Over the past two decades, social protection has become an integral part of antipoverty policy strategies in the Global South, signalling a major shift in development thinking, moving away from traditional food aid and commodity subsidies towards more reliable and predictable forms of targeted interventions. A growing evidence showing generally positive impacts of social protection has favoured the adoption and expansion of these policies. Interventions within social assistance represent the most important changes to social protection policies in recent times.
These programmes have emerged in contexts where social insurance schemes remain truncated, partly due to the persistence of informality and the dominance of subsistence agriculture. The pace by which social assistance programmes have expanded, as well as the type of programmes that have been adopted, vary substantially across countries and world regions. What does explain this variation?
Prior to the recent expansion of social assistance, many countries in the Global South witnessed a series of important political and political economy developments that reshaped both state–society relations and the interactions with domestic and external actors, institutions, including donors.
In the context of sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), these developments include processes of urbanization, demographic transitions, economic transformation as well as more competitive processes of democratization, often involving a (re)assertion of clientelistic and sometimes authoritarian forms of governance.
While the fight against poverty has been a valid argument by donors to promote the adoption of social protection, there are other political economy factors that are likely to underpin its expansion. The strength of democratic institutions and the socio-economic conditions that prevail in those countries, as well as regional policy diffusion effects from donors and international organizations can play a fundamental role in influencing the design features of social protection programmes and their level of adoption and institutionalisation.
This project, which is supported by the Swedish Expert Group for Aid Studies (EBA), continues UNU-WIDER’s long engagement with research on foreign aid and social protection. It includes i) a systematic review of the literature on the determinants of social protection adoption and expansion, ii) an analysis of international and Swedish aid allocations to support transfer programmes in SSA, iii) a new quantitative analysis of the determinants of social protection expansion in the Global South, giving especial attention to the role of foreign aid, and iv) a country case study in Kenya to understand the role of Swedish (and international) aid in supporting the adoption and expansion of social protection in that country.
The work will take form of an EBA report, which will be followed up by additional WIDER Working Papers building on the findings of the report.