COVID-19 has brought crisis to the doorstep of every country in the world, spotlighting political
incoherence and failed policy visions, deep vulnerabilities of systems and institutions across
sectors, and polarised state and societal relations. This is occurring in underdeveloped and
developed countries alike. At the same time, there is growing awareness that such crises also create
opportunities to refashion the rules of the game in transformative ways.
This paper unpacks the question of how COVID-19 and the crisis-driven responses to address
the pandemic can contribute to wider national goals relating to forging or strengthening national
social contracts – that tie bold new policy visions to robust and resilient systems and institutional
arrangements, that transform harmful structural legacies and strengthen social contracts – that can
adapt, evolve and sustain in the face of crisis, and that hold promise for ever-greater levels of well-
being for all in society. To investigate this topic, the paper first introduces the discussion of building
back better from crisis, and how social contract framing can support these aims. Two sets of cases
and evidence are then considered: what drives resilient social contracts on the one hand, and what
drives successful COVID-19 responses on the other. A synthesis analysis of how the two can be
pursued simultaneously is then put forth.