Skip to Main Navigation
FEATURE STORYMarch 3, 2024

IDA Helps to Weave the Fabric of Global Social Protection

The World Bank

Social protection helps hundreds of millions of poor households create livelihoods, withstand shocks, and become more resilient.

World Bank

Marcelina Ngandu
Marcelina Ngandu, a widowed mother of five in Zambia, receives monthly cash transfers that she invests in her small business.
Every two months, Marcelina Ngandu collects her cash transfer from the Zambian government and invests it in her small doughnut business. “I buy baking flour and make doughnuts for selling,” says Marcelina, a widow, who uses the money she makes to support her late sister’s five children. “From my last bi-monthly payment of 300 Kwacha ($14), I made doughnuts and sold them for 400 Kwacha that helps me pay for school fees for the orphaned children I look after. I urge all other widows to not only eat the money but grow it like I do.”

Marcelina is one of more than 3 million people who benefit from the Social Cash Transfer Program in Zambia, which is improving the livelihoods of women and expanding access to education for children. This is one of many social protection programs supported by the International Development Association (IDA), and an important part of the World Bank’s commitment to achieving universal social protection.

Social protection can transform the lives of the poorest and most vulnerable—providing a lifeline to hundreds of millions of people during crises, boosting human capital for the next generation, and empowering people, especially women. This protection is crucial as we work towards ending extreme poverty and boosting prosperity on a livable planet.

COVID-19 a major catalyst for social protection

As the global COVID-19 pandemic disrupted economies around the world, governments turned to social protection programs to rapidly provide temporary income support. We witnessed the largest scale-up of social transfers in history and expanded use of digital delivery systems. In response to the recent global food crisis, social protection responses more than doubled.

A nurse vaccinates a patient against COVID-19 at a clinic in Cabo Verde.
IDA-supported social protection programs were instrumental in helping boost COVID-19 preparedness and emergency response in health sectors around the world. Photo: World Bank

Yet while the number of countries with social protection systems has grown over the past 30 years, we are far from the Sustainable Development Goal of social protection for all. More than half the world—as many as 4.1 billion people—still remain unprotected and many countries do not have systems in place for a timely response to shocks.

As the threat of climate change and conflict are omnipresent, the World Bank is raising its ambitions to support half a billion poor and vulnerable people with targeted strategies, tailored to meet their needs, and timed to cope with shocks. IDA plays a critical role in meeting this ambition. It is the main vehicle through which the World Bank supports expanded social protection to strengthen the resilience of poor and vulnerable households.

Improving lives now and into the future

Social protection instruments—like social insurance, social assistance, and labor and economic inclusion programs—help people cope when a crisis or shock occurs and to ensure systems are better prepared for such shocks. They can also have powerful long-term benefits by allowing people to invest in the health and education of their children, train for and find jobs, and protect the aging population. Their transformational value lies in their ability to alleviate current, acute poverty, while breaking the cycle of poverty by incentivizing human capital investments for the next generation.

Visten Handoli and Rebecca Mutena work in their small business in Hanuka Village in the Siavonga District of Zambia.
The Social Cash Transfer Program (SCT) in Zambia has helped beneficiaries improve their education and health and start their own small businesses. Photo: World Bank

In the early 1990s, Mexico was one of the first countries to implement a conditional cash transfer program. As the IDA-supported Prospera program increased school enrollment and improved nutrition, the simple idea spread quickly throughout Latin America, Africa, and Asia. This has led to transformative initiatives like the Income Support Program for the Poorest in Bangladesh, which reached 600,000 women over nearly a decade, improving their children’s nutrition, cognitive development, and readiness for school, and the Social Cash Transfer Program in Zambia, which has helped 20 percent of the population.

Empowering women

Social protection programs are particularly beneficial for women. These programs expand women’s opportunities to participate in the labor force, increase knowledge and financial literacy, and contribute to reducing gender-based violence.

Eva Ituwa, a beneficiary operating a small business in Nyokurun residential area in Juba. Photo: John Lomoro Sindani
Eva Ituwa is a beneficiary of the South Sudan Safety Net Project. Cash transfers she received helped her operate a small business in Nyokurun residential area in Juba. Photo: John Lomoro Sindani

The IDA-supported Urban Productive Safety Net Project in Ethiopia, for example, enabled beneficiaries—60 percent of whom were women—to open bank accounts for the first time and provided livelihood grants that helped people complete skills and financial literacy training to start small businesses. In addition to helping to address food insecurity and persistent economic instability, a social safety nets project in South Sudan incorporated gender-transformative behaviors, social cohesion, and gender-based violence risk mitigation. The IDA-supported project exceeded its own targets for gender equality, with 77 percent female participation in labor-intensive public works programs.

“I started this small business with the cash assistance I received from the project, and it has helped change my life and that of my family,” says Eva Ituwa, a single mother in South Sudan with eight children. “I am now able to generate an income by selling tea on a daily basis to cater for my children’s needs, including food, medication, and paying school fees.”

I started this small business with the cash assistance I received from the project, and it has helped change my life and that of my family
Eva Ituwa
Beneficiary, South Sudan Safety Net Project (SSSNP)

The future is adaptive and digital

Adaptive Social Protection systems are designed to respond to shocks of all kinds to prevent losses of human capital and increased poverty. Often integrating disaster risk, crisis response, and climate change measures, such systems can increase the resilience of households to climate shocks, health emergencies, food insecurity, and inflation.

The COVID-19 pandemic provided the ultimate stress test for Adaptive Social Protection, as countries with functioning systems in place were able to rapidly expand support—by both including additional beneficiaries and by increasing the benefits paid to existing recipients. Countries with more established ways of delivering social assistance to people, such as digital social registries and payment systems, showed the strongest ability to respond to shocks efficiently, quickly, and inclusively.

In Djibouti, with IDA support, the government rapidly responded to the COVID-19 health emergency by using an established social registry that covers nearly 50 percent of the population. They deployed cash transfers to nearly 5,000 rural households and food vouchers to over 27,500 urban households to help them cope with the shocks of pandemic-related lockdowns.

The global shift toward digital delivery, is already having important consequences for the design and improvement of humanitarian assistance.

Increasing climate resilience through social protection

Many climate-vulnerable countries expanded their adaptive social protection systems in recent years and are exploring social protection instruments to improve climate resilience and protect the most vulnerable people from climate-related shocks.

In Niger, women water their land with a pump acquired through an IDA-supported social protection program.
In Niger, beneficiaries of the Sahel Adaptive Social Protection Program water their crops with a motor pump. Photo: Ollivier Girard / World Bank

For example, in the Sahel, a World Bank-supported program has helped Niger become the first country in the region to develop a trigger-based adaptive safety net for drought response. By monitoring satellite early warning data to identify drought-affected areas, the government was able to activate an emergency drought response and provide more than 100,000 families with monthly transfers to offset poor harvests. In Pakistan, 100,000 flood-affected households received short-term income through a community-level cash-for-work program after the devasting floods of 2022.

Initiatives to scale up social protection coverage for loss and damages arising from extreme climate events are also critical, including income support, alternative livelihoods, or financial support during migration if and when necessary.

Governments have shown that they can effectively and efficiently use social assistance to build resilience when crises hit. IDA stands ready to support countries in improving and expanding these crucial programs that protect people during difficult times.  


    loader image


    loader image