From Field to Parliament (F2P): Strengthening Social Protection Systems to leave no one behind!

The Case of Malawi’s National Social Support Programme

Can social protection be a systemic approach to achieve the SDGs overarching goal to “Leave no one behind”? This was the main topic on the latest Field to Parliament Event on April 12. GIZ Practitioner Ralf Radermacher, Head of the Sector Initiative “Social Protection”, gave profound insights about the harmonizing process of the Social Protection System in Malawi to the guests from Parliament. The MEP Charles Goerens, Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, who is also member of the Committee on Development and the Subcommittee on Human Rights, hosted the event and showed keen interest in the topic.

Dysfunctional systems reduce resilience

Social protection measures – such as cash transfers, cash for work or health care systems – help people, households and communities to reduce poverty and contribute to long-term social and economic development. However, 70 percent of the world‘s population have no access to appropriate social protection. Efforts to introduce some sort of social protection are underway in many countries. However, introducing programs that reach and benefit all is still a challenge. Furthermore, if different programs are planned and implemented in isolation, the resulting fragmentation has household falling between the cracks. In addition, a dysfunctional social protection system reduces the resilience of societies, leading to poverty in case of shocks or force people to migrate.

Digitization as a driver for change in Malawi

Malawi, a country with 16 million inhabitants, has a national poverty rate of about 50 percent and is ranked as third most affected country from climate change. To reduce poverty and vulnerability in Malawi effectively, German Development Cooperation supported the Malawian Government in the standardization and harmonization of social protection programs. A key approach taken by the Malawian government was to introduce a central register for potential beneficiary households. This central register allows the various social protection programs, such as cash transfer for labour-constrained households or cash for work for able-bodied households, to source their beneficiaries in a coordinated manner and to overcome fragmentation. Digitized data management provided a crucial stepping-stone for harmonization.

Social Protection: “Not charity, but investment”

During the event, Ralf Radermacher underlined the understanding for an effective social protection system: “Social protection has a protective and promotive function. It´s not charity, but investment for inclusive growth.” The outreach of the social protection programme is impressive: Currently, the Malawi National Social Support Programme provides social cash transfers towards 300,000 families, public works for approximately 450,000 households and school meals for two million students. Not just the food security and consumption grew, but also the regular school attendance. Furthermore, cash transfers to poor households support the local economy. “A recipient household uses the transfer to buy from the local shop; the shopkeeper in turn buys from her supplier – a Euro transferred to a household thus fuels the local economy”, stated Radermacher from his experiences. Social protection is therefore an economic stimulus and a starting point for sustainable development.

EU as a provider of social protection?

MEP Goerens emphasized the positive effects of social protection and the need for further efforts on EU level. Social protection is not yet a focus of EU development agenda, but many parliamentarians, in particular Mr. Goerens (ALDE), are convinced that this would be a powerful approach to achieve the SDGs.

Ralf Radermacher recommends making social protection a core pillar of the European Development Cooperation, in particularly with Africa. Support towards Universal Social Protection (USP) helps reducing poverty and provides households future prospects in their home countries. Furthermore, social protection systems can be an effective way to quickly channel payouts in case of crisis, as it is currently being explored the the EC’s Humanitairan Office (ECHO).

The event was part of GIZ´s 'From Field to Parliament' event series in Brussels. It focusses on the exchange of experienced GIZ practitioners with policy makers, especially accredited parliamentary assistants and EP staff, on current topics in international development.

Ralf Radermacher, Head of the Sector Initiative “Social Protection”, and Reiner Forster, Senior-Policy Advisor GIZ Brussels