Events of the past decade have underscored the vital need for social safety net (SSN) programs in all countries, especially in times of crisis. Over fiscal years 2000–10, the World Bank supported SSNs with $11.5 billion in lending and an active program of analytical and advisory services and knowledge sharing, much of it during the last two years of the decade, in response to the food, fuel, and financial crises. Yet the crises also pointed out weaknesses, as many middle-income countries (MICs) found that their poverty-targeted SSNs were not flexible enough to increase coverage or benefits as needed or to reach new vulnerable households, and low-income countries (LICs) lacked existing programs, poverty data, and systems to target and deliver benefits.
World Bank support evolved in positive directions over the decade. The Bank began to move from a project-focused approach that emphasized delivery of social assistance benefits toward an approach that focused on helping countries build SSN systems and institutions to respond better to poverty, risk, and vulnerability.
Stronger demand for SSN support in MICs led to significantly stronger engagement there than in LICs. However, the Bank’s recent crisis-related work expanded support to 15 new countries, over half of which were LICs. The Bank’s support to SSNs throughout the decade has relied strongly on both lending and knowledge sharing to engage clients. Bank support has largely accomplished its stated short-term objectives and helped countries achieve immediate impacts. But to achieve the longer-term goal of developing country SSNs, short-term objectives need to be better defined, effectively monitored, and anchored in a longer-term results framework. Weaknesses in poverty data, program designs, and monitoring indicators need to be addressed to ensure target groups are adequately reached.
- Design SSNs to help countries to respond to shocks.
The World Bank needs to engage consistently during stable times to help countries develop SSNs that address poverty and can respond to shocks. This requires steady country dialogue and support for developing SSNs through access to reliable poverty data, crisis monitoring systems, and flexible targeting. Click here to learn from Pakistan’s Experiences Developing SSN systems to Address Shocks
- Support the development of SSN institutions and sustainable systems.
The World Bank needs to accelerate its work on institution building to support SSNs, particularly in low-income countries, where capacity constraints are severe and SSN administrative systems may need to be built from scratch. In the middle-income countries, the approach will require continuing the effort to harmonize programs within the broader social protection framework. Click here to learn about the World Bank SSN programs in Brazil and Moldova.
- Increase SSN engagement in LICs.
The Bank needs to maintain special efforts through financing and internal incentives for LICs that permit them to develop SSNs that protect their poorest and prepare for shocks. Click here to learn about the World Bank SSN program Ethiopia.
- Strengthen short- and longer-term results frameworks for SSN support.
The Bank needs to improve the quality of objectives, design, and monitoring within projects, as well as develop a longer-term results framework for building effective SSNs to protect the poor and vulnerable. Weaknesses in poverty data, program designs, and monitoring indicators should be addressed to ensure target groups are adequately reached. Click here to learn about Key Questions to Ask of Each Program Improving Results Frameworks for SSNs.
- Ensure strong cross-network coordination on SSNs.
The Bank needs to improve internal coordination of SSNs between networks by reviewing budget practices to see if they constrain cooperation and sharing cross-sectoral and cross-network expertise.