2013 World Bank Core Course on Safety Nets
December 2-13, 2013Washington, DC

This two-week "core course" is offered by the World Bank’s Social Protection practice aims to provide participants with an in-depth understanding of the conceptual and practical issues involved in the development of social protection systems and their foundation – social assistance or safety net programs.

This two-week "core course" was offered by the World Bank’s Social Protection practice for more than 10 years. It aims to provide participants with an in-depth understanding of the conceptual and practical issues involved in the development of social protection systems and their foundation – social assistance or safety net programs. Safety nets are non-contributory transfers provided to people vulnerable to or living in poverty. Transfers can be provided by governments in cash, vouchers or in-kind; they can be universal or targeted, and designed in the context of conditional or unconditional programs. Safety nets are only one of the components of broader social protection systems, which also include insurance-related interventions (e.g. health insurance and pensions) and a range of labor-oriented programs. Such systems protect poor and vulnerable population groups from risk of destitution, link them to essential social services and help them escape poverty.

Over the last decade the interest and activity in social safety nets has experienced a paradigm shift. Globally, there is strong political commitment for safety nets as powerful instrument for achieving development goals. The role of social safety nets has been magnified during the recent food, fuel and financial crises. And there is every reason to believe that that role will remain significant going forward. A growing number of countries are introducing and expanding safety net programs. Globally, safety nets are currently available in 131 developing and emerging countries, up from just 72 in 2000. In addition, some 33 countries are experimenting with innovative pilot initiatives.

The course builds on the latest developments in safety nets as integral part of social protection systems. The presented material reflects the most recent policy developments, delivery innovations and research findings by the World Bank and other institutions. It will cover recent practical experience in safety net delivery worldwide - from advanced to middle to low income, to fragile states.

Participants had the opportunity to present and discuss challenging issues concerning social safety net in their own country, and work toward solutions with other participants and experts.

Course Description

The course drew from worldwide data, analysis and knowledge, including as distilled and summarized for practitioners in the World Bank’s flagship publications (“For Protection and Promotion: the Design and Implementation of Effective Social Safety Nets”, “Conditional Cash Transfers: Reducing Present and Future Poverty”, “Rethinking School Feeding: Social Safety Nets, Child Development and the Education Sector”). The course also drew on recent global initiatives, especially Social Protection Assessment of Results and Country Systems (SPARCS) and Atlas of Social Protection: Indicators of Resilience and Equity (ASPIRE). It also uses materials and insights from global learning events (“Making Public Works Work: The Design and Implementation of Public Works Programs”, “Social Protection & Labor South-South Learning Forum 2012: The Role of Labor and Social Assistance”).

The course adopted a mix of learning methods, including presentations, round table discussions, simulation games, hands-on computer assisted exercises and group work. It is taught by experts from the World Bank, top research institutions and representatives of other agencies. This course comprised four interrelated and complementary topics: (1) the role of social safety nets in social protection system, and assessment of their performance; (2) overview of the main social assistance programs and instruments; (3) experience with implementation systems for effective delivery; and (4) how these vary across countries including by economic conditions, political economy, administrative and implementation capacity.

This year's course had a number of innovative features which distinguish it from previous offerings. First and foremost, it contained a module on how to use safety nets to strengthen social protection systems through better policy harmonization and reduced fragmentation across projects and delivery instruments. It also discussed in depth country cases with rapid transformation of safety nets and social policies. It contained in-depth coverage of implementation (including beneficiary registration, payment systems and management information systems) and policy analysis (including performance assessment, design of integrated safety net systems, new developments in activation and graduation programs for beneficiaries).

As a sampling, the course considered:

  • Overview of recent global initiatives in the area of social protection and safety nets.
  • The role of social safety nets in the architecture of social protection systems
  • Issues of building productive safety nets and promotion of beneficiaries.
  • Implementing and reforming safety nets to better support poverty eradication and shared prosperity.
  • The tools and methods used to undertake solid diagnoses of the need for safety nets, and determine their size, the specific instruments and program mix, and identification of beneficiaries.
  • How safety nets can enhance food security and help build more resilient livelihoods; and how to adapt them to disaster response situations.
  • The role played by safety nets during the recent crises and what worked and what did not.
  • How much to spend, finding the fiscal space and managing the challenges that arise when multiple levels of government are involved in the finance and/or delivery of safety net programs.
  • Designing and implementing cost effective and efficient targeting systems, including setting benefit levels and establishing the necessary support services.
  • How to set-up an effective monitoring system and control for fraud, error and corruption.
  • Tools and methods for evaluating social programs.
  • Political demands on social safety nets and ways to address political economy challenges.
  • How and when should gender considerations be incorporated?

Target Audience

This course is designed for policymakers, policy analysts and research staff from Government agencies, civil society stakeholders, NGOs involved in the implementation of safety nets, researchers and trainers from academic institutions, journalists working on issues related to poverty reduction and social protection, and operational staff from the World Bank and from bilateral and multilateral donor agencies. As teamwork is important in safety nets programs, we encourage interested countries to nominate teams engaged in the design, implementation or evaluation of safety nets programs.


Course participants were highly encouraged to complete the distance e-learning course -“Introduction to Social Safety Nets”. The course aims to support capacity building and on-the-job training of policy makers, managers and technical staff involved in safety nets and food security policy and implementation. The course consists of 6 lessons containing interactive step-by-step instructions, case studies, exercises and relevant reading material. The course is available online, download or on CD-Rom.

Past Participants' Course Evaluations

The course has been evaluated using several methods including participants’ self-assessment and satisfaction, and a pre- and post-test to assess actual learning gains from the course. It received high marks and has been well appreciated by a varied audience from developing countries (60%), World Bank staff (15%) and staff from development agencies, donors and developed countries (25%).

Comments from previous years’ participants:

“Comprehensive and diverse expert knowledge and country experiences presented by trainers.”
“The mix of theoretical and operational subjects combined with the exchange of experience with other country was wonderful”
“Drawing on rich experience from different speakers from across the world, country specific illustrations and references in addition to informative content added much value to the learning.”
“The approach in the presentations were provocative and challenging, and the discussions that resulted from undertaking the exercise was very helpful”

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