Wriiten by Charis Reid (ILO Social Protection Officer) & Luca Sangalli (Coordinator for the National Cash Working Group), and originally posted by ILO here.
You can also watch the recording of the webinar 'Operationalising the HDP nexus for social protection in the Occupied Palestinian Territory' and hear speakers provide an overview of progress, including detailed learnings on coordination at both the national and regional levels.
Efforts to boost coherence between humanitarian and development activities are laying the groundwork for a stronger Palestinian social protection sector. In the Occupied Palestinian Territory (#OPT), commitments to a humanitarian-development-peace (HDP) nexus approach are being turned into concrete action, using #socialprotection coordination as the cornerstone. Innovations spearheaded by the ILO offer lessons for HDP nexus contexts around the world.
What is a HDP nexus approach?
The ‘humanitarian-development-peace nexus’ means humanitarian, development and peace actors working together more coherently to meet peoples’ needs, mitigate risks and vulnerabilities, and move toward sustainable peace.
According to a recent report on “ILO Arab States' Strategic Engagement in the Humanitarian-Development-Peace Nexus: Challenges & Opportunities”, the ILO’s work in the region has strategically reinforced efforts towards greater synergies between humanitarian and development action and efficiency, and towards a more explicit contribution to building social cohesion and peace. The report recommends institutionalizing approaches to the nexus, using social protection as a leading technical sector.
Source: ILO, Employment and Decent Work in the Humanitarian Development Peace Nexus, 2021.
Social protection in the Occupied Palestinian Territory
There are a range of governmental and non-governmental social assistance programmes in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. But a lack of coordination limits their effectiveness and efficiency, resulting in a fragmented system with scattered results. The Palestinian social protection system is highly dependent upon shrinking external financing and volatile government allocations. Some 40 per cent of Palestinian households receive at least one type of social protection transfer, either through the Ministry of Social Development (MoSD) or from humanitarian actors. Coverage is highest in Gaza, where 35 per cent of families receive a government benefit, and 70 per cent a non-governmental benefit. Many households receive more than one type of social transfer. Humanitarian safety net programmes originally conceived for emergencies have become structural (i.e. delivering to the same recipients for years, with transfers not related to a sudden shock but rather to the protracted nature of the crisis). Their outlays and coverage combined are even greater than the National Cash Transfer Programme. This not only shows how great and varied deprivations are, but also highlights how urgently enhanced coordination is needed between government and non-governmental programmes.
What is the case for a nexus approach to social protection?
- Different actors, same objective. Governmental and non-governmental programmes are both designed to reach vulnerable Palestinians and those living in poverty.
- Sizeable players, high potential. Both humanitarian and government social protection interventions are large, but a lack of coordination limits their effectiveness.
- Part of the same system. Humanitarian safety net programmes are now an integral part of the Palestinian social protection system. They should be treated as such.
- A fragmented system with scattered results. Transfer typology and levels of benefits vary across programmes and actors. Some beneficiaries are “luckier” than others.
Challenges to better coordination across the nexus
While the case for greater coordination on social protection is clear, we face three major challenges.
Challenge 1: The ongoing and worsening fiscal crisis of the Palestinian Authority. Far from being able to undertake reforms and strengthen the social protection system, it is now unable to reliably fund the National Cash Transfer Programme (NCTP), leading to irregular payments. This throws coordination on the nexus into question. Limited internal financing also makes it more urgent to find a way to use the externally-financed humanitarian response to sustain and preserve investment in national systems.
Challenge 2: The risk that development or humanitarian actors (or both) will not be interested in coordinating. This might be due to genuine concerns (e.g. the humanitarian principles of independence and neutrality), or because they want to protect their mandate (and funding) for cash programming. Actors may also misunderstand what alignment along the nexus really means because of a lack of regular mutual dialogue.
Challenge 3: The internal division between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Many activities (like the shock-responsive social protection (SRSP) protocol) may not include, or find it difficult to include, Gaza. Some actors are unable to work with the de facto government in Gaza. Coordination and implementation is also held back by the lack of well-established communication and coordination between the Ministry of Social Development in Ramallah and those working in Gaza.
Creating a coordination body to give structure to nexus conversations
Responding to the need for a shared coordination space to host nexus discussions on social assistance, a Social Protection Cash and Voucher Assistance Thematic Working Group (SPCVA TWG) was formed in 2022. This coordination body is the first of its kind in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. It brings together governmental, development and humanitarian stakeholders to oversee coordination on social assistance. It is co-chaired by a representative of the Palestinian Authority and a representative of humanitarian actors. This joint leadership has already increased interaction and understanding between key actors. The ILO provides technical support, along with the National Cash Working Group Coordinator.
The SPCVA TWG held its first meeting in September 2022 and has since met quarterly. Importantly, the national social registry was presented to members in January 2023, which was (and remains) a key concern from humanitarian actors – on how they are expected to interact with the system and whether this is possible within data protection constraints.
Instead of following a fixed calendar of events, three technical workstreams have been established under the SPCVA TWG to take forward work at the practical level:
- Workstream 1: “Routine Social Protection”. This considers the coverage, adequacy and comprehensiveness of programmes in ‘regular times’. It focuses on coordination between long-term programmes of the Ministry of Social Development, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and the World Food Programme (WFP). It then addresses how humanitarian multi-purpose cash assistance (MPCA) actors interact with these programmes in regular times (that is, with non-immediate response emergency programmes aimed at poverty reduction, socio-economic vulnerabilities, etc.).
- Workstream 2: “Shocks”. This considers the coverage, adequacy and comprehensiveness of programmes in ‘emergency times’. Specifically, it focuses on how the SPCVA response can be coordinated in the first few days/weeks after an emergency.
- Workstream 3: “Referrals”. This focuses on referrals from humanitarian cash actors to the Ministry of Social Development’s system, and how these can be improved and systematized.
Early wins have already been witnessed in terms of strengthening relationships. For instance, civil society organizations (CSOs) in Gaza who previously felt far-removed from decision makers at the Ministry of Social Development in Ramallah have been able to address their concerns directly to the technical ministry lead through workstream meetings. Trust between actors is clearly growing. They are increasingly willing to discuss ‘red lines’ more openly, and to explore why these exist for different groups of actors.
Using an adaptive, flexible programming approach to operationalize the nexus
Developing a common vision and framework for coordination across humanitarian and development actors requires time. The details of this system – such as the division of roles and responsibilities between actors – cannot be defined at the outset. Testing different elements of coordination over time, to understand where barriers and opportunities lie, must come first. Actors need to develop a shared understanding of each other’s work, and the principles that define the boundaries of this work. Over time, this will lead to increased trust and relationships between agencies – a prerequisite for true collaboration.
As such, a mission statement and roadmap have been co-created by SPCVA TWG members and wider sector actors. These foresee work to be carried out at multiple levels. At the macro level, the SPCVA TWG continues to meet regularly and to form a shared knowledge base between actors. At the micro level, workstreams are working to prototype (test) small parts of coordination to pinpoint opportunities and work out how to get around critical barriers.
As such, the SPCVA TWG has adopted a two-pronged approach:
Source: Ingenious People's Knowledge, "Pre-Workshop", Presentation delivered at the Social Protection Cash and Voucher Assistance Thematic Working Group (SPCVA TWG) Workshops, Ramallah, 6 March 2023 (unpublished).
Instead of defining a full cooperation framework at the outset, which would be unlikely to succeed, an inductive process is being used. Prototypes of coordination are being tried out. Together, these will feed into a full coordination model (in practice) which will inform a formal coordination framework (to be documented in strategies or elsewhere). Macro-level processes of mapping the sector, and developing a unified vision, will also feed into the eventual coordination framework.
What have we learned so far on prototyping?
- An adaptive management approach is key. The Occupied Palestinian Territory’s context is complex, with several different barriers and authorities involved in any discussion. Technical challenges are frequently, if not exclusively, cited as challenges the alignment of social assistance. But it is adaptive challenges that really stand in the way of progress. For example, the lack of a social registry is considered a key, unavoidable barrier to alignment. In reality, there is a wealth of technical expertise in the sector and data-sharing would be feasible if we secure political commitment, ability and buy-in.
- Prototyping is an actualization of adaptive management. Humanitarian and government actors want to engage, but the nexus concept is ‘fuzzy’. Neither set of actors are completely clear how to proceed. Discussions get ‘bogged down’ by macro-level issues – like the irregularity of NCTP payments, the social registry not being operationalized for humanitarian actors, or questions of whether or how to engage with de facto authorities in Gaza. These issues are being addressed through prototyping by the SPCVA TWG workstreams. Actors are engaging on the practical aspects of coordination, without getting stuck on high-level political concerns. For example, a recent prototype aimed to assess the overlaps and adequacy of programming for 30 recipient households. All actors were eventually able to share real data on the households’ coverage, despite delays in internal approvals and macro-level concerns around data-sharing with the social registry.
Lessons learned so far in the Occupied Palestinian Territory
The humanitarian sector in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is well-established, but the nexus approach to social protection is just getting started. Dialogue is a critical step (if not the critical step) to make coherence across the nexus a reality. What have we learned about coordination between humanitarian and development actors across the nexus, and on coordination across government and geographically (between the West Bank and Gaza)?
- Relationship-building is at the core of nexus coordination. The SPCVA TWG being co-chaired by the Ministry of Social Development and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has been a game-changer. Humanitarian actors are now presenting in traditional ‘development’ forums (like the Social Protection Sector Working Group; SPSWG) and the Ministry is presenting in traditionally ‘humanitarian’ forums (like the National Cash Working Group; NCWG) – both firsts! Through the workstreams, humanitarian actors in Gaza can speak directly to the ministry’s technical leads based in Ramallah. By jointly identifying barriers to coordination, and creating safe spaces for discussion, actors are able to openly talk about their ‘red lines’. This builds trust, understanding and empathy between all stakeholders.
- The SPCVA TWG solidifies ‘nexus’ considerations within the sectoral agenda. The SPCVA TWG’s members include implementers, donors and representatives of the Palestinian Authority. Its regular meetings, and especially its workshops in March 2023, have revitalized considerations of the nexus across all actors’ agendas, including actors that fund (currently incoherent and fragmented) social assistance programmes. The SPCVA TWG has been leveraged into a broader sectoral agenda for change and programmatic alignment. Most actors in the sector are now well-versed on basic social protection terminology and frequently refer to the nexus in their own activities (ranging from donors to implementers).
- Medium-term goals revolve around the alignment and coherence of existing programmes. In such a protracted crisis, the long-term goal is still to strengthen the State. But until state capacity is increased or more financing is available, dwindling resources need to be allocated effectively and efficiently to best reach the population.
- For SPCVA TWG members, engaging both the Palestinian Authority and de facto authorities has been critical for policy-level work to move ahead in Gaza (e.g. the formation of the Planning and Community Partnership Councils; PCPCs), despite taking a lot of time and effort. Unprecedented progress was achieved – led by Oxfam and AMAN – in getting all parties of the Ministry of Social Development (in Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority Focal Point in Gaza, and the Ministry’s de facto in Gaza) to review and approve the Terms of Reference and procedure framework manual of the PCPCs in Gaza (which shows the structure, ways of working and responsibilities). Even now with the PCPCs approved, their existence is tentative. They depend on the continued allowance and cooperation of the de facto authorities.
- Dialogue in itself is a goal and should be prioritized. Both the Ministry of Social Development and humanitarian actors have technical staff who could sit together and resolve technical challenges. But there was a lack of communication and trust between actors, leading to a lack of understanding and empathy. The co-chairing of the SPCVA TWG by one humanitarian and one Palestinian Authority actor is an important symbol of increased coordination. Relatedly, workstreams and other activities need to be well-represented across the spectrum of actors and geographies to gain full buy-in. The SPCVA TWG originally planned to focus on developing analysis and recommendations to build policy coherence. The European Union’s (EU) Results-Oriented Monitoring Mission highlighted that dialogue in itself is an achievement and that this should be prioritized, over and above producing analysis.
- An honest and neutral broker was a catalyst to building trust between actors. The facilitation of the SPCVA TWG by two actors that do not directly implement cash programming (the ILO and the National Cash Working Group) has enabled diverse actors to be brought together without the discussion being biased to a specific agenda (see Box below). The ILO also offers the backing of international labour standards as a long-term vision for actors to convene around and work towards.
- The real shift will be creating a shared understanding of the problem and a vision of how to address it. Although new coordination bodies have been established (the SPCVA TWG and workstreams), these in themselves will not lead to greater coordination without creating shared approaches and testing these in practice. A co-created roadmap for the way forward – towards defining a shared vision for a unified social protection system and a shared understanding of the barriers to coordination – was developed through workshops in March 2023 and is now being implemented.
[The] ILO as main implementing partner has a clear coordinating and facilitating role among all stakeholders, as well as the main counterpart with both the MoSD and the EU. ILO enjoys high levels of legitimacy and respect among the main counterparts, while being perceived as a facilitator/coordinator among all humanitarian and development actors. On the one hand, ILO does not have the mandate others have in the humanitarian sector. This allows them to assume a much more objective role to facilitate the dialogue among the different stakeholders. On the other hand, ILO bring its experience in a rights-based approach to social protection extension using the national social protection floors concept outlined in international labour standards. Their neutral role when it comes to the humanitarian sector has therefore given ILO the required trust and legitimacy among all actors to act as facilitators of an unprecedented dialogue around the humanitarian-development nexus in the OPT (EU Results-Oriented Monitoring Mission Report).
A new emerging evidence base
The ILO has supported the development of new evidence-based research on extending social protection in the Occupied Palestinian Territory:
- MAS website with SPCVA monitor/dashboard. This is the first social protection monitor/dashboard in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, based on a comprehensive mapping of all social assistance and cash and voucher programmes. The ILO, OCHA and the Ministry of Social Development are now discussing how to ensure regularly update the dashboard, make it sustainability and promote its findings.
- Income dynamics report. This policy brief calls for the social protection sector to become more responsive to the dynamic nature of poverty in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, highlighting the importance of inclusive social protection and extending coverage beyond extreme poverty for sustainable poverty reduction.
- Social protection floor assessment. This wide-ranging report provides analysis of the coverage, adequacy and impact of the Palestinian social protection system. It includes a series of recommendations which have formed the basis for much ongoing work in the sector, including reforms towards a more comprehensive social protection system and enhanced coordination across the nexus.
- Research paper synthesizing recent studies on the SPCVA nexus in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. This report has been endorsed by SPCVA TWG members, with recommendations now being taken forward through the workstreams.
- Technical report assessing social protection adequacy in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. This report analyses transfer value determination mechanisms for national and humanitarian social assistance schemes in light of international social security standards.
Activities and news
- Webinar on “Operationalizing the HDP nexus for social protection in the Occupied Palestinian Territory” (27 July 2023)
- SPCVA TWG meeting (June 2023)
- Press release on SPCVA TWG workshops (March 2023)
- 2-pager on “Strengthening nexus coherence and responsiveness of the Palestinian social protection sector”
Project summary and components
The project, “Strengthening nexus coherence and responsiveness in the Palestinian social protection sector”, brings together the ILO, the Palestinian Authority, other UN agencies and humanitarian partners to address the fragmentation of programming at the humanitarian-development nexus, and increase the capacity of the Ministry of Social Development and its partners to quickly leverage social transfers (cash and in-kind) to respond to emerging needs across Palestinian society. The project operates along two main axes:
- Enhancing the rights-based and nexus programmatic coherence of the Palestinian social protection sector.
- Increasing the responsiveness of the social protection system in times of crisis.
The project is being implemented by the ILO in partnership with UNICEF and Oxfam, with funding from the Office of the European Union Representative (EUREP).