This Q&A with Michal Rutkowski is based on a DEVEX interview conducted on March 10, 2022. (View the Devex video interview above)
To assist the most vulnerable effectively, social protection systems need to be adaptive. Shock-responsive social protection is particularly important in the context of fragility, conflict, and violence (FCV) says Michal Rutkowski, Global Director for Social Protection & Jobs at the World Bank.
What are the shock-responsive or adaptive social protection systems?
Michal Rutkowski: These are systems that can be scaled up and scaled down quickly, especially during shocks and crises, when expanding the system is paramount.
Expansion can be horizontal, which means covering more people with social protection systems or vertical, covering the same people more in depth, with higher benefits.
To develop such systems, countries need strong social registries and good enrolment, delivery, and payment systems, often leveraging technology. Solid partnerships across government ministries, from disaster management to finance and social protection, are also critical.
Can you give country examples of effective social protection programs?
Michal Rutkowski: Sierra Leone is a country with a complex risk profile that has developed well-functioning delivery systems. It was able to use its social safety net in the response to Ebola and to flooding and landslides. Along with pre-positioned risk financing, this system enabled Sierra Leone to roll out cash transfers in response to COVID before other Sub-Saharan African countries.
In Somalia, the World Bank worked with WFP and UNICEF to build systems in a crisis context. In Sudan, the Family Support program, developed before the coup d’état, simultaneously provided cash, and invested in building registries and payment systems.
In Yemen, despite the ongoing conflict, we scaled up public works and cash for nutrition through partners and used our emergency response program to help build institutions. Thinking about longer-term institutionalization in parallel to the response to shock is key.
How does strengthening social protection help address the effects of compound risks (pandemics, climate change, multiple risks) in FCV contexts?
Michal Rutkowski: In the context of FCV, shock-responsive social protection systems play a particularly important role. Every intervention needs to start with a quick win, build on success and allow for experimentation because, amid uncertainty, we don’t know what will work.
Social protection systems also need to focus on diversifying families’ livelihood sources to increase their income and boost resilience. Economic inclusion programs have successfully supported families, displaced people, and communities in FCV contexts. Economic inclusion programs differ from normal social safety nets because they involve a package of activities: cash transfers are accompanied by coaching, mentoring, asset transfers or other non-cash interventions that allow families to adjust their activities so they can be linked to value chains and be productive.
Building family services to address multiple issues is also important. In Sudan, we now have a one-stop-shop for the program where citizens can get a government ID and access services, including COVID-19 vaccination. A platform was built that provides cash transfers and much more. In Guinea and the Republic of Congo, COVID-19 emergency programs are laying the foundations of shock-responsive safety net systems.
Why is the World Bank encouraging countries to enhance the preparedness and resilience of their systems against future crises?
Michal Rutkowski: For the past two years, we have worked hard to develop a stress test for social protection systems, which aims to test their ability to withstand shocks. We can now evaluate what needs to be done to make systems responsive and able to withstand stress.
This stress-testing mechanism has two elements: first, an evaluation of the country’s exposure to risks – we run scenarios to assess a country’s robustness. The second element focuses on the ability of social protection systems to respond and has four building blocks: delivery and payment systems; data and information, including early warning systems and social registries; finance – can it be made available if needed; and institutional arrangements and partnerships which looks at governance and cooperation among government agencies.
We score these four elements on a scale of 1 to 5. The average score provides an overall picture of the preparedness. Running such tests enables countries to assess the robustness of their social protection system against future shocks and crises.
How important are partnerships in providing effective social protection programs in countries affected by FCV?
Michal Rutkowski: Partnerships are critical because in the context of shocks, social protection interventions – however big – are far smaller than the humanitarian response. Moreover, humanitarian agencies use their own systems, designed to work in a crisis context, to deliver benefits and alleviate impact, rather than government channels. For us, strengthening government systems is very important. We therefore work closely with humanitarians conducting early interventions to create a single space for humanitarian institution building.
In Yemen, our partnership with UNDP and UNICEF was critical in reviving the country’s social protection institutions from near collapse as the country faced a humanitarian crisis. The presence of UN agencies in-country was extremely beneficial and together we created a humanitarian-development nexus to deliver social protection interventions and build more permanent resilience.
In Somalia, with UNICEF and WFP, we helped the government build its own social protection systems, leveraging WFP’s experience in rapid response delivery while building national capacity in social protection delivery systems. We can now see a transition from protracted humanitarian response to long-term social safety net systems, which also promotes trust in state institutions.