the Free State) is the Project Research Coordinator. Through him the research coordination component occurs in partnership with the latter Department (this component also includes editing and managing the online forum). Collaboration with researchers at various South African universities and research entities and engagement with diverse perspectives on the project's focus areas are key objectives of the initiative.

The project is designed to forge a stronger engagement between research and policy making and to promote dialogue across disciplines and paradigms. By generating an independent, rich and nuanced knowledge base and expert network, it intends to contribute to coordinated, consistent and effective policies directed at the three critical problem areas of unemployment, inequality and poverty.

Three interconnected focus areas have been defined. These are:

  1. unemployment and employment;

  2. income distribution; and

  3. inclusive growth.

Each area is led by a Focus Area Convenor: Frederick Fourie and Murray Leibbrandt convene the first two areas respectively, and Haroon Bhorat, Director of UCT’s Development Policy Research Unit (DPRU), convenes the third.

The project seeks to advance an integrated response to unemployment, inequality and poverty, building on both South African research and experience and international evidence on the challenges of employment, growth and distribution, and associated policy options. It builds on an unemployment research framework that identifies the fragmentation of the debates over unemployment, income distribution and inclusive growth into different discourses or silos as a major cause of many knowledge gaps. These gaps weaken the ability of research to inform policies that will contribute significantly to alleviating unemployment, inequality and poverty.

A related problem is a reluctance to incorporate the entire spectrum of economic activities and livelihoods, i.e. the formal sector, the informal economy and survivalist/subsistence activities, explicitly into research and policy analysis. Policy research needs to start from the diversity and complexity of the South African context and, indeed, be grounded in it.

The project promotes cross-discourse engagements and drawing on the insights of several discourses, methodologies, data types, data sources, sub-disciplines and disciplines – including labour economics, macroeconomics, development economics, poverty studies, sociology, political science, law and so forth.

The project aims to inspire and develop a community of researchers from an inclusive network of South African universities and research entities. Through this approach it hopes to:

  • involve South Africa’s best researchers on labour markets, inequality, poverty, development, growth and social policy (including several DST-NRF Research Chairs);

  • support post-graduate work in the focus areas, and 

  • build the capacity of students and researchers from previously disadvantaged communities. 

Incentive grants and scholarships are available in each focus area to build a community of active researchers.

Another explicit aim is to improve public understanding of, and public discourse on, these complex problems. Critical debate will be stimulated through workshops, seminars, conferences, working papers, books and other publications, effective media liaison – and the Econ3x3 online forum.

Further information on the project, its three focus areas and their research questions, funding opportunities, requirements for applications and proposals, and contact details may be found on the project’s website: or via the Research Project Home link in the top banner of Econ3x3.