Delivering Digital G2P Payments to Urban Informal Populations: Lessons and Future Policy Implications from COVID-19 Responses

The COVID-19 response in many Sub-Saharan African countries included the rapid deployment of social protection programs leveraging digital systems to counteract the income losses that were disproportionately experienced by urban informal populations. Using data from three in-depth country case studies, this paper finds that these digital government-to-person (G2P) payments contributed to countries reaching beneficiaries quickly and safely and that G2P payments may be particularly viable in urban, as compared to rural, areas due to greater access to digital and financial infrastructure, creative use of big data, and population density that allows for mass communication. However, there are still pockets of exclusion in urban areas emerging from incomplete digital access, limited financial inclusion, underdeveloped financial ecosystems, and high population mobility. It is particularly challenging to identify, communicate with, assess, and deliver G2P services to informal workers in urban areas due to their non-registration status, variable income flows, the blending of the home and household enterprises into a single entity, and the governments’ limited experience in identifying eligible beneficiaries within this segment. While adopting a digital G2P architecture provides a promising avenue to strengthen the safety nets for this segment in the region, exclusion challenges remain. Given the ubiquity of urban informality in the region, countries will need to work to include the urban informal in foundational digital systems, such as national IDs and social registries, adopt flexible regulatory and hybrid delivery models to address the sector’s varied needs, and seek to foster robust digital payment ecosystems to maximize the potential for spillover benefits.