The ‘Linking Cash and Voucher Assistance and Social Protection: Demystifying the entry points for humanitarians’ webinar took place on 10 December 2019.

Social protection (SP) has emerged as one of the ways to strengthen the humanitarian-development nexus, by addressing underlying poverty and vulnerability, providing a conduit to respond to crises and supporting localisation of humanitarian action. There is a lot of buzz on the need to link humanitarian assistance to SP systems, but what does this concretely mean for humanitarian actors designing Cash and Voucher Assistance (CVA) programmes? How does cash fit in within broader SP systems? What are the entry points for humanitarians in different contexts and how can linkages be facilitated across the programme cycle?

This webinar was the first of a series organised by the Grand Bargain Cash workstream sub-group on linking social protection with humanitarian cash, which aims to define, coordinate, and advocate for stronger links between humanitarian CVA and social protection, in both preparedness and response activities across the humanitarian sector. The group is co-led by UNICEF, IFRC and DfID.

The objective of this 1st webinar of the series was to promote dialogue and knowledge sharing between humanitarian and SP stakeholders. The event was moderated by Zehra Rizvi (Independent Consultant), alongside presenters Valentina Barca (Independent Consultant), Emily Henderson (Humanitarian Advisor and BASIC SRO, Social Protection Team, DFID), Annika Sjoberg (Senior Cash Officer, UNHCR) and Nupur Kukrety (Policy Specialist in the Social Policy Section, UNICEF).

You can watch the webinar recording here and access the webinar presentation here.


What is social protection

Valentina Barca opened the presentation by providing a broad introduction to SP, which is defined here as a “set of policies and programs aimed at preventing or protecting all people against poverty, vulnerability and social exclusion throughout their lifecycle, with a particular emphasis towards vulnerable groups”.

One way of understanding SP is by looking at the different types of life-cycle risks and needs that SP is mandated to address (e.g., Child Grant Programmes address needs that arise during childhood).



Another way is to look at the pillars of interventions: social insurance, social assistance and labour market. While social insurance (contributory) primarily caters the needs of formal sector workers, social assistance (non-contributory) is often tax-financed and includes different forms of social transfers, public works, social care services, etc. Finally, there is a broader third pillar that includes labour market interventions, different types of subsidies, as well as informal social protection.



More stakeholders are embracing the vision of Universal Social Protection (USP), which is built upon existing foundations, such as the ILO Social Protection Floors (Recommendation 202) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG1 (End poverty in all its forms everywhere), which prescribes the implementation of SP systems.

USP aims to move towards extending coverage and achieving comprehensive systems that are adequate and address different risks and needs.



Although there has been progress in terms of coverage, only 45,2% of the global population is covered by at least one SP benefit. The figure below shows in more detail the state of coverage across regions, as well in the state of coverage in relation to different SP programmes (comprehensiveness and adequacy).



There has also been progress in relation to the building blocks of SP. An increasing number of countries across the world have been introducing SP policies and embedding recommendation 202 in national legislation (Policy block).  Lots of work has been done to improve the range and coherence across social protection programmes with different objectives, including their core design features such as targeting methods, transfer levels and duration (Programme block).  Finally, the delivery systems of existing programmes (e.g. registration, payments, etc) are progressively being strengthened and better coordinated (administration block).



Entry points for humanitarian stakeholders to engage with SP systems

Nupur Kukrety continued the presentation and addressed the different entry points for humanitarian cash transfer (HCT) stakeholders to engage with SP systems. Stakeholders can engage in preparedness, response and recovery within four different system levels/components: 1) policy, coordination and financing; 2) programme; 3) administration; and 4) evidence base.

At the policy, financing & coordination level, HCT stakeholders can get involved in SP policy development. In Malawi, for example, stakeholders came together and supported the government in developing a risk-informed SP policy.  In terms of response and recovery, transferring resources to the government for delivering cash transfers can be an option. On coordination, mechanisms could be set up for better coordination between cash working groups and existing social protection coordination mechanisms to agree on how to work together, as is the case in Madagascar.

At the programme level, a preparedness measure can be to pre-identify SP programmes that could be leveraged in times of crisis. In terms of response and recovery, stakeholders can try to align the design of HCT programmes with the identified SP programmes to facilitate convergence, piggy-back on them, or support their expansion.

At the administration level, humanitarian stakeholders could try to leverage specific admin parts of a programme or the entire SP administration system, increasing integration between programmes. HCT stakeholders could also be looking at collaborating with financial service providers, developing registries and strengthening them further by using them for delivering HCT.

The evidence base plays a key role in influencing and strengthening the design and operations of SP systems. Humanitarian stakeholders can play a key role in conducting readiness assessments to find out in advance whether the existing SP system can be fully or partially leveraged in times of crisis. Importantly, humanitarian stakeholders can play a big part in integrating vulnerability to crisis in the poverty and vulnerability analysis to influence policy, programme and administrative systems towards becoming more risk-informed.



The maturity of SP systems and entry points

HCT stakeholders work in contexts in which SP systems can be mature or conversely where they may not exist at all, or are weak. 

In contexts where there is a mature system, governments are usually in control of responding to the needs of the population. Humanitarian stakeholders can play a support role in such contexts, by providing evidence, supporting delivery and filling gaps in the needs of affected populations.

In contexts with non-existent SP systems, humanitarian stakeholders can design and implement parallel HCT programmes in ways that help to set-up basic blocks of a future SP system.

In contexts where the SP system exists, but is weak or collapsing, stakeholders can play a maintenance role, rolling out social assistance to a larger population, and in doing so strengthening the system and, eventually, handing it over to the relevant authorities. 

In short, humanitarian stakeholders play a larger operational role in contexts where SP systems are weak or non-existent and a less operational role in contexts where the system is more mature. In the latter context, there is a better chance of influencing the system by working closely with SP stakeholders who will likely have a lead role in humanitarian response.



Different contexts and possible entry points

Emily Henderson followed to present possible entry points depending on the type of crisis contexts, including in fragile and crisis-affected contexts (FCAS). One could think that linking HCT and SP does not apply to contexts where there are no nationally owned SP systems (as is the case in a number of FCAS). But why are these linkages relevant, even in contexts where SP systems are limited or non-existent?

In most contexts, poverty and crises are very closely interlinked. Poorer people are more likely to live in areas exposed to disasters or conflicts and, according to estimates, more than 80% of the world’s extreme poor will be living in FCAS  by 2030.

However, while 86% of humanitarian assistance went to protracted crises in 2016, humanitarian responses are often designed or funded on a short-term basis. Hence, the humanitarian system is often not designed to meet predictable or long-term needs and can be ineffective at addressing chronic vulnerabilities.  Nonetheless, emerging practice and evidence show that SP approaches can strengthen crisis response and humanitarian assistance even where formal nationally owned SP systems do not exist yet. Such approaches have the potential to address various types of crises in different ways:

  • In contexts of recurring shocks, often climate related: the vision can be to have  agile social protection systems that can scale-up and deliver assistance to people affected by cyclical and predictable risks. The Hunger Safety Net Programme (HSNP) in Kenya is an example where an existing SP system has been made shock-responsive. A USAID-funded study on the Economics of Resilience to drought compared a range of investments and drought response scenarios in Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia and found that donors could save 30% on humanitarian aid spending through an earlier and more proactive response that uses safety nets and / or invests in resilience. SP approaches can build resilience before crisis, deliver when early warnings arise and scale-up when disasters happen. They can also be associated with risk financing mechanisms that enable such earlier interventions.
  • In most fragile states and protracted conflict contexts, the vision can be to work towards systems that can deliver more predictable, efficient and less fragmented transfers than existing humanitarian efforts, and that create the building blocks for future state-led systems. This is the case in Somalia as highlighted earlier on by Nupur. Systems don’t need to be nationally-owned from the beginning, they can start by being humanitarian-led. In Somalia, through an increasing alignment within the humanitarian system (strong progress in transfer value harmonisation) HCTs can take more of a safety net approach; while starting to build the national social safety net by using elements of the humanitarian infrastructure and programming. 
  • In situations of protracted displacement: the vision can be to ultimately integrate internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees into national SP systems where they exist or can be strengthened or aligned with humanitarian and SP systems. The extent to which this can be achieved depends on capacity of the system and / or political willingness. For example, in Jordan a vision could be to increase alignment between the humanitarian cash response and the national safety net, with the potential aim of transferring refugee caseloads under the national safety net if the government becomes amenable to it. This is not currently the vision of the government due to financing limitations.  


The diagram captures the combination of type of crisis and level of maturity, alongside the ultimate purpose of the systems developed.


Case study: Cameroon

Annika Sjoberg concluded the webinar by presenting a snapshot of a case study from Cameroon that looks at how cash assistance can be aligned with SP systems.

SP systems in refugee settings are often weak, so some challenges need to be addressed for the humanitarian-development nexus to work. In some places, for instance, refugees are not allowed to work and do not access to land and financial services. Humanitarian stakeholders need to conduct thorough analysis and create incentives to make sure their basic needs are met and that they are included in SP systems.

More than 250,000 refugees from Central African Republic live in Cameroon. The government has accepted the inclusion of refugees in the national SP system, which is supported by investments from the World Bank in dense refugee areas. The system is built around four pillars: health, education, infrastructure organisation, and social protection.

While working to include more refugees in the national SP system, a transitional safety net was established, mirroring and aligning the transfer value and different components of the national SP system. Currently, 35,000 refugees receive part of the transitional safety net through mobile money.

As lessons learned, Annika Sjoberg mentioned the following issues:

  • The need to assess what can be aligned.
  • The importance of having baseline and monitoring in place.
  • That alignment should take place gradually, supported by a communication strategy.
  • The importance of including host communities in assessment and participation.
  • The need to prepare and adapt before an influx of refugees.
  • The importance of involving development and other SP actors to support the approach.

The webinar closed with an interesting Q&A session, accessible here.


This blog post is part of the Linking Social Protection with humanitarian cash webinar series, which brings together the summaries of webinars organised by IFRC, UNICEF and DFID on the topic. If you have any thoughts on this webinar summary, we would love to hear from you. Please add your comments below!

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
    • Social transfers
      • Cash transfers
      • In kind transfers
Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Policy
    • Monitoring and evaluation systems
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Social protection systems
  • Universal Social Protection
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Education
  • Health
  • Poverty reduction
  • Cameroon
  • Central African Republic
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
The views presented here are the author's and not's