On 28 January 2021, the International Social Security Association (ISSA) drew a record participation to the ISSA Virtual Symposium on Leadership in Social Security, with 765 registered participants from 165 institutions in 101 countries. The presentations and discussions demonstrated the crucial role of leadership to carry out transformations towards a human-and-digital model, as well as to respond to the challenges of COVID-19. It also highlighted how institutions increasingly build on behavioural insights to adapt, their approaches to service development and delivery.
The symposium, organized in collaboration with the ISSA Technical Commission on Organization, Management and Innovation and in cooperation with the Social Security Administering Body for the Health Sector (BPJS Kesehatan) of Indonesia, was an opportunity take a step back and bring perspective to some of the extraordinary developments that have taken place in social security administration. Through a number of COVID-19 webinars, the ISSA and its members have already shared experiences on issues such as adapting internal processes and human resources, leveraging e-services and the use of new technologies, and transitioning the workforce to a human-and-digital environment in light of the pandemic.
COVID-19 has accelerated ongoing changes, and this represents both challenges and opportunities for social security leaders and managers. In his opening remarks, ISSA Secretary General Marcelo Abi-Ramia Caetano emphasised that social security institutions had responded to high demands from governments and the public through effective leadership that leveraged on staff capacities and by taking decisive steps to invest in digital channels. “A new human and digital age is emerging in social security institutions,” he said. The ISSA was pleased to welcome senior managers from Africa, Asia and Europe sharing their experiences during the event.
Session 1: Leadership in the human-and-digital age
Followed by the introductory remarks of Mohammed Azman bin Aziz Mohammed, Chief Executive Officer and Director General of the Social Security Organisation (PERKESO) of Malaysia, the first session of the symposium was dedicated to the issue of leadership in the human-and-digital age. As outlined in an article published by the ISSA in advance of the event, decisive leadership that inspires unity of purpose is key, in particular during a crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic. The integrated approach to human-and-digital capabilities that social security institutions have been investing in for the past few years has not only prepared a new generation of leaders, but increased staff resiliency and the general use of digital technologies. This has helped social security institutions rise to the challenge of delivering benefits and services during this unprecedented crisis.
“Put people first”, were the words of Fachmi Idris, President Director of BPJS Kesehatan, Indonesia. In many ways, they summarize a thread that ran through this session. Mr Idris outlined his institution’s Leadership Vision to Embrace Digital Transformation, with a strong human dimension both in terms of internal and external management. Internally, he emphasised the importance of developing trust and collaboration around digital developments, and externally the importance of listening to one’s customers and ensuring gradual deployment of new digital solutions. T.B.J. Memela, Chief Executive Officer of the South African Social Security Agency, conveyed a similar message and emphasised the need to “Make sure that technology speaks to the people and that we walk the road together.” The Estonian National Social Insurance Board has the ambition to digitalise all workflows, and Director General Egon Veermäe said that we need to “Reimagine the future”. At the same time, he emphasised that in doing so social security institutions need to understand the fears of change from both staff and clients, listen to them, explain and walk the road with them. The Estonian National Social Insurance Board will be hosting the upcoming 16th ISSA International Conference on Information and Communication Technology in Social Security.
Session 2: Behavioural insights and social security
In the second session, the symposium participants were brought on a fascinating journey to learn more about how social security institutions increasingly make use of behavioural insights to develop and deliver excellence in social security. Maribel Ortiz, ISSA Senior Specialist in Social Security, introduced the concept. As she explained, most of the time human beings follow habits or are influenced by the way information is presented to them, and therefore most of our actions are non-conscious. This also applies to clients of social security. To change behaviour, “nudging” can be an effective tool. Nudging can be compared to seeking attention by a gentle push of the elbow. Through “nudging”, social security clients can gain interest, and even motivation, to change their behaviour and adopt the use of new digital solutions.
Lesley Stein, Director for Partnerships and Customer Insights at Services Australia, outlined the institutional vision to make government services as simple as possible. In order to do this, collecting information about people’s behaviour has become central to the business model, and Services Australia has integrated the use of technologies such as artificial intelligence into its processes. To respond to COVID-19, a behavioural insight create easier user journeys, and to nudge clients towards digital solutions. Leila Naija, Deputy Director at the National Social Security Fund (Caisse nationale de sécurité sociale – CNSS), Tunisia, presented their use of behavioural insight to extend social protection in the agricultural sector. Through and integrated approach, procedures and legislation were adapted, taking into consideration the specificities of agricultural workers, and the project paved the way for new digital and mobile solutions.
Disrupt or be disrupted
The ISSA Virtual Symposium on Leadership in Social Security demonstrated the dynamics and ongoing changes in leadership of modern social security. Under its topical priority “The future of social security administration and management”, the ISSA will continue to explore leadership in social security institutions, human resource development in a human-and-digital age, institutional digitalization and the use of behavioural insights.