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Evaluation of World Bank safety nets programming 2000-2010

Time (GMT +00) 13:00 14:30

Jennie Litvack - Lead Economist, Independent Evaluation Group, World Bank

Laura Rawlings - Team Leader, World Bank Social Protection Strategy
Rachel Slater - Social Protection Programme lead, ODI

Paul Wafer -
Head of the Poverty and Vulnerability Team, Policy Division, DFID

In 2010 the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) of the World Bank (WB) carried out a major evaluation of Social Safety Net (SSN) programming in the World Bank between 2000 and 2010. The report was released earlier this year. This event served as a platform to present and discuss the main findings of this report as well the World Bank’s future strategy. The IEG report investigates how effective and relevant the Bank has been in supporting countries to establish sound SSNs.

Jennie Litvack’s
presented the IEG report’s four main messages. First Social Safety Net (SSN) institutions need to be developed during stable times to reach the poor and serve effectively and efficiently during crisis. Second, there is more potential for SNN in low-income countries (LICs). Third, results frameworks need sharpening for poverty focus and long-term objectives. Fourth, the World Bank’s strategic engagement is important for effectiveness.

Litvack noted that definitions of SSNs vary but an operational definition was adopted in the report, namely that SSNs are “non-contributory transfers, targeted in some way to the poor and vulnerable”. That includes programmes such as cash transfer programmes; food and in-kind transfers; energy, water and housing subsidies, education and health subsidies programmes and public works programmes. According to Litvack SSNs have three main objectives:

1.Reduce chronic poverty and inequality by increasing consumption by the poorest

2.Improve investments in human capital by the poor

3.Protect the poor and vulnerable from individual and systemic shocks

The report’s findings suggest that the Word Bank’s SSN support focuses on the chronic poor with 80% of projects targeted at chronic poverty and inequality. A smaller proportion of 66% addresses human investment and only 53% focus on systemic risk. The lack on focus on systemic risk and crisis prevention results in only 16% of countries examined being prepared for crisis.

However World Bank support increased with crises and shifted towards systems and institutions over the decade. In fact institution building became the strongest aspect of the Bank’s support with almost half of the SSN projects supporting capacity building. The emphasis is however greater in middle-income countries (MIC), which receive more attention overall.

SSN support is higher in MICs than in LICs in absolute and proportional terms. The top-three SSN borrowers Argentina, Mexico and Columbia accounted fro around 1% of the poor among the Bank’s clients. The top-ten SSN borrowers, which receive around 70% of the funding, accommodate around 16% of the poor among the Bank’s SSN clientele.

On average the World Bank’s SSN projects perform better than the rest of the portfolio with positive short-term impacts across indicators. However programmes such as Conditional Cash transfers are justified on the basis of long-term objectives but are monitored for short-term impacts. Longer-term objectives are rarely evaluated. Although World Bank SSN programmes are by definition supposed to target the poor, 40% do not mention the poor in their objectives and 50% do not mention any target population at all. Half of the programmes do not have a single indicator monitoring the poor.

Litvack closed her presentation with stressing the need for World Bank’s strategic engagement in countries to ensure effectiveness.

Laura Rawlings
pointed out that the Word Bank is currently taking stock of their social protection and labour portfolio and formulating a new strategy for social protection for the next decade. She referred to the IEG report as a helpful input in this process complementing global consultations with client and donor countries and feedback from civil society, think tanks and development agencies. During this evaluation process the World Bank identified the need to focus on its operational framework, which should enable SSNs to respond to crisis and service the chronic poor. The three pillars of protection, prevention and promotion will support this framework. This ‘Three Ps’ framework seeks to provide social insurance, enhance equity and promote opportunities through improving human capital, labour markets and productivity. The new strategy suggests four areas of focus. The first is to address the fragmentation across programmes and policies. The second is to expand attention to LICs and fragile states but not at the expense of MICs. The third area is to engage in the promotion of opportunities and the forth one to engage stronger in knowledge sharing and make knowledge accessible to a wider range stakeholders.

Rawlings closed by emphasizing the importance of systems and coordination. In this context she depicted it as crucial to define and develop commonly used building blocks around programme design and policy formulation.

Rachel Slater
provided reflections and questions on the report’s findings and ramifications to facilitate a discussion. She noted that addressing systemic risks might in fact not be the Bank’s task but rather that of other UN agencies. Rachel Slater highlighted the difference between a shock- focus and the need for more flexibility and responsiveness.

She moreover stated that the World Bank’s business as usual approach is not going to be helpful in LICs and pointed out areas of consideration for the Bank’s engagement in LICs including: public works wage rates; the balance between credit and grant funding in World Bank operations; the appropriateness of preferred targeting instruments where poverty rates are high; the use of conditional cash transfers where education and health service delivery has low coverage; and using a counter-cyclical approach to funding SSNs where the outlook for growth is poor. She also noted that the WB evaluation had forced ehr to rethink defining the sustainability of social protection based on whether governments themselves finance SSNs.


The questions included whether the World Bank views public works programmes are the desired instrument for poverty reduction and whether the consultations on the WB strategy have included social workers. This began a discussion about how social protection has different meanings and connotations in different contexts and the importance of tailoring for context.

A point strongly featured in the discussion was the need for and the challenges of donor coordination and alignment of implementation. In this context it was emphasised that the World Bank in particular need to make efforts to take the agendas of other agencies into account and allow a more meaningful dialogue between different agencies.


In 2010 the Independent Evaluation Group of the World Bank carried out a major evaluation of Social Safety Net (SSN) programming in the World Bank between 2000 and 2010.  The  report was released earlier this year. This event is the first presentation by the IEG in Europe of the key findings.

SSN programmes are a dynamic and growing area of World Bank work. Between 2000 and 2010 the Bank loaned $11.5 billion to support such programs in 244 loans to 83 countries. Half of the lending occurred in the last two years of the decade, when the SSN portfolio doubled from three to six percent of the Bank’s lending. With the demand for Bank support at an all-time high, an evaluation was carried out by the Independent Evaluation Group (IEG) into the effectiveness and relevance of the Bank’s performance with the objective of drawing lessons to guide future support. The IEG commissioned over 30 detailed studies exploring programme instruments, approaches, and performance complemented by in depth country case studies. ODI worked with IEG on several of the studies.

At this presentation the key findings and recommendations of the report will be presented by its principle author, Jennie Litvack, and the Social Protection and Labour Group of the Bank will respond, addressing the implications of the report for future Bank policy and programming.   There will then be an opportunity for engagement with both the Bank and the IEG.