We know the features of the nearly 4,000 social protection responses to Covid-19 globally; but what are we learning from over two years of pandemic measures? My new paper brings together large datasets and about 300 papers to assess and reflect upon the largest scale up of cash transfers in history. In particular, the paper flashes out differences between Covid-19 and other crises; it lays out an anatomy of global responses and offers novel data analysis around stylized international trends; synthesizes fresh empirical evidence on response effectiveness based on over 40 evaluations; discusses country level operational practices as emerging from an array of high and lower-income contexts; and distills key 10 insights with possible future implications. And if a hundred pages is too much read, just check out the accompanying blog.

More on crises: to what extent are the $26 billion of humanitarian assistance channeled through government? The answer is shocking: only 1.2% of humanitarian aid is (302 million) delivered via local and national actors, the rest going via multilateral organizations, international NGOs, and others. And that’s not all: out of those 302 million, only half goes through governments (157 million): in other words, 0.6% of global humanitarian assistance is channeled via governments of countries where crises occur. On a brighter note, the use of cash transfers (and vouchers) continues to grow and now reaching $5.3 billion – that’s 21% of total humanitarian assistance. (BTW, see also a review of the report by Loy: “[t]he more things change, the more they stay the same”).

The importance of design: Chandir et al tested a set of design variants as part of an “mCCT”, or mobile conditional cash transfer, in Pakistan. In particular, the study tested different benefit amounts ($15-5/child), schedule (fixed versus gradually rising payments over the course of the program), predictability (certain provision versus lottery), and payment method (airtime credit vs mobile money). What did they find? Larger, certain and airtime credit are more effective modalities. The choice of flat or differentiated payments makes no difference, and quite interesting that airtime dominated mobile money.

Speaking of payments, Narayan summarizes the Dvara State of Exclusion report in India indicating that cash transfers “… payment failures during back-end processing emerge as a significant concern – where enrolled beneficiaries do not receive the [cash] DBT into their bank accounts for various reasons”.

On development at micro and macro level: Pritchett reviews the recent Nature article by Bossuroy et al in Niger to make a broader point on “graduation programs” (somewhat unceremoniously defined as “charity”): “… adding “psychosocial” elements – “life skills training” or “community sensitization on aspirations and social norms” – to anti-poverty programs might be cost-effective addition to anti-poverty programs and have a high rate of return. But that is not how, in fact, poverty has been substantially reduced in any country, ever. (…) Better design of targeted anti-poverty programs is not an anti-poverty strategy, it is, at best, just one useful tactic”.

Another big question: are cities engines of production or consumption, and does it matter? The question is asked Ianchovichina et al in a Brookings blog and elaborated in a full paper by Jedwab et al. The authors classify an urban area as ‘production city’ when there is a disproportionately high employment share in urban tradables, while a ‘consumption city’ has a relatively low employment share (a ‘neutral’ one is somewhere in the middle). With a few exceptions, urban areas in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are either consumption or neutral cities. This “… would affect the potential of developing countries to catch up to the standards of living in the advanced economies and may even explain why some countries find themselves in a middle-income trap”.

What about climate and resilience? A paper by Kentikelenis et al discusses the IMF’s approach to Green, Resilient and Inclusive Development (GRID) objectives. The report found that the institution “… encouraged countries to use the crisis as an opportunity to strengthen social protection systems by augmenting coverage and increasing benefits (…) A GRID-alignment could follow progress already made within the IMF in institutionalizing engagement with inequality and social protection issues”.

To conclude, the July edition of the socialportetcion.org newsletter is out; a podcast with Gil Baizan, Pelly, Lang and Tholstrup explores the process of change in humanitarian cash transfers; the Digital Convergence Initiative will host an event on Cambodia’s experience in harmonizing digital social protection (July 26), while FAO et al will explore the expansion of social insurance for agricultural workers in the MENA region (July 28).


Ugo Gentilini is from the World Bank’s Social Protection & Jobs global practice. The Social Protection Links newsletter, issued every Friday, distills and discusses a selection of curated resources on the topic, from academic articles to podcasts. The blog is republished on socialprotection.org each week, offering knowledge on social protection to help you stay on top of it — succinctly, regularly and frequently. Previous editions can be found here. 

To sign up to the newsletter or share materials, you can contact Ugo by email ([email protected]), Twitter (@ugentilini) or LinkedIn.

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
    • Social transfers
      • Cash transfers
        • Conditional cash transfers
        • Unconditional cash transfers
  • Social insurance
Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Policy
  • Programme design
    • Benefits design
  • Programme implementation
    • Benefits payment / delivery
    • Informations Systems (MIS, Social Registry, Integrated Registry)
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Digital social protection
  • Shock-responsive social protection
  • Social protection systems
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Environment
  • Health
    • COVID-19
  • Inclusive growth
  • Migration
  • Poverty reduction
  • Resilience
  • Humanitarian assistance
  • Niger
  • Cambodia
  • India
  • Pakistan
  • Middle East & North Africa
The views presented here are the author's and not socialprotection.org's