Credits Photo credit: UN Lao PDR
Published on March 22, 2021

Lao PDR is moving to establish the basis for social protection floors

In the last few decades, Lao PDR has seen high economic growth and poverty reduction and yet, a fifth of the population continues to live below the national poverty line. Maternal and child mortality are high compared to other countries in Southeast Asia. Malnutrition and stunting affect many children. A fifth of all students do not complete school due to financial barriers. Although the government has in place a statutory health insurance programme, access to social security such as, pensions remain limited to the formal sector. Cash-based programmes were until now unavailable.

To tackle these problems, the Government adopted its first National Social Protection Strategy (NSPS) in April 2020. The strategy evolves around three main pillars: improving social health insurance, extending social security and establishing the groundwork for social assistance programmes.

“The best practices learned from this project will be a model for scaling up to broader areas of the country.” - Dr. Yangkou Yangluexay, Director General, Dep. of Planning and International Cooperation, Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare.


The UN joint programme supported by the ILO, UNICEF and UNCDF – coalesces with the Government around its strategy. This joint effort will assist in the strategy’s stepwise implementation, identify the necessary funding and test the envisioned concepts and mechanisms.

“We do believe that to achieve at scale the result that is needed from the Sustainable Development goals that will truly “leave no one behind” we have to go at scale. And the only way to go at scale is to work with the national structures and to build-up a national programme.” - Ms. Sara Sekkenes, UN Resident Coordinator Lao PDR

Despite the GoL’s broad ambitions as laid out in its comprehensive strategy, the country’s starting point in terms of available capacities and resources is nascent. This is especially the case vis-à-vis the population’s needs in terms of cash-based approaches, for example to nudge take-up of key social services like maternal care, nutrition, birth registrations and vaccinations. Therefore, comprehensive and coordinated efforts are required to match the magnitude of the task and to break the mould for future social protection expansion and coverage.

It is against this background that the Australian government joins forces with the JP by providing additional funding to enable a geographically extended pilot test of the National Social Protection Strategy’s Mother and Early Childhood Grant Scheme in two of the poorest districts in Lao PDR.

“We are providing funding so that we can test the social protection pilot in the south of the country. And our hope is that what has been tested is something that the Lao Government will be able to, with others support, roll-out nationally particularly to help women and young children to be able to benefit the most and particularly poor children and poor women.” - Mr. Jean-Bernard Carrasco, Ambassador of Australia to Lao PDR

Despite a challenging onset of the JP due to restrictions posed by COVID-19 related prevention measures, the collaboration with the Government proved reliable and promising. A number of key activities are expected to be initiated and/or finalized in the upcoming weeks and months. For example, the NSPS is being operationalized by finalizing an implementation roadmap, identifying and weighing different cost scenarios for social welfare programs and developing a Monitoring and Evaluation framework. Furthermore, the JP will establish the conditions for future domestic and external financing of social welfare schemes as well as proposing proper public financial management procedures to account for social protection related expenditures and revenues. Last but not least, the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, with support from the JP’s partner organisations, is in the final steps to launch a pilot test for the nation’s first cash transfer programme: the Mother and Early Childhood Grant, which will be the subject of an upcoming blog post.


The Joint SDG Fund exists to close the loop between UN Country Teams, governments, private sector, and civil society to help stimulate collective action for the betterment of humanity and our planet. The Joint SDG Fund invested USD 70 million, and mobilized USD 32 million in co-funding, into a portfolio of 39 countries on integrated policy solutions for social protection to Leave No One Behind (LNOB). The United Nations Joint Programme (JP) on Leaving No One Behind – Establishing the Basis for Social Protection Floors in Lao PDR is implemented by the ILO, UNICEF and UNCDF under the overall coordination of the UN Resident Coordinator.