Summary of findings from the webinar launch of the Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP) commissioned high-level briefing paper at the time of COVID-19.


The case for the importance of social protection (SP) systems in dealing with and responding to shocks, as well the case for humanitarian assistance and social protection to be closely linked have long been clear - and never more obvious than during the current COVID-19 crisis. But what is the state of the art about linking social protection and humanitarian response, particularly cash assistance?

Recent frameworks show how social protection can respond better to shocks - and how integration and alignment with humanitarian assistance can help improve the adequacy, comprehensiveness and coverage of assistance to the most vulnerable. A rich body of experience is emerging along with theoretical foundations to help us deliver on this approach.

Increasingly, evidence is available on how, in each context, we can use these concepts to guide a more in-depth analysis of entry points. But how might we speed up this process and identify where blockages lie so that we can go beyond technical solutions and existing concepts to understand how embedded ways of working prevent more rapid progress? Where might be some key entry points to move this process forward? And where do we need to focus on the outcomes, not the processes?

The webinar attempted to answer these questions and was based on a project commissioned by CaLP and funded by the German Federal Foreign Office (GFFO). The discussion was moderated by Julie Lawson McDowall of CaLP, and the panel was composed of three of the authors of the report, Rachel Slater, Paul Harvey, Daniel Longhurst. The fourth author, Rachel Sabates-Wheeler, joined for questions and answers. 


Here you can watch the recording and access the PPT.


The first presenter, Paul Harvey, introduced the topic of the webinar emphasising that we need to go beyond the basics in linking SP and humanitarian cash and voucher assistance (CVA) in terms of partnerships, analysis of contexts and the capacities we bring.

Rachel Slater further explained that we are to go beyond an instrumental approach - that does not sufficiently explain or tackle the non-technical obstacles we face - it is necessary for both humanitarian and development practitioners to ‘broaden the dimensions’ of their work. 

The ‘Linkages 101’ analogy (Figure 1) suggests that the dominant approach (the left-hand side) is to try and link SP and CVA through a limited set of institutions, capacities, contexts, partners and programmes. To see a greater impact, nuanced decision making and flexibility are required to know where and how to engage in order to improve our collective outcomes. Linking is not always appropriate. The three main messages about broadening the dimensions of engagement are: think about operational and strategic partnerships differently, be more nuanced about contexts, and think about capacities differently.




Think about operational and strategic partnerships differently

Dialogue and programming tend to be restricted to the ministries of social protection (MoSP) but what if we were to try and work with other ministries such as the DRR, Education, Health, etc. Could we expand coverage and effectiveness?  As an example (Figure 2) working through the MoSP in Nepal in the recent earthquake would have excluded 44% of those affected, meaning other partnerships and programmes are also necessary - in a complementary approach - to reach more of those in need.  


Figure 2



Be more nuanced about contexts

A closer look suggests that examples of linkages are limited. The same few country examples are frequently quoted in reports and are hard to replicate or generalise from. The map from the ILO (Figure 3) shows in red the countries with the lowest coverage of social protection, some of which are the poorest and most crisis-prone parts of the world. We need to find ways to work better in the places in this ‘red zone’ where we have far less experience, but the need is greatest.


Figure 3

The typology below adapted from FAO (Figure 4) offers a more holistic analysis that is not focused on standalone, ‘best examples’ of technical issues such as registries or targeting. Rather, it encourages us to think about what is feasible in different contexts. For example, in type 5 countries such as Turkey, we see a social protection system with the capacity to flex with shocks and many sophisticated technical features. By contrast, in a type 1 country such as Yemen, the social protection system has been shattered and is very weak, yet it has still been utilised in innovative ways. To this typology, forced displacement as type 6 has been added as an important element to consider in its own right. Each context requires nuanced responses drawn from a deeper understanding of the programmatic, political economy and other factors at play.


Figure 4


Think about capacities differently

Technical skills are critical, but to allow for workable and flexible solutions in different contexts, different – soft and functional - skill sets must also be enhanced. The diagram below (Figure 5) illustrates this point. The goal of such skills development would be to increase analytical capacity for context analysis and more creative and context-appropriate response options focused on the best outcomes for people living in crisis. It would aim to create more ‘hybrid profiles’ that can understand the different perspectives of humanitarian, social protection, and other practitioners, and enable people to manage processes of change and negotiation alongside seeking technical solutions.


Figure 5


Rachel Slater concluded her presentation, underscoring that we need to start with the outcomes we want to see, rather than a dogmatic insistence on repeating the path that was successful elsewhere. To do so, along with technical skills, we must enhance skills to allow us to analyse, adapt and co-create. 


Daniel Longhurst then presented how the findings from the review can be applied to the current COVID-19 response and started with what we see being done in terms of linking (1). Key points were:

•       Shock typology – we are in new territory here, we need to note that this is a large epidemiological shock/pandemic there is no precedent in the linkages or shock responsive social protection (SRSP) literature that we can draw on here.

•       A huge social assistance response to COVID-19 we have seen a fair split between cash and in-kind response through social protection systems. In effect, this is a global case study for shock responsive social protection (in the broadest sense, from social protection that can flex to humanitarian safety nets linking in a range of ways to government systems).

•       Lack of clarity on the problem and potential solutions – we do not yet, sufficiently, understand the full primary and secondary impacts or how they will develop over time, e.g. what will be the rural/urban dynamics, the impact on markets, food security, gender and intra-household dynamics?  Poor people face Impossible choices – e.g. risking disease or risking hunger. As for solutions, these also have to be innovative but new funding is lacking in poorer countries making the choices faced by governments and international partners all the harder.

•       There are lots of ‘grey areas’ in many countries, something different is necessary. We see large ‘missing middle’ who are newly vulnerable, falling between social protection and insurance. What mechanism of social protection or humanitarian aid is required here is often not clear.

•       Key operational issues are similar to those listed in the report we can link via analysis of the political economy, through targeting / harmonising transfer values / through modalities/ data protection, etc.,


In summary, the key messages from the webinar for COVID-19 were:

•       Timeliness and simplicity sequence activities over time, the linkage to humanitarian interventions is crucial

•       Build out from what you have - focus on improving the adequacy, comprehensiveness and coverage of social protection, and see how to strengthen delivery systems

•       Coordinate to ensure coverage of gaps and horizontal equity – actors need to coordinate to ensure they are achieving maximum coverage, and that vulnerable people are not receiving wildly different forms of assistance - unless the rationale for this is clear

•       Recognise shocks are cyclical and compounding – as with other shocks, COVID-19 is likely to return, aggravate underlying vulnerabilities, and intensify other shocks as they hit (seasonal food insecurity, floods, locusts, recessions)

•       Therefore: act short term, think long term - build SRSP systems from day one, in a modest and targeted way

•       Avoid tunnel vision – not everything is ‘linkage’ or ‘SRSP’, and cash isn’t always appropriate. Decisions on whether to link or focus on SRSP should be made on a case by case basis, but what is important is to understand and jointly agree on why these decisions are being made to improve the collective response.


The webinar concluded with a rich 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 organized by IFRCUNICEF and DFID on the topic. To set the scene, don’t forget to watch the foundational webinar on this topic: Demystifying the entry points for humanitarians



[1]Drawing on a range of sources including Gentilini et al. and Grand Bargain group weekly updates, as well as the DFID/GIZ COVID-19 Social Protection Approaches COVID 19 Expert Advice Helpline

SPACE Initiative


Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
    • Social transfers
      • Cash transfers
        • Unconditional cash transfers
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Social protection definitions and features
  • Social protection systems
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Humanitarian assistance
  • Global
  • Global
The views presented here are the author's and not's