The Role of Social Protection

N. Ravindra
Director - Partnerships & New Initiatives


Social protection can play a key role in reducing poverty and inequality. Women, particularly those in developing countries, are concentrated in informal employment, which reduces access to contributory social protection, such as health insurance or pensions provided by employers.


A total of 74.2% of women in wage employment in Sub-Saharan Africa and 63.2% in Southern Asia are currently not contributing to nor hence benefiting from such social protection programs. However, many governments around the world are expanding the reach of social protection programs to people in the informal sector, through non-contributory schemes like cash transfers, or programs like cash for work that require contributions but are adapted for people in the informal economy.

Social protection can be a lifeline for poor households, helping them cope with shocks and supporting consumption.

However, ultrapoor households – the poorest and most vulnerable among the extreme poor – are disproportionality excluded from the benefits of such programs, despite being most in need. These households are often marginalized within their communities and do not make it onto government registries. They may not be aware of their entitlements, or lack the social capital to attain them. Program design issues can also limit participation. In India, we have found that the poorest households frequently choose not to avail themselves of the national cash for work scheme – MGNREGA – even though it pays more than casual wage labor, simply because they cannot afford to wait the 3-4 weeks until they are paid.


The level and depth of coverage of social protection schemes vary by country. However, as the term “protection” implies, most schemes focus on stabilizing households without “promoting” livelihoods that provide a sustainable pathway out of poverty.

Social protection programs can nevertheless provide an essential foundation for programs that promote livelihood development – the Graduation Approach was conceived as a means of combining “protection” and “promotion” components for ultrapoor households.

This foundation can also include the institutional infrastructure for bringing Graduation programs to scale. Exploring such synergies with social protection programs is in the forefront of our minds as we continue to develop programs in Vietnam, Bangladesh and Mexico. Additionally, we are ensuring these programs provide the information, confidence and connections to access entitlements, so that households are better able to avail themselves of opportunities that do exist.