My favourite Robert Chambers article is his introduction to an IDS Bulletin that he edited in 1989, titled ‘Vulnerability, coping and policy’ (Chambers, 1989).1 This article was so far ahead of its time that it anticipated the ‘social protection’ agenda by a decade, and many of its insights have not yet permeated development thinking and policy, more than two decades later. In 2006, in a special issue celebrating 40 years of the IDS Bulletin, we selected this article as one of the 16 most memorable and influential contributions ever, on the grounds that it ‘is still widely quoted and continues to inform thinking on vulnerability and policy on social protection’ (Devereux and Knowles, 2006, p3).