Social protection: innovative programs deliver financial services at scale

Participants of the Innovations in Social Protection project

Participants of the 2014 Innovations in Social Protection and Livelihoods Development initiative

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Pathway

Agricultural value chains that reach to small scale producers


>>Authored by Jesse Marsden, Manager, Research and Operations

April is the Month of MicrofinanceLearn more

April is the Month of Microfinance
Learn more

We at the Microcredit Summit Campaign have advocated for scaling up the full range of microfinance services (savings, credit, insurance, and beyond) as one sector’s contribution to a broader effort to end extreme poverty. Experience of the development community suggests that ending extreme poverty will take a multifaceted approach that matches and sequences the right combination of financial and non-financial services with an ever-varying set of binding constraints faced by individuals living in extreme poverty.

Some 40 years have passed since modern microfinance got underway with micro loans to villagers in Jobra, and innovation and learning have helped micro-financial services and interventions greatly evolve to now include a wide array of forms and functions. Last August, the Microcredit Summit Campaign led a learning tour to deeply investigate some of the newest and most promising innovations in delivering micro-financial services to those living in extreme poverty.

Six delegates representing ministries that oversee social protection programs in Ghana, Malawi, and Mozambique took a twelve-day journey with us across two continents in advance of the 17th Microcredit Summit. They observed innovative approaches for social protection programs to address the causes and symptoms of extreme poverty.

The learning and exposure visit, called “Innovations in Social Protection and Livelihoods Development,” was an initiative led by our 100 Million Project in partnership with The MasterCard Foundation. Delegates to the program from participating learned first-hand what is working well and what challenges exist for program implementers in Ethiopia and Mexico.

Policy makers then developed innovation plans for 2015 to act on lessons learned from their trip after returning home. In one example, the Malawi delegation, based on their innovation plan, fully redesigned their social protection plan (which they were preparing before their trip) to include savings schemes and digital transfer technologies to support implementation. This will have an impact on some 860,000 households (or more than 4 million individuals) living in extreme poverty served by the program.

Rainy season roads

Rainy season roads in Ethiopia

Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Program

The Ministry of Agriculture oversees the implementation of the Productive Safety Net Program (PSNP) in Ethiopia which is designed to address food insecurity, a key development and poverty issue in the country. PSNP uses a cash transfer process in combination with participation in a public works scheme, generating water and soil related improvements in remote areas of the country in order to build the capacity of drought stricken areas to endure weather related shocks. In return for working in a 10-person group for a set number of days per month, a monthly cash transfer is granted for six months each year that the individual participants.

These groups of 10 people select a public works improvement project to implement from a set of options developed by PSNP administrators based on the local conditions. Options often include projects to control and prevent the erosion of farming or grazing areas, rain capture systems to mitigate the impact of drought, and even infrastructure improvements such as bridges or access roads. An engineering expert is assigned to each group to ensure quality construction of the improvement and safety of the structure built.

Participants are considered “graduated” from PSNP once her or his status as “food secure” is verified by the Ministry of Agriculture, which states that “A household will be graduate when, in the absence of receiving PSNP transfers, it can meet its food needs for all 12 months and is able to withstand modest shocks.”

The Relief Society of Tigray

The delegates traveled to the northern Tigray Region of Ethiopia to visit public works completed or underway as part of PSNP outside the city of Mek’ele. The Relief Society of Tigray (REST), one of the largest NGO microfinance implementers in the country, hosted the delegation and our visits to sites where REST acts as the local partner to PSNP. Ministry and REST representatives highlighted this effective government-NGO partnership as a key to the program’s success.

The delegation visited a number of key water-related improvements and some of these images depict the massive amount of work conducted over the last seven years since the initiation of the program.

Mexico’s Conditional Cash Transfer Program

The learning program continued in Mexico where the delegation enjoyed a day of briefings, exploring the Oportunidades program (now known as Prospera), Mexico’s conditional cash transfer program (CCT) overseen by PRONAFIM in the State of Yucatán.

The briefing focused on the structures and relationships necessary within the policy framework to make Prospera work under the national-level Ministry of Social Development (SEDESOL). The delegates learned how the national development bank, BANSEFI, plays an integral role as a facilitator of cash transfers and an accounting hub for the program, and how important it is for the national government and regulatory authorities to be involved throughout the implementation of the program.

The delegation also met participants of the program Jovenes con Oportunidades (“Youth with Opportunities”), which provides higher education scholarships to youth of families participating in other social development programs of PRONAFIM. The families we met were participating in a health clinic through SEDESOL, enabling their college-age children to receive scholarships to attend universities or polytechnic schools. In this way, the program contributes to improved health while it supports access to higher education among low-income families.

The delegation spent the next day visiting the Cristo Rey Cooperative in the town of Izamal. Cristo Rey is a CCT distributor, partnered with BANSEFI, for the Prospera program. The delegation learned about their operations including a deep dive into the structure and aims of the child savings program that serves over 3,000 children. The presentation also included a look at the IT infrastructure Cristo Rey requires to be an effective partner in Prospera.

What we learned

The purpose of the learning tour was not to learn everything there is to know about successfully using social protection interventions to end extreme poverty. Not everything is known yet. But, it was an opportunity for the six members of the delegation — all of whom work with similar financial and social interventions in their home countries — to develop new ideas based on evidence of success in order to help reshape or improve the programs they oversee. As mentioned, Malawi has completely re-envisioned their program. Others have also begun asking how they can access a new learning tour looking at the use of digital solutions to help deliver programs.

The picture of microfinance is one of innovation and creatively combining services in very intentional ways to meet a huge variety of binding constraints faced by those living in extreme poverty. Agricultural financial tools, cash transfers, graduation model programs, and technology all featured prominently in the learning tour, and these are showing exciting promise in meeting the needs of the extreme poor at scale and in ways that still remain flexible. We look forward to exploring these pathways more!

Learn more about the 100 Million Project.

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