Jointly produced with the team (Mariana Balboni, Patricia Velloso, Fabio Veras, Fabiana Pullen Sousa, and Marina Carvalho), Valentina Barca, and Martina Bergthaller.

Happy birthday! To celebrate its 5th anniversary, the platform hosted a massive virtual learning event, “Turning the COVID-19 crisis into an opportunity: What’s next for social protection?” (October 5-8, 2020). This included 2,150 participants attending 72 sessions structured around 5 formats, namely expert panels, round tables, clinics, side events, and booth talks. So what happened?

The conference opened with welcome messages and an overview of the impressive milestones of over the past 5 years (featuring Balboni, Rutkowski, Razavi, Argueta, Hannigan and Oellers), and then quickly dived into regional overviews. This included country presentations from the Asia and Pacific region (Indonesia, Pakistan and Sri Lanka featuring Maliki, Andrade, Nishtar, and Pagnathun), Latin America and the Caribbean (Brazil, Chile and Guatemala by Machado, Rodopoulos, Candia Díaz, Romero, Palomo, Pabon, and Yamasaki) and Sub-Saharan Africa, Middle East and North Africa (Jordan, Morocco and Namibia and including Bilo, Gronbach, Thapa, Dinga-Dzondo, Ishaqat, Berrada and Munyika). Bonus: if you want a shortcut to main conference conclusions… check out the nice wrap-up of the event on the final day.

So let’s roll our sleeves and begin with 2 expert panels!

  • In one of them, Bowen, O’Brien, Rakotonirina, Maliki, and Bastagli offered perspectives on the implications of the COVID-19 crisis for the future of adaptive and shock-responsive social protection. Panelists stressed that countries best positioned to respond were those with stronger systems, that is, building core programs that work together across social insurance and assistance is a fundamental ‘step zero’, using the crisis as an opportunity to address gaps in coverage, adequacy, comprehensiveness as well as underlying delivery systems.
  • In another expert panel, Rutkowski, Razavi, Winder Rossi, Moussié, and Villa reflect on another set of implications from COVID-19, namely for universal social protection. It was a lively panel where the pandemic emerged as a ‘big revealer’. Specifically, it debated how to best ensure equitable access to comprehensive and coherent coverage for the entire population, with an eye on those who have been consistently ‘left out’ such as informal sector workers. A great discussion ensued on how this could be financed, with a strong call to avoid “… stumbling through this crisis, leaving ourselves exposed and unprepared for future shocks”, and embracing more sustainable domestic financing options.

Let’s table a conversation! Virtual round tables (RTs) covered 14 pressing topics in a “safe space” environment featuring policymakers and practitioners. So, what did we learn from each RT?

  • Lönnroth, Goursat, Kang, Pheakday, and Phuong tackled the issue of health protection and sickness benefits, and how to better connect them to social protection. Panelists highlighted the importance of strong institutions and entitlements embedded in legal frameworks and shared case studies from South Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia (which was able to coordinate cash and care measures via an inter-agency coordination mechanism).
  • In another fascinating RT, Cunha, Sevilla and Lacson discussed older people’s livelihoods and concluded that universal pension coverage is needed as part of age-sensitive social protection systems. Interesting case studies from China, Thailand and Korea were featured.
  • In an RT focused on financing social protection, Thorns, Schmitt, Rava, Tate, Gentilini, Karvar and Rahman shared perspectives on how to balance and combine the mobilization of domestic as well as international resources, with Bangladesh emerging as a case study for where a program for garment sector workers receiving short-term cash transfers is already considering how to ensure long-term sustainable financing.
  • Speaking of which… Nowak-Garmer, Alfers and Vishwananda take us through a tour of interested in unemployment protection and its extension to workers in the informal economy. Among the RT outcomes, they called for establishing or strengthening rights-based unemployment protection schemes, while ensuring policy coordination and coherence between social protection and employment policies.
  • What about connecting social protection with food security and nutrition? The question was addressed by a stellar lineup including King Letsie III of Lesotho, Nishtar, Tesfaye, Mkandawire, Verburg, Haddad, Devereux, Samson, Giyose, Menon, Ash, Hoddinott, de Schutter, de Pee, Gilligan and Gelli. Case studies Ethiopia, Botswana and Pakistan illustrated how the theme requires multisectoral approached; called for all social protection to include food security, nutrition and WASH objectives as a minimum; and underscored the need for data on, among others, adequacy of support to address nutritional needs.
  • And let’s move on with the elephant in the room… what’s the role of political economy in social protection. Samson, Devereux, Admasu and Conboy walk us though a fascinating set of issues, including the cost of inaction, the need for combined social and economic investments, and include civil society more fully. As Samson nicely put it, “… you need social protection as the software to make the system work”.
  • How can we strengthen the links between humanitarian cash transfers and social protection? Nimkar, Albaddawi, Memon and Santos stressed the importance of leadership not only to build, but also to sustain coordination efforts; they underscored that “harmonization does not mean homogenization”, and presented insightful country cases from Philippines, Nigeria, Yemen, Iraq and Jordan.
  • Can social protection be made more migrant-responsive? Cross-country insights from Baldi, Olivier, Dafuleya, Theede and Aslanishvili show that government responses mainly concern citizens, with minimal programs for profiles like cross-border traders, labor migrants, refugees, and undocumented migrant workers.
  • In another RT, Jhabvala, Grosh and Martínez Franzoni discuss gender-sensitive design in social protection. Some thought-provoking questions were explored, like why have we not done more to respond to women and girls’ specific needs, what do we need to do to ensure a gender-responsive recovery, and how can we ensure a better response to the next crisis.
  • Want to know more about how universal child benefits can build bridges toward overall universality? Then check out the session by Bastagli, Kidd, Arroyo, Khatiwada and Kangas unbundling a range of options on the topic.
  • Speaking of universality… is the pandemic generating new momentum for universal basic income? Gentilini, Gray Molina, Pabon, Haagh, Meidari untangled a variety of analytical and practical issues in UBI, including its definitions, objectives, phase-in modalities, available experiences, evidence and required delivery mechanisms.
  • Economic inclusion! Davis, Kondowe and Whitehead provided a glimpse at the changing landscape around economic inclusion featuring safety net plus programs, graduation and productive inclusion initiatives. In the words of Whitehead, “… there is so much loaded on social protection systems, like a Christmas tree!”
  • And then a different kind of inclusion… can social protection systems be more tailored to the needs of people with disabilities? Based on lessons from Kenya, Lebanon, Syria, the Dominican Republic and Fiji, a thoughtful panel composed by Pellerano, Wodsak, Nyagudi, Lizardo Ortiz, Darwish, Biukoto and Khurshid emphasized the importance of social registries with data on disabilities, the need to monitor inclusion, and how to move toward universal disability allowances compatible with work.
  • More on data: Núñez Méndez, Lavado, Angulo, and Aran show how microsimulations can be used to generate evidence on the possible offsetting effect of social protection on poverty in the LAC region (see the interesting example of St Lucia among others).

And now let’s turn to a different format… clinics! Divided into 2 sessions each, clinics gave an opportunity for participants to ask practical, technical questions on 7 topics summarized in written “discussion forum” (DF) capturing main “Q&As”, complemented by video recordings. What were these topics?

Side events! These were 9 recorded sessions organized by organizations and actors to discuss prominent initiatives, topics and recent research.

And last but not least… virtual booth talks! These are fair-type spaces to showcase tools, draft research, information or services related to issues, products and actors in social protection. A total of 18 of such booths were offered, including the following:

Hope you enjoyed this edition! And if you’d like to join online communities, connect with fellow practitioners, and access up-to-date publications, news, e-course, and weekly webinars… consider becoming a member of the platform (for free, of course).

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 each week, offering knowledge on social protection to helps 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 Building Blocks: 
  • Policy
    • Expenditure and financing
  • Programme implementation
    • Benefits payment / delivery
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Social protection systems
  • Universal Social Protection
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Food and nutritional security
  • Gender
  • Health
  • Global
  • Global
The views presented here are the author's and not's