Lesotho’s Child Grants Programme: From donor pilot to government programme

Ten years ago, Lesotho started thinking about a child grant. While initially designed and funded with support of the European Union (EU) and UNICEF, today, it is a nationally owned and funded programme. This blog examines the strategies that facilitated this transition.

Following the devastating impact of the HIV/AIDS crisis, cash transfers have spread rapidly throughout sub-Saharan Africa. One of the big questions, however, is how to turn these pilots, which were often initially funded by donors, into sustainable government programmes. Lesotho’s Child Grants Programme (CGP) is no exception to this.

In this blog, I explore how the programme went from a donor-driven pilot to a government-funded programme. This transition, I believe, is highly important as it can provide lessons for other countries where the sustainability of social protection programmes is a continued concern.


Lesotho’s Child Grants Programme
Since 2009, the CGP paid out unconditional cash transfers to beneficiaries. In 2014 it reached 25,000 households, with approximately 80,000 children (Pellerano et al., 2016, p. 255). When the CGP was conceived by the European Union (EU) and UNICEF 10 years ago, it was a fully donor-funded pilot. Today, the Government of Lesotho (GoL) covers the complete costs for the transfers and about 70% of the administrative costs. In the next sections I will discuss four strategies that worked in concert to achieve this outcome – and present some limits to blindly replicating these strategies elsewhere.

I would argue that the main reason why the GoL took over the funding for the CGP was contractual agreements. Yet, I think it is important to stress that written commitments are not always lived-up to. In Lesotho, compliance was achieved using a variety of complimentary transition strategies, including the way the programme and its systems were designed, lobbying, and research and evidence creation.


Transition strategies:


1. Contractual agreements*

Phase 1
In February 2007, Lesotho’s Minister of Finance signed an agreement with the European Commission. This agreement aimed to improve the livelihoods of HIV/AIDS affected people in Lesotho. It also stipulated a particular focus on orphans and vulnerable children. The agreement proposed several interventions, one of which would come in the form of small grants to children, although at that stage it was unclear what form this would take.

UNICEF was contracted by the EU to be responsible for the day-to-day operations of the programme, since it was deemed that Lesotho’s national institutions lacked the necessary capacity. This initial agreement also recognised that this capacity gap should be addressed in order for the Government to be able to manage of what was essentially a recurrent welfare operation. It also expressed that the GoL should increasingly shoulder the financial burden.

Phase 2
A second phase was signed in December 2011. This phase focused more explicitly on expanding the programme’s coverage, building its systems and preparing for the transition. The agreement called for the creation of a strategic management team consisting of the GoL, UNICEF, and the EU – the so-called ‘tripartite partnership’. This team’s objective was to ensure that the programme was implemented according to plan and that the GoL would take full (financial) ownership of the programme in 2013.

Budget support
Funds for this second phase would be provided to the GoL through budget support. A part of this support was variable, depending on the achievement of CGP-linked indicators. This is important because it meant that the CGP would be increasingly locked into the national budget, and therefore more difficult to kill off if/when the EU should withdraw funding. Within the partnership this was seen as a great display of commitment by the GoL.


2. Smart programme design

One important factor in the takeover was that the CGP was made central to Lesotho’s social protection efforts as a whole. The CGP strongly relies on its National Information System for Social Assistance (NISSA). It has been designed in a way so that in due course other social support programmes can use it for their own implementation. This made the NISSA central to the National Social Protection Strategy (NSPS) (Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho, 2015).

As such, creating systems that were usable beyond the CGP, which was an explicit component of the second agreement between the EU and the GoL, made it more likely for the CGP to become central in the wider social protection efforts in Lesotho – and therefore harder to kill off once donor funding was reduced.

Creating ‘facts on the ground’
The second important feature of the programme’s design was that it created visible ‘facts on the ground’. As the programme’s coverage expanded, and more people heard about and benefited from the programme, there was increasing bottom-up demand for new areas to be covered. Politicians also started to seize the opportunities for electoral gains and used the CGP during their campaigns to show they supported social welfare. In a country where nearly 60% of the people live in poverty, it is important for politicians to be seen to care.


3. Lobbying

Lobbying, to increase national support for the CGP, took place in a variety of ways. It helped that the EU is a big donor, which meant doors that might be closed for smaller organisations were open to them. Field visits and high-level breakfast meetings were organised by the EU and UNICEF for ministers and other politicians. In addition, personal commitment and good relations at a high level were important in maintaining support for the programme.


4. Research and evidence creation

Research and the creation of evidence undoubtedly played an important role in consolidating support for the CGP. In fact, a recent book from FAO and UNICEF, including a chapter on Lesotho, focuses entirely on the role of evidence in consolidating the CGP (Pellerano et al., 2016). However, I think evidence played only a limited role in convincing the Minister of Finance to take over the programme because the main and robust research reports arose only after the agreements between the EU and GoL were signed.

Nonetheless, evidence contributed substantially to overcoming resistance and misconceptions about the programme once it was in place. I think research played the biggest role in this transition process by providing continued reassurance to the GoL that the CGP was a good, effective, and efficient programme that created tangible results on the ground and thus deserved its allocated budget.


Limitations to replicating this strategy

One should be cautious to see this transition process as a blueprint that can be directly copied elsewhere. Contractual agreements do not necessarily ensure that that same contract is adhered to, especially when budgets are under pressure and key stakeholders keep changing due to elections or endings of posting-periods among international staff.

It must also be said the while the GoL continues to honour its agreement to take on board the funding of the transfers, the inclusion of new households has been insufficient to meet the targets set out in the NSPS, unless additional efforts are made. Also, the absence of a pre-existing social protection framework and the accompanying systems in Lesotho, made it possible to design the CGP and its systems from scratch. In different circumstances, where one would have to consider and cooperate with other programmes, systems, and stakeholders, this would have been more complicated

There are naturally also limits to the extent lobbying can be successful. If the EU was a smaller donor it would probably face more difficulty in accessing the right people. If the social protection funding landscape would have been more fragmented, and more donors would be willing to fund the CGP, Lesotho’s Government might have less incentives to take over.

The programme also benefited from political support for the programme in a stable period in Lesotho’s political history. Moreover, it is important to note that, while there is evidence, some people in the bureaucracy and within political circles remain sceptical about the programme. The perception of cash transfers being a handout that fosters dependency is hard to overcome with yet another impact evaluation.


While the three key stakeholders: the EU, UNICEF and the GoL worked together, the EU as the funder wielded strong influence. In fact, the CGP would not have been realised if they had not funded the pilot and its subsequent development stages. Nonetheless, they depended on UNICEF for the day-to-day operations and on the GoL to implement the programme and take over.

The case of Lesotho’s CGP is seen by many as a successful example of a transition from a fully donor-conceived and funded pilot, to a programme that is now largely integrated into the Government’s budget. I look forward to readers sharing their experiences of what has (not) worked in other countries in the comment section below!


Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho (2015). National Social Protection Strategy.  Government of the Kingdom of Lesotho. Accessible: http://www.social-protection.org/gimi/gess/ShowRessource.action?ressourc... [Accessed 26 Nov. 2017].

Pellerano, L., Daidone, S., Davis, B., Farooq, M., Homayoun, M., Kardan, A., Masasa, M., Niang, O., Ramirez, B. and Safi, N. (2016). “Does Evidence Matter? Role of the Evaluation of the Child Grants Programme in the Consolidation of the Social Protection Sector in Lesotho”, in From Evidence to Action: The Story of Cash Transfers and Impact Evaluation in Sub Saharan Africa, edited by Davis, B., Handa, S., Hypher, N., Winder Rossi, N., Winters, P. and Yablonski, J. 1sted., 247–80. Oxford University Press.



* This blog is based largely on personal communication between the author and many current and former stakeholders in Lesotho.

Roeland Hemsteede is a PhD student at the University of Dundee and looks at how power relations at the national and international level affect the design and implementation of cash transfers in Malawi and Lesotho. The views expressed in this blog are his personal views based on ongoing research and do not necessarily represent those of the research team he is a part of (www.cashtransfers-youth.net). Moreover, the nature and limitations in terms of space mean that this blog only expresses broad ideas without the nuance and specificity that is required for a full understanding. It is intended to stimulate discussion rather than a definite and unchangeable argument.

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
    • Social transfers
      • Cash transfers
        • Unconditional cash transfers
Social Protection Topics: 
  • Financing social protection
  • Governance
  • Programme design and implementation
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Health
    • Child health
  • Lesotho
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
The views presented here are the author's and not socialprotection.org's