Explaining the 2013 World Bank/IMF Spring Meeting – Ministerial Roundtable on Social Protection

Social protection is lacking in many parts of Asia and the Pacific. Photo: ADB
Social protection is lacking in many parts of Asia and the Pacific. Photo: ADB

By Susann Roth

Asian governments need to increase their support for social protection programs if they hope to reap broader economic and social benefits.

The 2013 spring meeting of the IMF and World Bank hosted the second annual Ministerial Roundtable discussion entitled, “Closing the Gap – Safety Nets Where the Needs are Greatest."  

High-level representatives of Member States (including ministers of finance, economy, planning, development, and labor, heads of development agencies, and other senior officials from over 20 countries) discussed the investment value of social protection (SP) systems particularly in least developed countries and in those with persisting pockets of poverty. 

Focusing on strategic pathway

The focus of the discussion was on the strategic path of building functional and affordable SP systems. Achievements, particularly in Latin America, were celebrated — a clear indication that outcomes of social assistance programs of Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are already visible there. Lessons learned from critical challenges were likewise discussed.   

Delivering Post 2015

Key discussion point was how to advance the achievements of existing social protection systems to live up to the promises of the Millennium Development Declaration and deliver post 2015.   

Increasing social protection needs

It was also noted that there has been a rapid expansion of social protection programs in the world, including low-income countries, and that multilateral development banks are indeed aligning their investments to the countries’ needs. The World Bank, for example, invests in 88 countries in social protection, and 22 of these are low-income countries that are committed to expand national SP systems.   

Reducing poverty

The participants of the meeting confirmed their conviction that social protection programs are central to the countries’ development policies, particularly to lift and keep people out of poverty and build sustainable and resilient environments for human development.   

World Bank shared calculations, which showed that SP programs lift over 50 million people out of extreme poverty in developing countries per year.

We still have a long way to go to advance social protection in Asia and the Pacific.

Strengthening social cohesion

It was also discussed that for social protection programs to be effective and to work across a variety of contexts, they need to be anchored in a system that brings cohesion to existing programs. It was all about avoiding fragmentation of SP programs and building a comprehensive framework that could respond well to crises.  

It was interesting to see, that when talking about crises, not only the positive financial impact of SP programs was acknowledged but also -- and more importantly -- the impact on gender equality, education and nutrition outcomes, and inclusion and social cohesion.  

Creating jobs and replacing traditional support networks  

Participants also affirmed the emerging evidence of the positive impact of SP programs on job creation and how predictable and reliable support helps beneficiaries invest in their own future, and reduces stress on traditional support networks stretched by increasingly urbanizing societies.  

Adapting to climate change  

It was highlighted how robust social protection systems are strategically important for climate change adaptation. Hopefully we will see some climate finance going into social protection investments in the future.  

So, what do social protection programs need?  

While recognizing all these benefits, the participants agreed that SP programs need continuous care and analysis. Investments in countries’ capacity to collect data is needed to carry out rigorous analysis which must be well-grounded in local contexts; investments in modern technology are required and are key to develop unified registries and integrated management information systems.  

Also more dialogue is required through South-South Learning Initiatives to share how to efficiently overcome specific implementation challenges associated with the technical complexities of SP programs.  

SP programs also need technical assistance to deconstruct fragmentation and to build synergies and overcome silos. SP programs need to operate under one administrative system and share information at all levels.  

Above all, funding for social protection programs!  

Countries need catalytic funding to take necessary risks and pilot initiatives before implementing programs on a national level. This can only be achieved in partnerships. There was also a clear call for strengthened donor harmonization and working together within common country specific SP frameworks.  

All these are easier said than done, but putting words behind thought and sharing experience at a high level is already the beginning of the journey. We still have a long way to go to advance social protection in Asia and the Pacific. As Zig Ziglar puts it, “Success is not a destination, it's a journey“.