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Social Protection and Labor: Staying Resilient in a Volatile World

February 23, 2011

  • World Bank is developing a new Social Protection and Labor Strategy to help those in low- and middle-income countries ride out economic and social shocks.
  • Strategy comes as Bank clients grapple with increasing volatility, poverty and inequality.
  • Strategy will cover ten years—2012 to 2022—and will build on successful models, including safety net programs, conditional cash transfers, and public works job creation.

February 23, 2011 – An estimated 210 million people are out of work worldwide, the highest level of unemployment ever recorded. Twelve months after a devastating earthquake, nearly one million Haitians still live in tents or other temporary shelters. Food prices are spiking beyond the levels of the 2007-2008 food crisis, and the Arab world faces sweeping political change.

People worldwide face greater uncertainty at a time when family support and other traditional safety nets have eroded. To better protect people in low- and middle-income countries from economic and social risks and boost their resilience, the World Bank is devising a new social protection and labor strategy that will guide its work with countries and development partners during the next 10 years.

The Bank, which has just announced the start of its first round of global strategy consultations, views effective social protection and labor programs as central to its poverty-fighting, opportunity-creating development mission.

“The world’s becoming more uncertain, and so our new social protection and labor strategy needs to offer a range of options that allow people and their families to manage and ride out uncertainty and sudden shocks like unemployment or major illness with resilience,” says Tamar Manuelyan Atinc, vice president for the Bank’s Human Development Network, which houses the Social Protection and Labor unit.

Manuelyan Atinc says the world is also changing in terms of its demographic composition and evolution. The population is aging both in the developed world as well as in East Asia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, but there are other regions such as the Middle East and South Asia with large populations of young people who need good jobs and opportunities to succeed in life.

‘Tried and True’ Approaches

The strategy will build on tried and true social protection programs such as safety nets, conditional cash transfers, and public works job creation—as well as promising new approaches and tools. 

For instance, there’s evidence that work-related training and internships help teenagers from poor families in the Dominican Republic get higher-paying and better-quality jobs. Conditional cash transfers in Turkey address nutritional needs of impoverished households, but also help girls in those families go to school and increase their future opportunities, thereby encouraging gender equality in those households.

And providing temporary public jobs to hungry Ethiopians during the off-season for work enables them to plant more drought-resistant trees as an investment.

Four Themes

The new strategy is being led by Arup Banerji , the Bank’s Director for Social Protection, who says that  consultations will take place at a difficult time for many of the Bank’s country clients as they grapple with how to best respond to deepening demographic trends, increasing volatility and integration, and persistent poverty and inequality. 

“Our social protection and labor strategy needs to address both dimensions of these demographic trends, and help people respond to shocks in ways that don’t compromise their future ability to earn incomes, allow them to invest in the education of their children, get their kids to health clinics, and continue to invest in themselves so once the economic recovery takes place they will be able to take advantage of the expanded opportunities,” says Banerji.

He says that the Bank’s new social protection and labor vision will be guided by four emerging themes:

Building more effective social protection systems - Many countries are confronted with the need to better identify and cover beneficiaries as well as integrate and harmonize their social protection interventions. More integrated, better-targeted social protection systems are vital to improving equity, efficiency, and effectiveness.

Focus on low-income and fragile countries - Sustainable and scalable social protection solutions in these contexts will have to be both innovative and pragmatic. They should aim to build the basic elements of social protection programs, and improve and harmonize existing efforts. Building effective social protection systems is key to addressing existing vulnerabilities, building resilience and preparing effective responses to future crises.

Promoting opportunity as a goal of social protection programs and systems - Well-designed social protection programs can significantly improve people’s opportunities, employability, and livelihoods—key ingredients to equitable growth. Social protection programs can build on emerging good practice to strengthen this focus on increasing opportunity while promoting the resilience of households.  

More investment in knowledge and sharing of good practice and results - Given the numerous challenges in social protection, the Bank needs continue to build its understanding of what works in middle-income country settings (including the new types of programs pioneered by some emerging economies), while deepening its knowledge of what works best for lower-income and fragile contexts.