Social protection involves policies and programs that protect people against risk and vulnerability, mitigate the impacts of shocks, and support people who suffer from chronic incapacities to secure basic livelihoods. It can also build assets, reducing both short-term and intergenerational transmission of poverty. It includes social insurance (such as health, life, and asset insurance, which may involve contributions from employers and/or beneficiaries); social assistance (mainly cash, food, vouchers, or subsidies); and services (such as maternal and child health and nutrition programs). Interventions that provide training and credit for income-generating activities also have a social protection component.
Interest in social protection is growing across Africa, fueled by persistent high rates of poverty and malnutrition; the undermining of livelihoods and family-based support systems by shocks such as the AIDS epidemic; volatile food prices and the calamities of weather and war; extensive evidence that denying children basic nutrition, health, and education has lifelong, irreversible, and intergenerational consequences; and growing evidence of the effectiveness of social protection in low-income countries throughout the world-particularly in contributing to poverty reduction and improved health, nutrition, and education. Approaches vary across regions and countries, with a notable introduction or scale-up of cash transfers for the very poor in southern and East Africa. While many programs have been undertaken on a pilot basis, successful implementation of large-scale social protection programs in Ethiopia and South Africa-each with more than 8 million beneficiaries-has demonstrated that social protection systems are no longer only within the reach of rich countries.