When life happens

When life happens

Prior to 2012, I had never heard the term Social Protection (SP) despite 8 years of working experience in the development sector. I wouldn’t be surprised if anyone reading this might be asking the same question I asked myself two years ago. What is Social Protection and why care?


Imagine loosing your only source of livelihood due to factors beyond your reach and having no fall back plan. An accident, loss of employment, illness, death of breadwinner or old age are some of the occurrences that may shake our wellbeing. The chances of bouncing back or surving hardship is higher for an individual who has a soft landing than the one who falls flat on a hard surface. At any given point in our lifecycle have needed or will need social protection. Isn’t that reason enough to care and find out what social protection policies and legislative measures your country has put in place?


SP is a human right and this is clearly stipulated in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. SP is defined as a set of transfers and services that help individuals and households confront risk and adversity (including emergencies) and ensure a minimum standard of dignity and well–being throughout the life–cycle.


Touted as the most effective way to tackle extreme poverty and inequality, it puzzles me why it has not been given the attention that it deserves. Limited public knowledge undermines the effectiveness of social protection and its impact on poverty reduction.


Information about this effective development tool for addressing poverty seems to be only available within the SP sector. Outside the sector, no one knows or understands what it entails hence the limited public demand of rights. The first time I heard about the term SP was at a job interview. I was ushered into the interview room, took my seat and spent the next 45 minutes trying to come up with communication strategy for something I had never heard about up until the interview moment. After what seemed like eternity, I drafted a one-page SP campaign strategy. A few days after the interview, I got a phone call and to my surprise, I got the job! That’s when my journey learning and creating awareness about SP commenced.


In preparation for this new role, I read everything that I could find on the subject. The more I read, the more questions I asked. Just when I thought that I had it all figured out, I would come across more information another definition.


Poverty remains the world biggest concern. It’s startling to know that close to half of the world’s population is living in poverty. Hardest hit is the Sub Saharan Africa. Poverty strips human beings of dignity and remains the most comprehensive assault to human rights.


Social transfers are the most popular SP instruments that have had direct impact on the lives of targeted households and positive impact on the economy of implemeting states. Social tranfers can be in-kind or in-cash and can be categorised as either conditional and unconditional. This means that some social tranfers come with conditions that must be fulfiled by the beneficiaries. Conditions may range from ensuring regular school attendance to periodic health check ups. In Latin America, Brazil’s Bolsa Familia and Mexico’s Oportunidades programmes have recieved international recognition.


One factor that still remains is the broad nature of the SP. There is no universal definition and this makes it difficult to distinguish social protection from other development policies. The major challenges revolve around policy priority, affordability and technical design. These three broad categories bring fore the tasks that SP practitioners grapple with daily. First, for SP policy to be a priority there must be goodwill from the governments. Secondly, the affordability debate still rages on, but studies have shown that even the poorest countries can afford social protection. And finally, for SP to be effective the technical design of programs must take into account the administrative capacity, targeting process, scalability and a whole lot of challenges that come with implementing large-scale programs.

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