Skip to Main Navigation
July 29, 2019

Build, Employ and Protect: Using Social Protection to Invest in People in a Changing World

Women beneficiaries of IDA-funded Human Development Programs (nutrition, social protection, and education) in the village of Soavina in Madagascar. Photo: © Sarah Farhat/World Bank

In a small community off the coast of Sierra Leone, Salamatou Bangura often struggled to feed her children. Though she worked long hours buying and selling seafood from the local fisherman in her village, until recently, it wasn’t enough. “I couldn't afford to cook every day,” she recalls.

That all changed when she began to receive $10 every month through a social safety net program for extremely poor households. Bangura began using the money to put food on the table, pay school fees, and invest in her business. And when tragedy struck, and the family home burned down, Bangura used the money to rebuild, all the while ensuring that her children remained well-fed and in school.

“Before I joined the program, I had nothing,” she said. “But now every day I cook. Now I’m able to feed my kids before and after school.”

Bangura is one of an estimated 2.5 billion people worldwide who receive safety nets – including 650 million of the world’s poorest people. And for families like Bangura’s, they also create resilience, so that families can manage risk, cope with shocks, and continue to invest in their children, even after tragedy strikes.

Watch: How Social Protection Systems Build, Employ and Protect Human Capital

“Strengthening social protection is a key component of our global human capital strategy because these programs benefit not just children, but also entire families, offering the world’s most vulnerable people protection throughout their life cycle,” said Annette Dixon, World Bank Vice President for Human Development.

Countries are looking for solutions, and the World Bank Group is working with partners around the globe to provide the advice, financing and support necessary to tackle poverty, build human capital, and improve the health, education and skills of poor and vulnerable families. The World Bank helps countries around the world design, deploy, and finance social protection systems so that ultimately, people have the tools to thrive.

“Social protection programs are at the heart of boosting human capital for the world’s most vulnerable,” said Michal Rutkowski, World Bank Global Director for Social Protection and Jobs. “They empower people to be healthy, pursue their education, and seek opportunity to lift themselves and their families out of poverty.”


Caption: Theory of change illustrates how social protection programs can help build and protect human capital.

The role of Social Protection in the Human Capital Project

Last year, the World Bank Group launched the Human Capital Project (HCP) to accelerate more and better investments in people. The HCP ushered in a major push to encourage countries to better develop their citizens’ human capital—the knowledge, skills, and health that people accumulate, all of which enables them to realize their potential as productive members of society.

Social protection has been key to this effort and many countries have embraced social protection instruments such as safety net programs as a means of harnessing human capital.  

"Strengthening social protection is a key component of our global human capital strategy because these programs benefit not just children, but also entire families, offering the world’s most vulnerable people protection throughout their life cycle."
Annette Dixon
World Bank Vice President for Human Development.

BUILD human capital

Indonesia, one of the early adopters of the HCP, is among the many countries around the world using social safety nets to help an estimated 10 million of its poorest and most vulnerable.  The country’s two main social assistance programs—the Program Keluarga Harapan (PKH) and Bantuan Pangan Non-Tunai (BPNT)—are part of the Government’s commitment to accelerate investments in human capital through programs such as the Strategy to Accelerate Stunting Reduction (STRANAS).

PKH provides conditional cash transfers and resources to encourage positive behaviors: Eligible families receive a payment to help cover necessities such as food, conditional on sending their children to school and bringing them for regular health check-ups. This has led to an 11-percentage point decline in stunting, which is crucial because children who are too short for their age due to undernutrition suffer from lifelong health and learning deficits. The program has also increased primary school enrollment by an estimated two percentage points, with a nine-percentage point increase in secondary school. World Bank funding provides $200 million in support for the $1.8 billion per year program.

Egypt is also using social protection programs to help its most vulnerable. The Takaful and Karama program (“solidarity and dignity”) was launched in 2015 with $400 million in World Bank funding and as in Indonesia,  income support to families is conditional on keeping children in school and ensuring access to health care. But Egypt’s program also extends assistance to the elderly, providing poor citizens over age 65 with an unconditional small monthly pension. To date, Takaful and Karama has benefitted more than 9 million people, or about 10 percent of Egypt’s population. 


Expanding social protection in Africa to build human capital

The World Bank Group is rapidly expanding its social protection investments, and as part of the newly unveiled Human Capital Plan for Africa, it is setting ambitious targets, such as increasing safety nets and job training, by 2023. And while the number of social safety net programs across the region has expanded rapidly, most of Africa’s poor and vulnerable people still lack coverage. In fact, a new report on Realizing the Full Potential of Social Safety Nets in Africa found that just 10 percent of all Africans are covered—and poverty rates are higher than coverage rates in most areas. The HCI also finds that, on average, Sub-Saharan Africa realizes only 40 percent of its human capital potential – the lowest score among all regions—and 25 of the bottom 30 countries in the Index are in Sub-Saharan-Africa.

Currently, the Bank’s portfolio for social protection in Africa, is more than $7.8 billion across more than 50 projects, constituting 12 percent of Africa’s support from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund of the poorest.

PROTECT: Protecting human capital by building resilience


Young boys play soccer in the city of Beira, Mozambique. In the background stands Macuti Catholic Church with its roof destroyed by Cyclone Idai. Photo: Sarah Farhat/World Bank

Known as “adaptive social protection,” these programs help protect a country’s human capital investments by building resilience, so that vulnerable people don’t fall deeper into poverty during difficult times. As a result, social protection measures often lie at the nexus of humanitarian and development response, as safety nets have become a primary means for governments to provide quick and direct support to the affected populations

As a result, they allow households to keep children in school and ensure adequate shelter and nutrition—such as when the Bangura family home burned down in their costal village in Sierra Leone.

In 2016, Southern Africa experienced the worst drought in more than 30 decades, with 32 million people experiencing food insecurity. This also resulted in increased levels of malnutrition, and difficulties in accessing water—all of which led to higher drop-out rates, and increased rates of communicable diseases, brought about by urban migration.

In response to this humanitarian crisis,  the governments of Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi and Mozambique made critical efforts to expand their safety net programs to help ensure coverage of the affected populations,  with the support of the World Bank. In the case of both Malawi and Lesotho, both countries decided to expand pilot safety net programs to national scale. In March this year, Cyclones Idai and Kenneth affected millions of people in Southern Africa and claimed more than 1,000 lives. To help with the recovery, World Bank Group President David Malpass announced $700 million in assistance for the three most-affected countries – Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe— covering more than 105,000 households affected by the emergencies. 


Chantal is a 30-year-old single mother. She lives with her four children in a small village in the district of Betafo in Madagascar. She is a beneficiary of the IDA funded Social Safety Net Program through which she receives a monthly allocation. The money helps her buy food for her family and invest in crops and small animals for extra income. Photo: © Sarah Farhat/World Bank

And in Ethiopia, the Productive Safety Nets Program(PSNP)—one of the largest cash transfer programs in the world— is providing regular cash or food to beneficiaries in exchange for land restoration work, irrigation, and agroforestry. During the 2016 drought in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia’s PSNP, along with Humanitarian Food Assistance (HFA) was expanded to temporarily cover 18.5 million people – 20 percent of the population – to avoid a famine and protect them from falling into poverty. Every year, the PSNP protects 8 million core program beneficiaries plus up to 2 million transitory food insecure people (about 10 million in total) through its scalable instrument.  

EMPLOY: Social protection helps people become productive and realize their human capital

The jobs agenda is at the forefront of the HCP. Every month, two million new young people join the work force—a challenge compounded by the fact that 200 million people are unemployed and looking for work. Of those working, 65 percent are stuck in low productivity jobs.  

The World Bank is stepping up its support to address country demand for generating more and better jobs, and to date has more than 580 active job-related projects, with investments totaling $75 billion.

These investments are helping low-income countries with large youth populations tackle significant challenges so that young people have the tools to lift themselves and their communities out of poverty. In Liberia, for example, more than 60 percent of the population is under the age of 24 and most people earn their income on a day-to-day basis as either day laborers or by trading at local markets. In 2017, the World Bank launched Liberia’s Youth Opportunities Project to provide young people with business training and income support, while also connecting them to mentors in the community. To date, some 2,000 women aged 18-27 have already opened or expanded more than 500 businesses, accumulating savings to invest in their future—and in doing so, contributing to their country’s stability and prosperity.  

“Before I received the training, I was doing nothing. Today I can earn money. I can do everything for myself,” said Sonnie Barrie of the United Girls Business Group, which received funding from the project.

Human capital and better jobs

As part of the HCP, the Bank is supporting governments to equip the next generation of workers with the skills needed to tackle the types of jobs which the changing world of work will require. This also requires enabling workers to move from lower to higher productivity activities—led by a vibrant private sector and supported by public policy actions.  Just this June, the World Bank launched a US$1.45 billion financing package to help Jordan undertake reforms that will stimulate inclusive growth and create more jobs for all, including women and youth.

Stronger investment needed

, according to the HCI.

Changing this outcome will require stronger investments in people to prepare countries for the future of work. Social assistance and insurance programs tailored to the changing work force will be key. At the same time, good jobs help people acquire and build human capital on the job, which then creates a virtuous cycle by enabling them to become more productive or to move on to better jobs.

“Building human capital is the clear path to good jobs,” said Rutkowski.