Elements of social protection date back several millennia. Free food distribution was a feature of Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs and of Rome during its Imperial age. England had a succession of “Poor Laws” dating from the 16th century that provided assistance to those unable to work, and Germany inaugurated components of the modern welfare state in the late 19th century. The past 15 years have seen an upsurge in interest in implementing social protection in developing countries. This brief outlines the principal components of social protection, explains how they help households cope with risk, and notes critical design features.