Research & Innovation 2015-16 - Page 33

Ingrid Woolard has
social justice at heart
“She is without peer as a producer of survey
data, and a top-cited economic researcher,”
says Professor Murray Leibbrandt, provice-chancellor for poverty and inequality,
of Professor Ingrid Woolard, dean of the
Faculty of Commerce and professor in the
School of Economics.
Woolard’s work has focused primarily on the use of data
to better understand the nature of poverty, inequality and
unemployment in South Africa. It was in recognition of
this that she won UCT’s prestigious Alan Pifer Award in
2015. The Alan Pifer Award is the vice-chancellor’s annual
prize for outstanding welfare-related research.
Woolard cut her teeth as a data manager on the
country’s first national living standards measurement
survey in 1994, which the Southern Africa Labour and
Development Research Unit (SALDRU) produced
with the World Bank, at the request of the African
National Congress.
Woolard was also a key team member in the
second and third waves of the KwaZulu-Natal
Income Dynamics Study (KIDS). This used the
KwaZulu-Natal component of the 1993 Project for
Statistics on Living Standards and Development, and
then re-interviewed this sample in 1998, and again in
2003. KIDS was South Africa’s first socioeconomic
panel survey, and it pioneered the analysis of poverty
and inequality dynamics in South Africa.
Based on this data, Woolard’s work showed how
destitution has driven many urban-based unemployed
people back into rural areas, to survive off the pensions
of parents and grandparents. This work was influential
in unpacking how South Africa’s unemployed actually
survive. It was also an important revelation for
policymakers, to understand how unemployed people
are forced to move away from labour markets.
Given this experience, Woolard was the first choice as a
principal investigator for SALDRU’s bid for the National
Income Dynamics Study (NIDS), the country’s flagship
national household panel survey, which was launched in
2008. Later, by making the survey data widely available,
Woolard positioned it as South Africa’s highest-profile
national survey, with the unique potential to reflect the
country’s evolving socioeconomic dynamics.
Woolard’s contributions have been internationally
recognised. She was the only South African
labour economist invited to be a member of the
labour market team within the Harvard Group that
National Treasury tasked with preparing a South
African growth strategy. In 2011, the minister of
labour appointed her to chair the Employment
Conditions Commission. The commission, which
makes sectoral wage determinations for vulnerable
workers who are not covered by formal wage
bargaining procedures, was informed by her own
work on labour markets and inequality. She gave
up the position in 2014, after being appointed to
the Davis Tax Committee.
In 2016, Woolard was appointed dean of the Faculty
of Commerce, an important next step in her already
fruitful career.
“There’s a lot of really excellent socially driven
research going on in the faculty,” she says. “And as
dean, I’m looking forward to shaping the direction
that takes.”
Adapted from an article by Helen Swingler. Image by
Michael Hammond.
No poverty, economic growth and reduced inequalities 28


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