Special Evaluation Study on ADB’s Social Protection Strategy

Date: November 2012
Type: Evaluation Reports
Evaluation; Social development and protection
Series: Special Evaluation Studies


Social protection has become an increasingly important item on the global development agenda over the past decade.A large and convincing body of international evidence shows that well-designed and targeted social protection programs, and particularly social safety nets, can deliver high returns in poverty reduction, human capital development, and inclusive growth.

In Asia and the Pacific, the 1997/98 financial crisis and the more recent food, fuel, economic, and financial crises revealed that most countries in the region have inadequate systems for social protection. Indeed, public expenditure on social protection in the region is lower than in any part of the developing world except sub-Saharan Africa.

The objective of this study is to assess the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) experience with social protection and, more specifically, how ADB has responded to the 2001-approved Social Protection Strategy; and what more needs to be done to take this agenda forward.

“The study provides a thorough evaluation of the factors limiting the effectiveness of the 2001 Strategy, including insufficient prioritization of social protection instruments, operational capacity building, and monitoring and evaluation processes. The Study gives a strong lead on the benefits of investing in social protection. It emphasizes the role of social protection in securing inclusive growth, through policies and programs facilitating human, physical and financial asset accumulation.”

—Prof. Armando Barrientos
Institute of Development Studies

The strategy’s main objective was to build comprehensive social protection systems during noncrisis years. And it remains highly relevant amid the growing need in the region to address rising inequality and respond to demographic trends and natural disasters.

ADB approved 129 social protection loans, grants, and technical assistance operations with a total value of $2.2 billion during 2001–2011. This represented 2.5% of ADB’s total portfolio in the period.

The study’s main conclusion is that social protection needs to be an integral part of ADB’s corporate strategy to reduce poverty and promote inclusive growth. It says ADB’s portfolio of social interventions has so far been small and scattered, with arguably limited critical mass.

But evaluation findings show that when ADB does engage in social protection programs (as in Mongolia), enters into partnerships with other agencies (as in the Philippines), and draws on its strengths in knowledge and technical assistance (as in the People’s Republic of China and India), it can produce good results. The study recommends that, as part of ADB’s commitment to promoting inclusive growth in the region, ADB should progressively scale up its support to social protection, especially in noncrisis 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,” says the study.

To move toward this objective, ADB should clarify its intended future role and support for social protection and set a corporate target to gradually grow its portfolio. In its country partnerships, ADB should make stronger connections between social protection and core areas of investment to strengthen its presence and experience in building social protection systems.

Joanne Asquith, senior evaluation specialist, talks about the independent evaluation of ADB's Social Protection Strategy, how ADB responded to the strategy, why increased investment is needed, and how ADB can grow its social protection portfolio moving forward.
The evaluation team went on a field visit to Cebu City, Philippines, as part of this evaluation study. Larger photo essay


  • Introduction
  • Social Protection in the Asian and Pacific Context
  • Institutional Context
  • Portfolio Review
  • Country Case Studies
  • Evaluative Assessment
  • Findings and Conclusions
  • Appendixes
Asian Development Bank: Social Protection Strategy 2001