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publication October 17, 2018

Expanding Social Safety Nets in Africa to Reduce Poverty, Boost Opportunities and Build Resilience


Photo: Daniella Van Leggelo Padilla/World Bank


  • A new World Bank report notes the rapid expansion and evolution of social safety net programs in Sub-Saharan Africa, seen by governments as part of the strategy to reduce poverty and creating economic opportunities for poor and vulnerable people
  • For social safety nets to reach their full potential, the report highlights the importance of bringing social safety nets to scale in a sustainable fashion
  • The report recommends a strong focus on political dynamics, institutional structures, and fiscal sustainability to scale up and sustain social safety nets

WASHINGTON, October 17, 2018 –  For Sub-Saharan Africa’s poor and most vulnerable people to fully benefit from social safety net programs, there must be a focus on political, institutional, and fiscal barriers and opportunities, according to a new World Bank report.

The report, Realizing the Full Potential of Social Safety Nets in Africa, recommends moving beyond the technical and design aspects of social safety net systems to include political processes, strong institutional foundations, and expanding program reach and sustainability. Ignoring these areas may undermine the successful implementation of otherwise technically sound programs. These considerations are crucial to creating social safety programs that are brought to scale in a sustainable manner and reach their full potential to reduce poverty, build resilience, and boost opportunities among the poorest people, the report says.

“Evidence shows that social safety nets in Africa are an effective tool in the fight against poverty,” said Aline Coudouel, World Bank lead economist and editor of the report. “But there is a gap between the impact of social safety nets as they are developed now, and the impact they could have if they can be brought to scale and sustained.”


VIDEO Oct 18, 2018

Social Safety Nets in Africa

While the number of social safety net programs has increased rapidly across the region, which hosts some of the fastest growing programs in the world, the report notes that in most countries, those programs have yet to reach most of the poor and vulnerable people. On average, 10% of the population is covered in African countries, and poverty rates are higher than coverage rates in most areas, according to the report.

“If social safety net programs covered all poor households in Ghana, Liberia and Niger for example, even modest transfers such as $50 per household per month would generate a decline in poverty rates in each country by as much as 40%,” said Kathleen Beegle, World Bank program leader and editor of the report.

The study identifies three critical areas for governments and development partners to consider – political, institutional, and fiscal –to facilitate scaling up programs and to sustain their implementation over time. Recommendations include:

  • The need for a shift in the political economy of social safety nets and their place in society: Stimulate the political appetite for social safety nets, choose politically appropriate parameters and harness the political impacts of social safety nets to promote sustainability
  • The need for strong institutional anchoring to expand social safety nets: Anchor social safety net programs in laws and policies, mechanisms for coordination and oversight, and arrangements for program management and delivery
  • The need for additional fiscal space and greater predictability in funding: The level of predictability of resources devoted to the sector must be increased to support the expansion of social safety nets to the desirable scale. The report also highlights the need for smarter, more efficient spending, including using technology to reduce cost of delivery of benefits.