A unique role in the world of international organizations

The roots of the International Social Security Association lie in mutual insurance, the collective response of 19th-century European industrial workers to illness, unemployment, disability and old age. In the space of nine decades, the ISSA has expanded into a truly worldwide Association, now bringing together more than 330 organizations in 158 countries. With the immense challenges the world is facing, its commitment to promoting social security will be needed more than ever to secure social justice for all.

Shaping the debate: 1990 – 2004

Towards the turn of the century, amid negative portrayals of the role and economic cost of social security, it became increasingly clear that the ISSA must intervene more actively in the growing worldwide debate by promoting a more balanced and informed dialogue among policymakers and by participating energetically in the international events where social security matters were deliberated.

At a meeting of the ISSA Bureau in Stockholm in 1996, under the presidency of Karl Gustaf Scherman, it was decided to create a forum for international dialogue on social security's essential role in social and economic development.

Building on the successful outcome of the Stockholm Initiative, in 1999 ISSA President Johan Verstraeten launched a second ISSA Initiative, "Strengthening the security in social security", in Rome, with a view to enhancing the prospects for achieving universal and adequate social security coverage.

During this period, membership grew from 237 affiliate and 69 associate members in 121 countries, to 275 affiliate and 107 associate members in 148 countries. The affiliation of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security of the People's Republic of China in 1993 constituted an important milestone in the development of the ISSA's membership.

Knowledge and information transfer

Under the guidance of ISSA Secretary General Dalmer D. Hoskins (United States), a significant development during this period was the adoption of new communication techniques to reach the ISSA members and the world at large. A notable example was the launching of the ISSA Website, www.issa.int, which provides continuously updated information in the four working languages on the activities of the Association. Another significant development was the modernization of the Association's international databases that provide information on all aspects of social security. These databases, known as Social Security Worldwide – SSW, were transformed into an electronic information dissemination service. First produced on CD-ROM in 1997, the Internet version (www.issa.int/ssw) followed in 1998.

Building the New ISSA: 2004 – 2013

Following its 75th anniversary, the ISSA embarked on a new era. After the election in Beijing in 2004 of the first woman President, Corazon de la Paz-Bernardo from the Philippines, Hans-Horst Konkolewsky of Denmark was elected ISSA Secretary General with a mandate to build a New ISSA, a dynamic institution that adapts to changing realities and constantly matches its activities to the evolving needs of member organizations.

With a view to strengthening action at regional and subregional levels, the first of a new kind of ISSA office managed and staffed by members themselves, the Subregional Office for Arab Countries in Asia, was opened in Amman in 2005, hosted by the Social Security Corporation of Jordan. ISSA Liaison Offices were soon to be established in several other regions.

To reach the New ISSA's objectives in support of dynamic social security, 2007 saw the creation of the world's first Social Security Observatory. The first World Social Security Forum was convened by the ISSA in Moscow (Russian Federation) in September of the same year. Throughout the Forum, a case was made for ISSA's vision of dynamic social security geared to better ensure accessible and sustainable social protection systems. The ISSA Council affirmed this vision when it adopted an ambitious new triennial programme and budget for the Association, centred on "Dynamic Social Security".

This vision was reaffirmed at the World Social Security Forum in Cape Town, South Africa, in 2010, when the ISSA Secretary General Mr. Konkolewsky called for a "worldwide culture of social security" as a foundation for the financial, social  and political legitimacy of social security in challenging times. Meeting during the Forum, the ISSA Council elected a new President, Errol Stoové (Netherlands).

The Centre for Excellence: 2013 – present

The following World Social Security Forum, in Doha, Qatar, in December 2013, was a landmark event for the ISSA and for social security. A highlight of the Forum was the launch of the ISSA Centre for Excellence in Social Security Administration and a series of professional guidelines covering key areas of social security administration. These represent a ground-breaking innovation for the ISSA, and a resource to promote excellence in social security administration.

The further development of the Centre for Excellence included the extension of the series of the international professional Guidelines, and the growth of the ISSA Academy, providing training and exchange opportunities for members.

At the World Social Security Forum in Panama, in November 2016, a new President, Dr Joachim Breuer (Germany) was elected. A highlight of the event, which attracted more than 1,000 social security policy-makers and leaders, was the publication of a new study by the ISSA identifying global strategic challenges facing social security systems.

In the space of nine decades, the ISSA has expanded into a truly worldwide Association, now bringing together more than 350 organizations in almost 160 countries. With the immense demographic, economic and technological transformations the world is facing, its commitment to promoting excellence in social security will be needed more than ever to secure social justice for all.

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