The salience of Social Protection Systems has increased dramatically in the context of the global COVID-19 pandemic. The UN Joint SDG Fund had launched a portfolio of 35 joint programmes in 39 countries with USD 102 million just before the pandemic. This facilitated swift responds and addressing the systemic impact of the pandemic from the onset. The early lessons emerged, in particular in those programmes which focused on the Shock-Responsive approach.
As a part of the global e-conference “Turning the COVID-19 Crisis into an opportunity: what is next for social protection”, the UN Joint SDG Fund organized a side event on 7 October 2020. This was an opportunity for sharing emerging lessons on the use of Shock-Responsive Social Protection for an integrated approach to the pandemic. The event included presentations by joint programme leaders from Indonesia, Barbados and Santa Lucia, and Mongolia. It was moderated by Nenad Rava, the Head of Programme of the UN Joint SDG Fund, who also provided the broader strategy of the Fund.
Investing into Social Protection for Leaving No One Behind
The side event started with Nenad Rava presenting the overall investment strategy of the UN Joint SDG Fund that and the ways in which it was adapted in the early days of the COVID-19. The United Nations Joint Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Fund represents an innovative instrument for transformative policy shifts and strategic investments required to accelerate the progress on the SDGs.
Upon its launch in November 2018, the first decision of the Fund was to invest USD 70 million, and mobilize USD 32 million in co-funding, for Integrated Policy for Social Protection to Leave No One Behind (LNOB). The Call for Concept notes was launched in March 2019, and 114 countries proposed their innovative solutions. 35 proposals of highest quality were developed into full-fledged joint programmes and launched in early 2020. The joint programmes are implemented through the UN Country Teams led by the UN Resident Coordinator and the national government. They include a total of 600 partners that jointly test 100 innovative solutions to accelerate the progress on social protection for the most vulnerable.
The portfolio on Social Protection for LNOB is on course to deliver transformative results at scale by January 2022. The theories of change of joint programmes are based on actions taken at the individual, household and community levels that create a multiplier effect across 11 SDGs. The systemic impact of the portfolio is manifested in social services, childcare, employment, social cohesion, health care, education and pension systems. The investment prioritizes the most vulnerable and all joint programmes put gender equality and women’s empowerment into the forefront of policy innovation.
Protecting the most vulnerable in crises
Amongst diverse approaches in this portfolio, a number of programmes focus on Shock-Responsive (Adaptive) Social Protection (SRSP). Originally, this approach was designed to address the impact of natural disasters and climate change upon the most vulnerable individuals and communities. However, in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was modified for the impact of the health crisis. Beyond facilitating recovery, SRSP builds resilience to preclude shocks from becoming disasters and it facilitates integration of SRSP into broader social protection systems making them more “future-proof”.
The UN Joint SDG Fund formed a new peer-to-peer learning community to explore innovations that enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of SRSP. The first lessons emerged earlier than expected as the programmes had to address an on-going crisis instead of experiment through simulations. Innovation was enabled also when the UN Joint SDG Fund provided an opportunity for repurposing of up to 20% of the programme budgets for COVID-19 through a fully flexible, demand-driven and country-led process.
The critical challenge of the pandemic, beyond its immediate health concern, is the long-term socio-economic impact. Data shows that the vulnerability across countries has dramatically increased in both scope and scale: there are more vulnerable people across the different communities and there are also populations that became more vulnerable than before (such as urban youth). To address this challenge, there is a need to invest into a fundamental change of existing social protection system that will require making the systems more adaptive and responsive to crises. Implementation of a robust SRSP will be essential, but to achieve its full potential SRSPS will require an alignment with all other social protection programmes and schemes, thus creating a more coherent “whole-of-society” model.