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Mainstreaming safety nets in the social protection policy agenda:
A new vision or the same old perspective?


Ugo Gentilini*
Contact: Ugogentilini@hotmail.com

Manchester University and World Food Programme (WFP)

January 2005

SARPN acknowledges the Manchester University website (http://www.manchester.ac.uk/) as the source of the document.
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Introduction

After a period of relative stagnation, social protection in developing countries is moving up on both the international and national development agendas. This growing interest has triggered new exciting initiatives including the World Bank’s social protection discussion papers and social safety net primer series, the social policy research programme at the Sussex Institute of Development Studies (IDS), and special issues in scientific journals like Development Policy Review. This Chronic Poverty Research Centre (CPRC) conference itself will contribute in the expansion of the resonance and influence that social protection will have on the development agenda - and not as a theme per se, but rather as an integrated part of the strategies that developing countries should encourage for pursuing the Millennium Development Goals. Theories developed in other contexts have been taken ‘on loan’, and then applied to social protection themes while, at the same time, original research has increasingly been commissioned or undertaken by governments, universities, specialized research institutes, international development agencies and NGOs. In practice, social protection is potentially the place where different disciplines, issues and actors are gathering together. However, a jeopardized panorama of definitions on what social protection actually means and what should address exist. This is reflected in different analytical floors, unresolved caveats and possible implicit biases.

Indeed, while in past decade social protection strategies in developing countries underwent significant analytical and operational changes, there are also those who look at the new social protection agenda with a degree of scepticism. They are not denying the importance of an institionalized system for creating, protecting and multiplying households’ sources of livelihoods, but rather questioning whether there is an-ongoing tendency of ‘repackaging’ old-fashion solutions with new trendy labels.

Indeed, there are not only challenges in narrowing actors’ perceptions on the theme (e.g. the linkages with the sustainable livelihoods approach), but also in articulating a comprehensive framework that places social protection as an organizing framework – a crucial bridge between themes like pro-poor economic growth and poverty reduction strategies and, on the other hand, issues that are often underdeveloped in such fora, namely malnutrition, food insecurity and hunger (and in general how to reach and better serve people ‘beyond the development mainstream’).

While recognizing the existence of both differences and common themes among social protection frameworks, this paper explores, investigates whether social protection strategies underwent to significant changes during the last decade, analyzes current thinking for better integrating ad hoc safety nets into the social protection agenda, and highly recommends further applied empirical research in several key-areas.


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