The COVID-19 outbreak has affected many lives and caused severe economic distress, but the crisis also provided an opportunity to take forward the Government's ambition to expand social protection. In response to the crisis, the UNCT in Lao PDR worked together to broaden and deepen collaboration on social protection, coordinating to present “One UN voice” to the Government at this critical moment. Under the leadership of the UNRCO, the UNCT developed and presented a joint policy note to the Government entitled “Developing a shock-responsive national social protection system to respond to the COVID-19 crisis”. This effort brought all UN agencies working on issues related to social protection together, pooling their individual expertise and comparative advantages to present a unified voice to the Government, rather than a series of fragmented recommendations.
In the Lao context of limited financial and institutional resources, the UN’s approach is expected to build and sustain a shock-responsive system in the long run, rather than diverting those resources to temporary, ad hoc measures that are not aligned with long-term priorities. This system-building approach is fully in keeping with the spirit of the UN Joint Programme––indeed one of the main UNCT recommendations is to reach poor and affected households through an expansion of the Mother and Early Childhood Grant supported by the Joint Programme. The UN is working jointly with the Government to implement the grant and gradually expand social protection, thereby contributing to establishing sustainable response measures to shocks.
The UNJP in Lao PDR has also leveraged complementarities and expanded cooperation with other development partners. Additional funding of AU$ 1.1 million was secured from DFAT Australia, particularly to support the Mother and Early Childhood Grant pilot. DFAT reduced its own bilateral efforts in favour of cooperation with the UNJP, with the explicit recognition that supporting this joint effort between the Government and UN would be more effective and impactful. Further, it would allow the programme to benefit from the breadth of technical expertise and comparative advantages held by the participating UN agencies.
The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare and the Ministry of Planning and Investment, together with the UN Country Team, will officially inaugurate the UN Joint Programme, “Leaving No One Behind: Establishing the basis for social protection floors in Lao PDR” in Vientiane in August 2020. The joint effort reaffirms the common commitment of the government, development partners and civil society to building a sustainable social protection system in Lao PDR.
“This UN Joint Programme will significantly contribute to strengthening our social protection system, by building capacities and developing cash transfer and social support mechanisms for mothers and their children in the first 1,000 days of life”.
- Madame Baykham Khattiya, Vice Minister of Labour and Social Welfare
LEAVING NO ONE BEHIND: Establishing the basis for social protection floors.
Lao PDR faces three main challenges to building a sustainable social protection system. The UN Joint Programme is designed to address them through its three components:
- Strengthen the government’s planning and managerial capacities to implement the National Social Protection Strategy;
- Develop innovative financing solutions channelled through the national budget; and
- Pilot a “Mother and Early Childhood Grant” and welfare services that can act as a model for future social protection provisions.
The capacity strengthening initiatives and innovative financing solutions are expected to contribute to the pilot, while lessons from the pilot can help to implement the National Social Protection Strategy effectively and advocate for higher domestic investment.
The joint Government-UN effort will accelerate progress towards SDG1 (No Poverty), SDG2 (Zero Hunger), SDG16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) and SDG17 (Partnerships for the Goals).