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The social and transformative impacts of cash transfers and social protection

Time (GMT +01) 12:30 14:00
Hero image description: Malawi cash transfers scheme - handing out cash Image credit:Rachel Slater and Rebecca Holmes Image license:ODI given rights


Dr Anna McCord- Research Fellow, ODI Social Protection Programme


Dr Wale Osofisan - HelpAge International

Gabrielle Smith - Concern

Nicola Hypher - Save the Children UK

The central purpose of the event was to stimulate debate in the NGO sector, researchers and academia on the transformative roles of social protection. Event highlights are found below.

Speaker 1: Gabrielle Smith (Concern)

Presenting findings of ‘Walking the Talk’ – gender dynamics in households and communities

·         Programmes often exclusively targeted at women – making some broad assumptions in doing so without looking at practice on the ground

·         Indonesia (rural), Kenya (urban) and Zimbabwe (rural), with a qualitative methodology: (focus groups, informant interviews)

·         Positive social impacts: reduced household tension, self esteem for women, reduced negative coping and acceptance of women’s capability in a financial role

·         Limitations: more control of money and expenses – but within the framework of existing traditional roles without emphasis on deeper structural change. The programme design also excluded men – based on preconceived perceived risk.

·         Negative impacts (community level): legitimacy and potential of cash transfers in question when cash is not shared within the household – e.g. polygamous households.

·         Lessons and Recommendations: including men and masculinity is critical, trickle down of gender concepts from NGO office to field level is weak, flawed logic of targeting of women in particular, lack of appropriate M&E with a ‘do no harm’ approach. Donors are recommended to assist NGOs in going beyond ‘box ticking’ in the analytic / M&E functions.

Speaker 2: Dr Wale Osofisan  (HelpAge International)

Strengthening state-citizen relations in fragile contexts: the role of cash transfers

·         Based on 3 case studies: Sierra Leone, Northern Kenya, West Darfur

·         The concept is that a commitment to a cash transfer in these contexts builds a state-citizen contract – based on a qualitative methodology

·         Limitations and challenges: Sierra Leone – ages 60+. Targeting is very difficult when there is no local/village context. Fieldwork implementation capacity limited – no significant training support. No linkage to parallel government services

·         Kenya: ID cards were a perquisite for participation – providing an incentive for these cards.  There was also a notable value of introducing a rights discourse to the communities. However, again, limited interaction with state institutions.

·         Conclusions:  programme design should recognise the  potential spillover effects of rights-based discourses, and recognise that states should play a significant role in programme ownership  - which also provides an incentive to develop broader accountability functions

Speaker 3: Nicola Hypher (Save the Children UK)

‘Impact of cash transfers on children – the role of social relations and intra-household dynamics’

·         based on ongoing research from literature, Save UK programme lessons and Young Lives data

·         Intra-household power dynamics: dependent on socio-cultural norms, levels of education, individual status (birth order, gender and age), kinship ties (orphans), polygamous households. Nevertheless, household level remains the focus of programmes.

·         However, many positive impacts on child wellbeing are often noted – including dietary diversity and health criteria. Targeting women in particular also shows increased empowerment (household bargaining and independence).

·         Type of transfer (cash vs in-kind) may also have impacts on household dynamics as there are assumed gender roles associated with these types of resources.

·         Often argued that formal social protection ‘crowds-out’ informal aspects – but the programme lessons are as yet inconclusive and problematic

·         Conclusions: impact analysis lacks dissagregated approach, with limited demand-side for this type of knowledge on behalf of donors.

Discussant: Rebecca Holmes (ODI)

·         Assumptions: these are numerous in the social protection field – i.e. that they can transform relations on a number of levels. Many of these assumptions go unchallenged and we need to ensure both quantitative and qualitative evidence back up all programme approaches.

·         Expectations: can we expect transformation on small time and impact scales? We need to be realistic in programme design and analysis

·         Achievements: regarding political economy perspective is also critical in programme design and are often excluded or conducted in an ad hoc way.

Questions – round 1

·         General observation on trend of social protection: social health protection does not seem to have a good platform of integration in protection programmes, meanwhile, recipients often spend significant income on these dimensions

·         What can we expect from cash transfers in emergency situations? We need to be careful in attributing change from these programmes when there are so many parallel activities taking place. Perhaps it is better to think about the longer-term in considering transformative programmes?

·         Highlighting the contextual factors in protection programmes – which can influence programmes in many ways. In terms of research, there is a need to systemise lessons so that that programmers can draw on these. There is also a need to refocus on quantitative research aspects.

·         Terms ‘social justice’, ‘transformation’, ‘social contract’ – we assume the state is involved. However, there are roles for working outside the states remit to influence state-citizen relations. Furthermore, evidence gathering on these issues is still in its infancy.


·         Regarding research indicators: ability of communities to make collective action functions. Compared that to a neighbouring community where this space was not facilitated by the cash transfer programme. The former case allowed a grievance mechanism based on rights education.

·         Donor support vs fiscal support: We need to think creatively about this relationship – what is the middle-ground that satisfies the interest of both parties.

·         Expectations: we can expect protection programmes to have very wide implications, but we do indeed need to be aware of complementary actions. This entails clarifying very clearly the objectives of the programme – these trajectories of change will vary markedly by context. We can also prepare ahead for emergency-type programmes, particularly cyclical programmes.

·         Complementary of protection programme also requires considering integration with longer term livelihood programming – and linking with health extension programmes.

·         The challenge, regarding data systemisation, is deciding where impacts are based on context and where they are based on programme design.

Questions – round 2

·         Emergency programming varies widely – but there are common denominators, such as risk and vulnerability, that can provide that underlying justification for protection programmes. Therefore, it is critical that social analysis is being built in at the beginning of these programmes.

·         Are we overloading the protection agenda, assuming that there is always a transformative aspect in programmes? Regarding quantitative evidence, the IFS has done some research on degrees of trust – but this type of research is limited. This is at odds with research that shows that targeting programmes can be divisive.

·         Cash on delivery aid: a way to square impact results, but also helps to transform state-society relations? We need to explore these dimensions.

·         A cash transfer is not only about resource exchange – but appreciating the broad array of additional social and political functions of these is important for understanding complementary impacts.

·         We have high expectations, but often we do not look in the rights places where transformative social programmes have been existing for long periods of time.


·         In terms of expectations, we should indeed be looking at wider social impacts and move beyond poverty reduction.

·         A continuum approach is desirable, but needs to be based on a basic agreement of ‘no harm’ at the outset

·         FAO/UNICEF – examining the impact of social networks on cash transfer programmes


There is widespread recognition of social protection – and specifically cash transfers - as an essential component of national poverty reduction and development strategies. While much social protection literature and programming focuses on the human development and economic case for cash transfers, there is growing interest in their potential to promote empowerment, social cohesion, and reduce inequality.    Experience also shows social protection schemes have a key role to play in building the social contract between state and citizenry in fragile states.  This meeting will explore the implications of NGO research evidence exploring the transformative impact of cash transfers through the presentation of three recently completed studies.