The Covid-19 pandemic made it evident that even as we contend with climate-related shocks, our social protection systems should be designed to also cope with other forms of covariate shocks. This means having the right data, programmes, institutional arrangements and financing to build households’ capacity to prepare, cope and adapt to shocks.  This blog uses the Kenyan experience and response to Covid-19 to highlight some of the areas which need strengthening to establish a comprehensive Adaptive Social Protection system. 


Adaptive Social Protection: a brief overview

Social protection theory and practice has not yet reached a consensus on a particular definition of Adaptive Social Protection (ASP). In some cases, it seems to be used interchangeably with shock-responsive social protection (SRSP) but, is it the same? Diagram 1 presents a summary of the core differences and areas of overlap between the areas of social protection, climate change adoption and disaster risk reduction, and how these give rise to ASP and SRSP.

Source: Cornelius et al. 2018.


In essence SRSP largely focuses on how quickly social protection responses can be scaled up in times of shocks. On the other hand, and going by the World Bank definition (Bowen et al. 2020), ASP focuses on household’s capacity to prepare for, cope with, and adapt to shocks. As such, ASP covers a wider range of the humanitarian-development continuum and SRSP is only part of this larger concept (Béné et al. 2018, Longhurst and Sabates-Wheeler 2020). This blog considers ASP as a three-tier approach whereby vulnerable households are catered for before a shock, during the shock and after the shock. Prior to shocks, ASP works to build households’ resilience and then offers additional support during a shock so that the household is able to quickly bounce back after it.


Covid-19 responses in Kenya and what they revealed

The government of Kenya has been lauded for its quick response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of the initial measures, in addition to the World Health Organization (WHO)-guided containment measures, included the establishment of various committees to coordinate different aspects of responses and coming up with economic stimulus packages. In terms of direct assistance, the government quickly released KES10 Billion (approx. USD85,841,290 [1]) to boost various cash transfer programmes. Weekly cash transfers through mobile money were launched targeting those in informal urban settlements and these were disbursed via the Ministry of Interior (Namunwa 2020). Identification of beneficiaries was mainly through local authorities, particularly chiefs. This approach was, however, riddled with controversy as the lists of beneficiaries were seen as exclusive, with some cases of nepotism being reported (Human Rights Watch 2021).

In addition to cash transfers, the government also developed a public works program. Dubbed the ‘National Hygiene Program’ but commonly referred to as Kazi Mtaani, this initiative targeted the able-bodied adults mostly from informal settlements. This scheme was ran under the Ministry of Transport, Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development. Activities carried out under the program related to hygiene, beautification and infrastructure development through activities such as cleaning of streets, clearing bushes and drainages, and construction of green spaces.

To finance their interventions, the government established the Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund whose funding included proceeds from seized corruption assets as well as funds meant for travel by government agents as traveling had been halted (Owino 2020, Were 2020). In addition, the government also received emergency funding from the African Development Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

The fact that the vast majority of the Covid-19 interventions focused on urban informal settlements suggests that therein lies a highly vulnerable group. And, indeed, it is within these settlements where pockets of poverty and food insecurity are hidden among thriving urban areas: for example, a 2020 Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) food insecurity analysis showed that at least 43 percent of informal settlement dwellers in Kenya faced high levels of acute food insecurity (IPC 2020). Ironically, despite the high levels of poverty, water here costs 172 percent more than in the more affluent neighborhoods (Gikandi 2020).  

Furthermore, 10 million of the 11.8 million Kenyans who work in the informal economy live in informal settlements (Sanya and Ododah 2020). With such a high percentage being in the informal economy, this means that they are largely left out of the social protection system, except for those covered by targeted social assistance programmes. The limited access to social safety nets, coupled with limited savings and assets such as land, makes them more vulnerable to shocks and leads to negative coping mechanisms and a slower recovery and increased vulnerability after a shock, resulting in a poverty trap.



The economic disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and soon after exacerbated by ripple effects of the Russia-Ukraine invasion which affected the cost of imports such as wheat, oil and fertilizer, is a stark reminder of the need to advocate for adaptive social protection systems.

This sub-section will look at the building blocks of adaptive social protection and offer a brief gap-analysis of Kenya’s system.


1. Programme design and efficiency

In order to enhance households’ resilience, the coverage and effectiveness of existing programmes must first and foremost be examined. Ideally, social protection programmes such as cash transfers to the poor and vulnerable help households prepare for shocks by enhancing their savings and asset bases. These can then be drawn from in case of a shock and prevent negative coping strategies.

Although Kenya has made great strides towards increasing coverage through the National Safety Net Programme, there are still notable gaps. One of the gaps as alluded to, continues to be the urban poor or those living in urban informal settlements. A previous attempt to address the urban poor through the Urban Food Subsidy Programme did not go very far. Its failure may be attributed to the fact that the anticipated government funding did not materialise, and it died out after the pilot face which was ran by WFP, Oxfam and Concern (Republic of Kenya 2012).

Transfer amounts by most of the programmes are also wanting. Other than the Hunger Safety Net Programme whose transfer values are inflation-indexed, none of the other programmes have this feature. The amounts currently paid out were last revised in 2011 and with the real value having been declining at an average of 12.5 percent annually, this means that the purchasing power of these benefits have greatly been eroded. While beneficiaries receive KES2000 (approx. USD 17) per month, as of 2016/2017 the real value of this was only KES1160 (KIPPRA 2019). Given the rising cost of living, this amount is scarcely enough to enhance resilience building of vulnerable households.


2. Data and information

Data is a crucial component when designing adaptive social protection systems. For it to be useful however, data must be complete, accurate, relevant, current and accessible (Beazley and Barca 2018).

One of the main challenges that became apparent in the Covid-19 responses related to data. Although the government already had in place a single registry with data on all existing beneficiaries, so much clean-up was required that most actors who sought to use it opted to carry out their own data collection and registration exercises (Doyle and Ikutwa 2021). Ideally, such databases are meant to facilitate quick access during emergency situations. However, when the data is of poor quality then more time is spent either cleaning up or carrying out registration exercises rather than responding to the emergency.

Nevertheless, the government is making headway in this regard with the development of the Enhanced Single Registry which will include a social registry that captures data on all the poor and vulnerable (not just beneficiaries of SP programmes). This will not only enhance emergency responses but also play a pivotal role in coordinating and creating synergies for complementary programs while following well laid out data sharing protocols.

As an additional component, the government should probably consider geographical targeting for those living in informal settlements and their socio-economic data captured and regularly updated in the registry.


3. Finance

Financing for ASP programming will include the pre-shock resilience measures as well as readily available funds for responding to the shock.

Financing of the various Covid-19 responses by the government was largely financed through the national budget, in addition to some external funding such as from the European Union and the IMF. However, there was no financing through any disaster response mechanism except a drawdown from the Catastrophe Deferred Drawdown Option (Cat DDO) (Doyle and Ikutwa 2021).

The current disaster financing mechanisms are mostly geared towards responding to climatic shocks. An exemplar of this is the Hunger Safety Net Programme which is currently the only programme in Kenya with a shock-responsive component. Geographically targeting the arid and semi-arid areas four counties in northern Kenya, the programme is designed to automatically scale-up in case of climatic emergencies. It consists of a registry of all households, but these are divided into two groups. The first group receives routine cash transfers while the second group receives cash during climate-related emergency scale-ups. The cash transfers not only help in coping during crises but also in pre-shock resilience building through increased savings and asset building. The scale-up trigger is based on a Vegetation Cover Index whose severity determines the percentage of the population to be covered in the scale up.

Similar geographical targeting may be considered for informal settlements with an appropriate model being developed to mitigate against price shocks, which could be indexed on food prices. Additionally, a budget space analysis may be performed to identify funds that could easily be relocated during emergencies, and funds that could be moved to pre-shock social protection actions.


4. Institutional arrangements and partnerships

ASP by its very nature calls for a multi-sectoral approach as it incorporates a range of actors drawn from different sectors. Given that each of these actors represents different objectives, strong government leadership is necessary in providing clear frameworks and enhancing coordination. In addition to inter-sectoral coordination, intra-governmental coordination is also necessary as different government agencies are responsible for the various areas of overlap within ASP.

Despite commendable coordination among non-state actors in the Covid-19 response, this was largely brought about by a lack of leadership and guidance from the government institution dealing with social protection. As already alluded to, different government interventions were implemented by different government agencies such as the State Department of Interior which was in charge of the multi-agency cash transfer and the State Department of Housing and Urban Development in charge of the Kazi Mtaani programme. The Ministry of Labour and Social Protection was not involved in these responses, as would otherwise be expected. Ideally, the Social Protection Secretariat (SPS) should have been in charge of coordinating social protection responses within government and between government and non-state actors.

In the absence of leadership by the SPS, the Kenya Cash Working Group took charge in coordinating responses by non-state actors (Doyle and Ikutwa 2021). However, by the time they stepped in, some actors were already implementing their responses. Overall, guidance by SPS would have resulted in a more harmonised approach in terms of aspects such as transfer amounts, eligibility criteria, duration, and reduced duplication.

Moving forward, the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection through the Social Protection Secretariat should be allowed to exercise its mandate to coordinate different actors in social protection responses.  The establishment of a Community of Practice for Social Protection is a commendable step towards coordination of different actors and is an indication of the government’s commitment to strengthen social protection. Launched in 2020, the forum brings together a wide range of stakeholders including government institutions, non-governmental organisations, academia and many more. It provides a platform to share knowledge and best practice and is built around six thematic areas: policy and system strengthening, finance and sustainability, shock responsive programming, knowledge management, complimentary standards, and communication and advocacy.



Recent experiences prove that covariate shocks ranging from climatic, economic and political, are inevitable. Social protection systems offer an ideal tool for dealing with the effects of these shocks as they can be devastating particularly for the vulnerable. While shock-responsive social protection is growing in popularity, and with good reason, it is similarly important that the underlying causes of vulnerability be addressed. Through this, households become more resilient to the shocks and can recover more quickly. This is the role that adaptive social protection plays.



  • Beazley, R., and V. Barca. 2018. The Role of Data and Information for Adaptive Social Protection. Background paper for the World Bank, Oxford Policy Management, Oxford, UK.
  • Béné, C. et al. 2018. Bridging humanitarian responses and long-term development through transformative changes—some initial reflections from the World Bank’s Adaptive Social Protection program in the Sahel. Sustainability, 10(6), 1697.
  • Bowen, T. et al. 2020. Adaptive Social Protection: Building resilience to shocks. International Development in Focus. Washington DC: World Bank
  • Cornelius, A. et al. 2018. Is my social protection programme ‘shock-responsive’ or ‘adaptive’? Retrieved from
  • Doyle, A. and Ikutwa, N. 2021. Towards shock-responsive social protection: lessons from the COVID-19 response in Kenya. Towards shock-responsive social protection. Oxford: Oxford Policy Management.
  • Gikandi, L. 2020. Covid-19 and vulnerable, hardworking Kenyans; why it’s time for a strong social protection plan. Oxfam briefing paper, November 2020. Oxford: Oxfam GB
  • Human Rights Watch. 2021. “We Are All Vulnerable Here”: Kenya’s Pandemic Cash Transfer Program Riddled With Irregularities. Retrieved from
  • IPC. 2020. Kenya: IPC Acute Food Insecurity Analysis Urban August–December 2020, Nairobi: Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (Accessed 17 May 2022)
  • KIPPRA. 2019. Social Protection Budget Brief. Policy Brief No.67/2018-2019
  • Longhurst, D. and Sabates-Wheeler, R. 2020. Adapting Social Protection in the Wake of Covid-19.  (initially accessed 8 September 2020).
  • Namunwa, K. 2020. Government to halt free weekly cash transfer to vulnerable families. Retrieved from (initially accessed 21 November 2020).
  • Owino, E. 2020. Socio-Economic impacts of Covid-19 in Kenya. Background Paper. Nairobi: Development Initiatives
  • Republic of Kenya. 2012. Kenya Social Protection Sector Review 2012. Nairobi: Ministry of State for Planning, National Development and Vision 2030.
  • Republic of Kenya. 2017. Kenya Social Protection Sector Review 2017. Nairobi: Ministry of Labour and Social Protection, State Department for Social Protection.
  • Sanya, J. and Ododah, M. 2020. Covid-19 in Kenya: The impact of the pandemic on the informal economy and settlements. Retrieved from (initially accessed 21 November 2020)
  • Were, M. 2020. Covid-19 and socioeconomic impact in Africa: The case of Kenya. WIDER Background Note 2020/3. Helsinki: UNU-WIDER.


[1] Exchange rate 1USD=KES116.5. Source: 

Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
Social Protection Building Blocks: 
  • Policy
    • Expenditure and financing
    • Governance and coordination
  • Programme design
  • Programme implementation
    • Informations Systems (MIS, Social Registry, Integrated Registry)
Social Protection Approaches: 
  • Adaptive social protection
  • Shock-responsive social protection
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Disaster risk management / reduction
  • Health
    • COVID-19
  • Kenya
The views presented here are the author's and not's


With the growing number of covariate shocks, adaptive social protection must be given the prominence it deserves. In addition, it has become evident that the urban poor must be taken into consideration as we think of ASP because we are not only dealing with climate-related shocks which largely affect rural/agricultural-dependent populations but unprecedented shocks such as Covid-19 which have implications on urban populations as well.