The salience of Social Protection Systems has increased dramatically in the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The UN Joint SDG Fund had launched a portfolio of 35 joint programmes in 39 countries with USD 102 million just before the pandemic. This facilitated swift responses and addressing the systemic impact of the pandemic from the onset. The early lessons emerged, in particular, in those programmes which focused on the Shock-Responsive approach. 


Investing into Social Protection for Leaving No One Behind (LNOB)

The portfolio on Social Protection for LNOB  is on course to deliver transformative results at scale by January 2022. Upon its launch in November 2018, the first decision of the Fund was to invest USD 70 million, and mobilize USD 32 million in co-funding, for Integrated Policy for Social Protection to Leave No One Behind (LNOB). The Call for Concept notes was launched in March 2019, and 114 countries proposed their innovative solutions. 35 proposals of highest quality were developed into full-fledged joint programmes and launched in early 2020. The joint programmes are implemented through the UN Country Teams led by the UN Resident Coordinator and the national government.  They include a total of 600 partners that jointly test 100 innovative solutions to accelerate the progress on social protection for the most vulnerable. 

The theories of change of joint programmes are based on actions taken at the individual, household and community levels that create a multiplier effect across 11 SDGs. The systemic impact of the portfolio is manifested in social services, childcare, employment, social cohesion, health care, education and pension systems. The investment prioritizes the most vulnerable and all joint programmes put gender equality and women’s empowerment into the forefront of policy innovation. 


Protecting the most vulnerable in crises 

Amongst diverse approaches in this portfolio, a number of programmes focus on Shock-Responsive (Adaptive) Social Protection (SRSP). Originally, this approach was designed to address the impact of natural disasters and climate change upon the most vulnerable individuals and communities. However, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was modified for the impact of the health crisis. Beyond facilitating recovery, SRSP builds resilience to preclude shocks from becoming disasters and it facilitates integration of SRSP into broader social protection systems making them more “future-proof”. 

The UN Joint SDG Fund formed a new peer-to-peer learning community to explore innovations that enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of SRSP. The first lessons emerged earlier than expected as the programmes had to address an on-going crisis instead of experiment through simulations. Innovation was enabled also when the UN Joint SDG Fund provided an opportunity for repurposing of up to 20% of the programme budgets for COVID-19 through a fully flexible, demand-driven and country-led process.  

The critical challenge of the pandemic, beyond its immediate health concern, is the long-term socio-economic impact. Data shows that the vulnerability across countries has dramatically increased in both scope and scale: there are more vulnerable people across the different communities and there are also populations that became more vulnerable than before (such as urban youth). To address this challenge, there is a need to invest into a fundamental change of existing social protection system that will require making the systems more adaptive and responsive to crises. Implementation of a robust SRSP will be essential, but to achieve its full potential SRSPS will require an alignment with all other social protection programmes and schemes, thus creating a more coherent “whole-of-society” model.  


Early Lessons: Indonesia 

In Indonesia, the Adaptive (Shock-Responsive) Social Protection joint programme ensures that systems are more resilient, predictive, and responsive to disasters related to climate, the economy, and public health. The emphasis is put on the COVID-19 impact assessment, design of innovative financing mechanisms, vulnerability mapping with improvements of data, early warning and risk monitoring tool, and innovative regulations.  

In terms of early lessons, COVID-19 has opened the window for transformative policy change. It has become a “two-level game”: improving capacity, budget monitoring, and data reporting at both national and sub-national levels. The required alignment will be possible only with properly integrated and coherent coordination of all development partners. The joint programme will continue playing the pivotal role in that process. One of the first steps was to facilitate the “nexus” between emergency and systemic change, by establishing a joint implementation mechanism for programmes funded by the Joint SDG Fund and the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund. 


Early Lessons: Eastern Caribbean  

The joint programme in the multi-country office based in Barbados supports Adaptative (Shock-Responsive) Social Protection in the Eastern Caribbean. It is focused on Barbados and Santa Lucia, with scaling up expected for the whole region. The socio-economic impact of the pandemic has greatly increased the demand for social protection and thus the relevance of the programme’s investment into strengthening social protection systems to respond and prepare for future shocks. The pandemic has also rapidly accelerated design of innovative models in real time. For instance, in Saint Lucia, the joint programme supports the government to close data gaps, use micro-simulation to inform future designs, top up multiple social assistance programmes, and provide a bridge with a temporary expansion of social assistance to a permanent one. 

The early lessons from COVID-19 have fed into improving the overall adaptability of social protection systems and placing social protection of most vulnerable at the core of national agendas. This is expected to lead to addressing gaps between the current systems and the future ones that are more adaptive, universal and gender-responsive. There is a wealth of data that provide new insights into shock impacts, targeting, delivery, data and optimum transfer values – in particularly focusing on poor households and children. To enable unlocking financing, the programme facilitates leveraging the support from other development partners, including regional and international financial institutions. 


Early Lessons: Mongolia 

The Mongolian joint programme focuses on social protection for herders. The programme has three interdependent goals: 1) Extension of coverage of herders by identifying innovative and unconventional solutions to enroll herders in social protection schemes; 2) introducing a shock responsive element into the social protection system to ensure herder families and children are protected from climate related shocks, and, 3) designing and mobilizing the budget structure to ensure funding availability and financial sustainability.  

The implementation of the joint programme was accelerated during the pandemic. For instance, the Child Money Programme has been made more shock-responsive by "topping-up" based on risk assessments. This included corresponding changes in legislative frameworks and a fourfold increase of government financing in response to COVID (USD 35 million). The programme has also made progress on leveraging an innovative business model for Leaving No One Behind - the cooperative enterprise – that aligns with government support to production of wool and cashmere. Steps are current being made to improve social insurance of cooperatives that will further increase resilience to shocks.  



This was the first opportunity for sharing first lessons emerging for the investment of the Joint SDG Fund into joint programmes supporting SRSP systems in three very different country contexts. One of the main insights is that maintaining the emphasis on systemic change in the course of a crisis is essential. Addressing only immediate risks does not facilitate effective response to the impact of shocks on the most vulnerable, so it is paramount to combine emergency support with designing systems for future shocks, i.e. “repairing the plane in flight”. Such a nexus has become more challenging in 2020 as the typical focus of SRSP on natural disasters had to be integrated with a public health pandemic. The three joint programmes showed the way forward and they expect to deliver transformative results by 2022. This will serve as a conceptual and operational foundation for other social protection programmes that will need to ensure more adaptability and a better way to respond to shocks in the framework of established and in emerging social protection systems worldwide.


This blog post is published as part of the activities to promote and disseminate the results and key discussions of the global e-Conference Turning the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity: What’s next for social protection?’, held in October 2020. The blog summarises the key messages from the e-Conference’s Side Event on Shock-Responsive Social Protection: Lessons from the Joint SDG Fund for an Integrated Approach to COVID-19. The session was moderated by Nenad Rava, the Head of Programme of the UN Joint SDG Fund; and joined by the speakers: Christina Dankmeyer, Social Policy Specialist at UNICEF; Sarah Bailey, Head of Programme at WFP; Bolormaa Purevsuren, from ILO; and Annisa Gita Srikandini, Program Manager for Adaptive Social Protection (ASP) of the Joint SDG Fund. You can watch the full session here. For more information on the topic, please check this Virtual Expo Booth and the latest from the UN Joint SDG Fund.