Learning Curves: Strengthening Social Protection Systems in Asia and the Pacific

Date: December 2012
Type: Papers and Briefs
Evaluation; Social development and protection
Series: Learning Curves


A growing body of international evidence shows that well-designed and targeted social protection programs, particularly safety nets for the poor, deliver high returns in poverty reduction and human capital development. National social protection programs—which should be an integral part of a macroeconomic policy mix for inclusive growth—are affordable for poorer countries.

Recent economic crises, food and fuel emergencies, and natural disasters have starkly exposed the inadequacy of national social protection systems in the developing countries of Asia and the Pacific. Indeed, despite the region’s impressive economic gains, only governments in sub-Saharan Africa spend less public money on social protection to guarantee a minimum level of subsistence and meet basic needs.

ADB approved its Social Protection Strategy in 2001 in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis to support developing member countries in building comprehensive social protection systems in non-crisis years. The aim was to better prepare them to cope with future shocks. The evaluation study—Asian Development Bank: Social Protection Strategy 2001—assesses how ADB responded to the strategy, and its experience with social protection.

The study found the strategy’s envisaged pattern of support was not sufficiently realized. ADB lending for social protection rose sharply during the food, fuel, and financial crises of 2008–2010, but then rapidly declined. This suggests that ADB and client countries have given a low priority to social protection once a crisis has passed, thereby missing opportunities for sustaining dialogue on social protection as part of an inclusive growth strategy. In its social protection interventions, ADB still needs to make the transition from addressing the direct effect of a crisis to helping countries strengthen social protection systems after the crisis has passed.

Looking forward, as part of its commitment to inclusive growth, ADB should progressively scale up its support to social protection, especially in non-crisis periods. Building a more selective and focused social protection portfolio would require a combination of efforts in demand creation, knowledge building, selective financing, and development of ongoing and operational partnerships with other development organizations.