Photo: The World Bank’s workshop on the guaranteed minimum income, Athens, May 2023
Written by Alessandra Marini, Senior Economist, Francesco Cenedese, Economist and Dinara Muldabayeva, Consultant, the World Bank
How can we help countries reduce poverty and improve household resilience? One of the ways is through establishing effective social protection programmes, which play pivotal role in increasing welfare for all.
Worldwide poverty has been diminishing since 1990s, but the region of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has been experiencing a slowdown in the rate of decline. Furthermore, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a disastrous impact on the countries in the region, pushing 16 million people into poverty below $5.50 per day. Loss of jobs, especially among informal workers not covered by social insurance, has been the main reason for the sharp decline in living standards (Ridao-Cano et al. 2023).
Poverty in MENA is driven by labour market exclusion and the skills mismatch between the demands of employers and skills of employees
The region has the highest youth unemployment rate at 25% on average, with a staggering 51.5 percent in Libya, 37.1 percent in Tunisia and the lowest rate of women’s participation in the labour force. On top of that, most workers are employed in low productivity informal jobs with no social protection, which makes them especially vulnerable to falling into destitution in times of crises (International Labour Organization 2023).
One important solution is to establish social protection policies, that decrease the labour market exclusion and help set people up for productive and healthy lives. Following the strengthened policies, new programmes can then facilitate access to productive jobs, provide protection to workers and safety nets to vulnerable population groups.
Countries in the region, such as Morocco and Tunisia, have acted towards building more inclusive social protection systems
Besides responding to the needs of vulnerable populations at times of crises through cash transfers, Morocco and Tunisia face the challenge of identifying ways to generate links between cash transfer programmes and labour and social services to achieve long-lasting impact on beneficiaries.
In this connection, the World Bank has been supporting selected countries in the region through knowledge exchange to share the experience of the European Union (EU) countries, such as Greece and Italy, which have established well-designed social protection programs.
Thus, in May 2023, the World Bank team organized a knowledge-exchange workshop for the governments of Tunisia and Morocco in Athens, Greece, to share Greek and Italian experiences in the set up and functioning of the Guaranteed Minimum Income program (GMI). GMI targets extremely poor households and helps through income assistance, food, and training of individuals to equip them with skills to find long-term employment. It presents an example of how well-designed social assistance programs can enhance participation, reduce barriers to access and incorporate remedial programs.
The workshop has demonstrated the value of peer learning in designing and implementing effective social protection programmes, and how the knowledge spillovers from the EU states can benefit countries in other parts of the world.
Based on the shared experiences, several key themes emerged that hold relevance for projects in Morocco and Tunisia
First, the utilization of case management was shown to be a valuable approach for aiding the most vulnerable beneficiaries coping with various life shocks and challenges. This is achieved through a meticulous assessment of their needs and by facilitating access to suitable programmes and services.
Second, information systems have been acknowledged as potent tools for ensuring smooth program implementation, diligent monitoring, and comprehensive evaluation.
Last, the pivotal role of monitoring, evaluation and simulation analyses in influencing decision-making was underscored. These processes stand as critical factors in informing strategic choices and improving government transparency when the results are published and disseminated. This practice ensures the sustained progress and longevity of the interventions over time.
The knowledge exchange in Greece has been part of the World Bank’s broader efforts to help governments develop effective social protection programmes
The World Bank has provided support to Greece and Italy to implement the EU-wide GMI program, which targets extremely poor households. Furthermore, building on experiences in Chile, Greece and Italy, the World Bank has developed the Case Compass Toolkit, which is a technology designed to improve case management services for social workers. Through Case Compass, the World Bank is supporting clients to create effective case management platforms by helping them develop software and sharing best practices (Camacho et al 2014).
By working in countries around the globe including Chile, Greece and Italy, the World Bank has accumulated knowledge of what works, which will be shared and implemented in other parts of the world, promoting North-South, South-North and South-South knowledge exchange. Countries under consideration include, for example, Armenia, India, Jamaica, Mozambique and Tajikistan.
Effective shock-responsive social assistance programmes and delivering income support and opportunities for vulnerable population are essential to tackle poverty and promote shared prosperity in MENA. By working in countries with various income levels, we can build on best practices and lessons learned to acquire and share globally relevant knowledge towards achieving an adequate social protection for all.
To learn more about Case Compass Toolkit, please visit: https://www.case-compass.org/
Camacho, A., Cunningham, W., Rigolini, J. and Silva, V. (2014). Addressing Access and Behavioral Constraints through Social Intermediation Services: A Review of Chile Solidario and Red Unidos, the World Bank.
Ridao-Cano, C.; Moosa, D; Pallares-Miralles, M. and Pinxten, J. (2023). Built To Include: Reimagining Social Protection in the Middle East & North Africa, the World Bank.
International Labour Organization. (2023). ILOSTAT.