Executive Education
11 October 2021

Leaving No One Behind: Establishing Inclusive Social Protection Systems in the Face of the COVID-19 Crisis

Immy Mulekatete graduated from the Graduate Institute's Executive Education Programme in Development Policies and Practices in 2020. She currently works as the Head of Communication and Public Engagement at Never Again Rwanda. In this article, she looks at possible solutions to the inequalities created by the COVID-19 crisis. 

As a news consumer and one whose career has mostly focused on broadcast journalism, I have closely observed absurd levels and indelible images of inequality.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been fear of the situation exacerbating a downward cycle into further inequalities, unless urgent and deliberate social protection policy actions are taken.

Inequalities during COVID-19 

While countries were navigating the uncharted territory of the global threat, almost every day, the crisis forced governments to take decisions that not only affected people’s lives and livelihoods but also tested the resilience of people across all income levels.

With the implementation of lockdowns and unprecedented restrictions, the crisis quickly spread from health to social economy, threatening to plunge millions into poverty.

Evidence suggests that this situation has been aggravated within the vulnerable groups such as rural households, migrants, refugees and small holder farmers. 

Social protection systems: leaving no one behind

The SDGs set out to revert these trends by seeking innovative ways to achieve development that is more inclusive and sustainable.

This requires efforts to provide direct assistance to the most vulnerable, eliminate barriers to access essential services, put measures in place to reduce inequalities and ease financial woes through a collective responsibility.

While some countries implemented and expanded social protection systems, many others especially developing nations have been grappling with including all people, especially owing to the fact that over 80% of the work force are in the informal sector and are not covered by the social protection systems. 

COVID-19: An opportunity to review the efficacy of social protection programmes

When COVID-19 evolved, many countries reviewed their social protection policies, introduced recovery plans or programmes that covered one or more facets of social protection, helping to prevent vulnerable populations from falling further into poverty and supporting households’ recovery.

Countries announced adaptations of their social protection systems, albeit at varying degrees of comprehensiveness.

According to the World Bank report in 2020, a total of 1,414 social protection interventions in 215 countries had been designed to respond to growing unemployment, loss of income and restrictions on economic activities.

Although the programmes have been riddled with irregularities, accused of being gender insensitive, impugned for uneven distribution of the support, scorned for the insufficiencies to meet growing needs, the programmes were praised for cushioning the impact of the pandemic on vulnerable families.

Lessons for future shocks

Should the world experience another crisis in the future, there is need to design decisive action to shape the future of social protection. These are some lessons that ought to provide a necessary jolt for universal social protection to be realised:

  • Strengthening rural livelihood and production capacity to reduce poverty
  • Building household resilience to withstand and cope with shocks and crises (financial, climate, conflict, health etc…) 
  • Designing social protection policies and their implementation plans that are hinged on inclusiveness and local contexts.

There is an opportunity to recover better by building more inclusive and sustainable societies and moving forward together in a better direction. 

Learn more about Executive Education's Development Policies and Practices programme.