What role can social protection play in responding to humanitarian emergencies?

The webinar, titled What role can social protection play in responding to humanitarian emergencies, presented the findings concerning social protection systems and crisis management in Pakistan, Mozambique, Mali, the Sahel, Philippines and Lesotho. The event took place on the 11 January 2018, and focused on themes surrounding shock responsive systems and social assistance.

The webinar was hosted by socialprotection.org and organised by Oxford Policy Management (OPM), in collaboration with the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), the Cash Learning Partnership (CALp) and the National Institute of Psychical Health (INASP). The webinar was moderated by Sarah Bailey (Research Associate, ODI), while Clare O'Brien,  (Project manager, DFID Shock-Responsive Social Protection Systems study, OPM) and Andrew Kardan (Country Co-director in Tanzanian, OPM) presented and responded to questions.

The recording is available here and the presentation here.

The discussion began by addressing the key questions surrounding the factors that enable social protection systems to be responsive to shocks and deliver effective humanitarian assistance. These factors were highlighted using case studies from various countries across the global spectrum. Systems based approaches were presented, aimed at achieving more efficient and effective responses to large scale shocks.

Kardan concentrated on a framework for social protection in the context of emergencies. This framework includes better targeting and coverage of the affected population, shorter response timeframes, predictability and alignment of financing for reliable transfers, and expanded organisational capacity.

He went on to elaborate on the different options to address these issues, enumerated in a “typology with 5 key options for shock-responsive adaptation”:

  1. Design twerks- adjusting the design of routine social protection interventions
  2. Piggy backing – using already existing programme infrastructure
  3. Vertical expansion – increase the value or duration of benefits for existing recipients
  4. Horizontal expansion –increase the number of beneficiaries in the event of a crisis.
  5. Alignment – align with other current or planned interventions

Following the analysis of the framework for social protection performance, O'Brien elaborated on the design and implementation of feasible solutions in the form of six principles. These principles typically address social protection routines that are likely to reduce household vulnerability to shocks:

  1. Strengthening routine social protection is likely to reduce a households’ vulnerability to shocks
  2. Understand needs - both general and shock specific - and determine whether it is appropriate to use social protection
  3. Make your plan long before a shock happens
  4. Recognise what is feasible given the current maturity of systems and programmes
  5. Recognise that shock responsive social protection will never be the sole solution
  6. Plan how you will measure whether you are succeeding

She then took the audience through a series of examples of the appropriate use of social protection, noting that it is important for contingency plans to be allocated to each phase of crisis management. Humanitarian organisations need to constantly take note of what is feasible in the context of the maturity of the systems and programmes that are already in place, while also recognising that shock responsive social protection will never be the sole solution. She then provided insights into how humanitarian assistance can be measured.

O’Brien went on to explore contextual factors affecting programme design and implementation, highlighting the main factors that constantly affect the progress of social protection crisis management systems. These include politics, regulation, capacity, financing, and conflict – which all undermine “donor appetite”.

The webinar closed with Sarah Bailey moderating the Q&A session:  

• People often rely on internationally led humanitarian + national system + informal social protection mechanisms. Are there any shock responsive informal social protection mechanisms for marginalised groups/ non-citizens / those who can't rely on government services for all needs and planning?

• Did you find any challenges in your attempt to align existing databases and programmes (especially those run by Governments?)

Watch the webinar recording here:


This blog post is part of the Shock-responsive Social Protection Series, which brings together the summaries of webinars organised by OPM on the topic. Please join the Social protection in crisis contexts online community if you are interested in following the most recent discussions on the topic. If you have any thoughts on this webinar summary, we would love to hear from you. Please add your comments below!

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Programme design
  • Programme implementation
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Disaster risk management / reduction
  • Resilience
  • Lesotho
  • Mali
  • Mozambique
  • Pakistan
  • Philippines
  • Middle East & North Africa
  • South Asia
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
The views presented here are the author's and not socialprotection.org's