The webinar The Adaptive Social Protection Program in Sahel was the first event of the Economic Inclusion Learning Series. It took place on April 2, 2020, and was organized by the World Bank Group Social Protection & Jobs Global Practice, the Partnership for Economic Inclusion, PEI, and the Social Protection for Employment Community, SPEC. The webinar was moderated by Colin Andrews (Program Manager, PEI, World Bank), who was joined by speaker Thomas Bossuroy (Senior Economist, World Bank) and discussant Yéréfolo Mallé (Regional Representative, West Africa, Trickle Up).
The goal of the session was to discuss the Sahel Adaptive Social Protection Program, which was launched in March 2014 to support the design and implementation of adaptive social protection programs and systems in six Sahel countries: Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Senegal. Participants examined the design rationale, steps taken in delivering the programs, and early insights and lessons learned on designing and implementing economic inclusion approaches through national safety net systems.
Why promote economic inclusion in the Sahel?
Thomas Bussuroy started his presentation by explaining the two main reasons for the promotion of economic inclusion in the Sahel. The primary reason is to improve resilience and the capacity of households to withstand shocks, especially climatic and food and security related shocks.
In order to boost resilience to shock, several levels need to be addressed. The following are the core components of the Adaptive Social Protection Agenda:
1) the program-level: shock-responsiveness of social assistance, which refers to the capacity of programs to rescale quickly in response to shocks;
2) the community-level: fostering inclusion and positive group dynamics so that communities themselves are better able to cope with adverse shocks; and
3) the beneficiary-level: boosting productivity and helping households to diversify income sources.
The second reason to care about economic inclusion is that it promotes poverty reduction in a sustainable way. It ensures that social assistance has long lasting impacts and that programs not only support consumption, but also improve the capacity of households to generate income.
The promise of augmenting safety nets
Bossuroy highlighted that the Sahel countries, as most African countries, have experienced an increase in safety net coverage, which provides a platform to reach the poor, and to deliver consumption support and accompanying measures. Safety nets, in themselves, already increase household resilience, and research shows that those who have been receiving consumption support over a certain period of time are in a better position to withstand shocks (Macours et al. 2012, Bastagli et al.2016, Andrews et al. 2018). Moreover, they are well equipped by themselves to have an impact on productivity and income-generating activities.
But there is also evidence that safety nets can be enhanced to further boost the productivity of households and their inclusion into the economic activities at the community level. Productive impacts are obtained by combining cash transfers with savings facilitation, training and/or asset transfers (Stoeffler et al. 2015, Blattman et al. 2013, Argent et al. 2014). Integrated, multi-faceted approaches are shown to lead to sustainable impacts from the BRAC/TUP “graduation” model. But it is intensive and expensive (Banerjee et al. 2015, Bandiera et al. 2013).
Therefore, the evidence available is that poor households face multiple constraints to economic activities. Tackling them simultaneously has the greatest impact, and the major challenge is understanding how to do that in scale, which needs to start with a sound diagnostic.
Diagnostics: assessing and ranking constraints
In 2016, the World Bank team partnered with Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) and local researchers to carry out two sets of diagnostics studies. Based on the evidence that came out of these studies, consultations were carried out and led to a regional design workshop in 2016, to establish which of the main challenges for households can be tackled, and then proceed to the design of the productive packet.
There are many problems in vulnerable environments, thus it is important to delimit a set of constraints, which were:
- Poor access to capital, including financial inclusion
- Lack of business skills
- Pressure of social and gender norms
- Limited access to market
In the design phase of the process, multiple partnerships were established:
- with Trickle Up, for savings facilitation and coaching;
- with CESAM, Benin-based training design firm, for life skills training and micro-business skills training;
- with Stanford-based psychologists for community sensitization; and
- with IPA for the learning agenda.
The economic inclusion package
Its components are as follows:
1. Group formation and coaching, with the constitution of groups of 15-25 beneficiaries and the establishing of coaching, delivered both to groups and individuals and carried out by community volunteers or social workers.
2. Community sensitization on aspirations and social norms, which consisted in the screening of a short video to the group or entire community, depicting how a married couple overcomes tensions and works together to diversify their livelihoods; and a facilitated discussion on gender roles, innovation and community dynamics. These were delivered by NGOs or social workers.
3. Savings group facilitation, applying the Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) model with group-level agreement on contributions and periodicity. Consisted of group savings and provision of credit. Initial training carried out by NGO workers, followed by facilitation by community volunteers or social workers.
4. Life skills training, group-based with the duration of three to seven days. Core elements were gender relations, communication skills and risk-taking. Largely provided by private training firms and occasionally social workers.
5. Micro entrepreneurship training to cultivate fundamental skills in micro-business management: basic accounting, planning, principles in purchase/sale strategies, and the production of a simple fund utilization sheet. Provided by private trainings firms.
6. Cash grants, which was the costliest component. Consisted of one-off transfer of around 70% of yearly per capita consumption (US$ 140-275 depending on the country); delivered in cash or through mobile payments; replaced asset transfer, with the idea that cash is more versatile and may be used with a greater diversity of purposes, to support a greater range of economic activities.
7. Finally, there was a small component to support access to markets. Composed by a facilitation of group-buying of inputs (role of coaches) and information on price seasonality, storage, group-selling of production. Primarily provided by coaches.
Scale of implementation
Mostly implemented on Burkina Faso (17,900 beneficiaries), Mauritania (2,000), Niger (16,700) and Senegal (14,800). Implementation was not fully at scale, but at a large coverage. While Senegal implemented in urban areas, other countries implemented in rural areas.
Delivery Model 1
In Niger, the safety net program provides cash grants directly to beneficiaries through the usual delivery system. Then, the program contracts training firms or NGOs to provide specialized components (trainings, such as life skills and the community sensitization sessions).
There is a direct involvement of the safety net program with community volunteers for coaching, savings, facilitation and the core activities for beneficiaries. Oversight by the safety net program at the local level. An interesting feature is that beneficiaries were able to elect or select community volunteers as coaches.
Delivery Model 2
This model was adopted in two provinces in Burkina Faso and Senegal. It has an NGO as an additional middle actor in the middle, which works to deliver services through their own social workers or community volunteers. Program staff still oversees the implementation and has the responsibility of contracting and supervising all activities.
Delivery Model 3
The delivery of the package is mostly contracted out, except for the transfer of the cash grant, which is always done through the existing payment systems. This model was implemented in Mauritania and two provinces in Burkina Faso, in areas where government itself had lower capacity and the most efficient way to go was through NGOs.
Main message: delivery arrangements are flexible and there are different arrangements that can be used to deliver the services.
- Activities were delivered as planned, as governments were successfully supported in setting up very robust M&E systems across the anticipated countries. Initial data is being produced and VSLA meetings almost reached planned frequency – three to four meetings per month with 95% attendance rate, 90-98% attendance to group coaching meetings, 90-98% attendance to trainings.
- Delivery is possible through national safety net programs, provided there is some flexibility in the delivery arrangements. The delivery models can be adapted depending on State capacity at local level.
- The cost is reasonable and can be adjusted.
- Coaching is critical, tying the package together and making it coherent. In Niger, for example, groups kept paying coaches to perform their tasks from six to 12 months after the program ended. But there were big variations on the profile of coaches (experienced or not, literate or illiterate, woman or man), and some variation on the quality of delivery and on the understandings regarding the definition of coaching, the distinction between savings facilitation and group coaching etc.
- Evidence is anecdotal but overwhelming that women are empowered and, therefore, experience a spike in agency. VSLAs create a safe space, foster group dynamics and peer learning with the weekly meetings in which, in these countries, beneficiaries are almost exclusively women. They have an opportunity to share and a common interest to help each other.
- Sequencing matters: the exact order of activities may vary, but it is important to keep the full program condensed and delivered in a timeframe. It is also important to try to align it with the agricultural season, so that the cash injection comes at a useful time.
Relevance to COVID-19 crisis
Having well established safety nets is a critical asset for governments in case of an emergency, and productive inclusion programs strengthen the delivery platform of safety nets. They foster groups that are regularly gathered, in which messages can be delivered and dynamics are functional, and have payment systems that are equipped to deal with big payments of a large range, which can be used for emergency transfers.
The household resilience levels help to cope with crisis like COVID-19 through a supportive community and mechanisms for an emergency landing. Diversification of income sources is key, as the Covid-19 crisis affects economic sectors differently (agriculture, transportation etc). Therefore, it is important for households to have a range of options, and this is what productive inclusion tries to promote.
Resilience to food insecurity is also important if the Covid-19 crisis translates into price hikes or shortages of main staples. As we are all trying to understand what will come after the crisis, productive inclusion can be a central modality of recovery strategies.
Cash injections for the most vulnerable people have to be provided, followed by productive accompanying measures to stimulate the local economy, creating a higher level of activity. It is likely that leveraging or launching productive inclusion programs can be a core instrument in the post-crisis recovery effort.
Yéréfolo Mallé complemented Bossuroy’s presentation by sharing some of Tricke Up’s experiences and impressions with the Sahel program. Trickle up participated by promoting training on VSLA and coaching in Niger, Senegal and Burkina Faso, and directly trained the coaches in Mauritania and Chad (where the program was shorter).
Trickle Up believes the training sessions were successful in all countries. The qualitative evaluation is in progress and will bring further insights. Some of the challenges faced were the following:
- There needed to be regular communication to ensure changes were incorporated into the training schedules and that trainings took place at the right time.
- Sessions were mostly held in French, while in Mauritania there were participants who did not speak this language.
- There needed to be some reflections on the use of the coaching materials, as education levels varied, some coaches were illiterate, and the materials needed to be easily understandable by all.
The discussant also highlighted some preliminary key lessons:
- The training of coaches must be carried out on a reasonable timeframe, as some of the coaches may start forgetting acquired knowledge after some time.
- There needs to be post-training monitoring on VSLA to consolidate the performance of actors and reinforce the model.
- Frequent evaluations are important to address and respond to doubts and challenges.
- Training on cascade: at first, the training model was from trainers to coaches (the organization trained the local trainers, who trained the coaches afterwards), but this was not universally effective. Due to a reduced timeframe, coaches needed to be directly trained by the organization in Chad.
Finally, he made some observations in relation to the COVID-19 crisis. As most of the program beneficiaries are from rural areas, they are being adversely affected in their capacity to sell their products due to closed markets and difficulty in travel, especially in Burkina Faso, where a curfew is taking place.
Yéréfolo Mallé’s comments were followed by a Q&A session which can be accessed here.
This was the first blog post of the Economic Inclusion Learning Series, organised by the World Bank Group Social Protection and Jobs, Partnership for Economic Inclusion (PEI), and SPEC. This webinar series is designed based on peer-to-peer learning from diverse experiences from countries moving economic inclusion programs to scale. If you have any thoughts on this webinar summary, please add your comments below!