ocial protection has emerged as a major new focus in efforts to reduce poverty around the world. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development aims to end poverty in all its forms by expanding social protection for all, with SDG Target 1.3 aiming to ‘implement nationally appropriate social protection systems’ towards that objective.

From over half a billion in 1990, the number of poor in South Asia dropped to 216 million people in 2015. However, it is estimated that 15 per cent of the population still live on less than USD 1.90 a day, and around four in 10 are multidimensionally poor according to the Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI).

The impacts of poverty are often felt disproportionally among the most vulnerable groups, including children, women and girls, people from excluded minorities and low-status castes, casual and migrant labourers, senior citizens, and those living with disabilities. Poverty also results in lower labour productivity and economic growth as well as inequality and instability in societies.

Social Protection in Nepal

In South Asia, as in the rest of the world, there is increasing momentum towards the expansion of social protection schemes in line with SDG 1.3, the Social Protection Floors Recommendation and the Global Partnership on Universal Social Protection.

Social assistance programmes not only protect livelihoods, but evidence finds they also have multiplier effects on local economies, enhancing prosperity and inclusive growth. However, substantial coverage gaps remain in key programmes for vulnerable groups such as child and family benefits, maternity protection, unemployment protection and disability benefits. Countries in South Asia spend less than 0.2 per cent of GDP on social protection for children compared with 1.1 per cent of GDP across the globe.

Between 2006 and 2014, Nepal halved its multidimensional poverty index, and extreme poverty fell by two thirds. Nevertheless, it is estimated that a quarter of the population still live below the poverty line, and inequalities are a rising concern. Following the 2015 Constitution, which guarantees the right to social security for the economically and socially vulnerable, Nepal has continued to invest in its social protection system by expanding flagship social assistance programmes, such as its Child Cash Grant towards a universal approach, and is also on its way to introducing new protections through social insurance and labour market schemes.

The International Conference on Resilient Social Protection for an Inclusive Future aims to support the Government of Nepal to deliver in its vision to deliver a core package of social protection for all and become a more prosperous nation, with a focus on the next generation and the most vulnerable. Recognising that there are many paths towards universal social protection, and programmes in different countries have followed different paths towards their expansion and consolidation, the Conference aims to bring regional experience and practice to offer a realistic path to support Nepal achieve on this ambition moving forward.

The Conference will focus specifically on social security allowances/cash transfers including (but not limited to) the following themes.

  • Child and family benefits such as child grants
  • Linking cash transfers with key services
  • Productive inclusion programmes aimed at increasing productivity and labour market participation
  • Shock-responsive social protection
  • Programmes reaching minority and particularly disadvantaged groups, such as disability grants

Call for Papers

Papers are invited from interested participants to present at the Conference. Interested participants can submit a 600-word abstract to with subject line ‘Call for Papers’. The closing date for submission is 28 July 2019.

Authors of selected abstracts will be invited to submit the full papers by 30 August. Papers with research standards and a regional focus will be considered for publication in the Asia-Pacific Development Journal. Conference proceedings will be also made available online.

The conference is organised by the National Planning Commission and Social Science Baha in collaboration with International Labour Organisation, GIZ, UN ESCAP, The World Bank, UNICEF and UKAid.

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Day 1 Main Conference Room Parallel session
September 18th Wednesday  
08:30 Registration
09:00 Inauguration Session: Social Protection in South Asia: Investing in an inclusive future

Introductory or keynote speeches provided by high-level speakers to set the stage, guide the conference and share broader political direction and vision under the broader umbrella of investing in social protection for a more inclusive future.

Chair: Hon'ble Dr. Ram Kumar Phuyal, Member, National Planning Commission, GoN

  • Keynote: : Dr. Hossain Zillur Rahman, Executive Chairperson, Power and Participation Research Centre & Chairperson Brac Bangladesh
  • Remarks by Ms. Elke Wisch, Representative, UNICEF Nepal
  • Remarks by Dr. Idah Pswarayi-Riddihough, World Bank Country Director for Nepal, Sri Lanka and the Maldives
  • Remarks by Ms. Lisa Honan, Head of DFID Nepal
  • Remarks by Chief Guest: Hon'ble Dr. Yubaraj Khatiwada, Minister of Finance, Government of Nepal

10:30 am Coffee break
11:00 am Policy dialogue 1. Addressing Inequalities in South Asia through Social Protection Policies

Inequality remains at the top of the development agenda, with rising evidence about the impacts of poverty and unequal life chances on productivity and growth. This session will explore some of the key trends shaping the poverty and inequality debate in the region, as well as recent advances in measuring inequality of opportunity, to frame the debate on the importance of social protection as a key tool to reduce inequalities in its multiple forms and achieve a more sustainable development.

Chair: Mr. Balananda Paudel, Chair, National Natural Resource and Fiscal Commission, GoN

  • Mr. Patrik Andersson, Chief of the Sustainable Socioeconomic Transformation Section, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP)
  • Dr. Baikuntha Aryal, Secretary, Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies, GoN
  • H.E. Ms. Fathimath Yumna, Deputy Minister, Ministry of Gender, Family and Social Services, Maldives
  • Dr. Abdul Alim, Regional Social Policy Advisor for South Asia, UNICEF
  • Mr. Stefano Paternostro, Practice Manager, Social Protection and Jobs, South Asia Region, World Bank

12:30 Lunch
2:00 pm Policy dialogue 2. Investing in the future: Child and family benefits

In this session, panellists will discuss experiences, potential and challenges of child and family benefits, such as Child Grants, as a key way to invest in future generations. The session will discuss Nepal’s current plans to expand the Child Grant and bring other experiences on how different countries have moved towards universal coverage. It will discuss some of the emerging evidences about Cash plus and how other key services can enhance impacts.

Chair: Hon'ble Dr. Usha Jha, Member, National Planning Commission, GoN

  • Dr. Michael Samson, Director of Research, Economic Policy Research Institute, South Africa
  • Mr. Deepak Kafle, Director General, Department of National ID and Civil Registration, Ministry of Home Affairs, GoN and Ms. Preksha Golchha, Senior Research Fellow, Economic Policy Research Institute (EPRI), South Africa
  • Dr. Somchai Jitsuchon, Thailand Development Research Institute
  • Ms. Sanghamitra Ghosh, Secretary, Department of Women, Child Development & Social Welfare, Government of West Bengal

Research Presentations 1. Shock-responsive social Protection

Chair: Hon'ble Dr. Krishna Prasad Oli, Member, National Planning Commission, GoN

  • Paper presentation 1: Radhakrishnan, A. and Jafar, K. – Target with Care: Shock responsive social protection in a decentralized governance framework
  • Paper presentation 2: Ghimire, A., Holmes, R., Samuels, F., Evans, M., & Twigg, J. – The potential of Nepal’s social security allowance schemes to support emergency flood response

3:30 pm Coffee Break
4:00 pm Policy dialogue 3. Shock-responsive social protection: Building resilience and protection against shocks

Panellists will discuss the role of social protection systems in helping states respond to natural disasters and shocks. The session will reflect on recent experience and research on shock responsive social protection in Nepal and set it within the international context of different approaches to shock responsive social protection. The aim of the session will be to take stock of where Nepal is and what the potential is for Nepal to develop its social protection system to be more shock responsive in the future.

Chair: Ms. Indu Ghimire, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs, GoN

  • Ms. Clare O’Brien, Senior Adviser on Social Protection, World Food Programme
  • Ms. Alexandra Yuster, Associate Director and Chief of Social Policy, UNICEF NYHQ
  • Mr. Daniel Clarke, Director, Centre for Global Disaster Protection
  • Dr. Thomas Walker, Senior Economist, World Bank

Research Presentations 2. Inclusion in Social Protection

Chair: Usha Mishra Hayes, Chief Social Policy, Evidence & Evaluation, UNICEF Nepal

  • Paper presentation 1: Lawoti, M. – The Limits of Social Protection Policies in Ethnically Diverse Societies: Lessons for Nepal from a Comparative Perspective
  • Paper presentation 2: Upadhyay, C. – Hope for Inclusive Future: Social Protection of Disabled in Nepal Studying the Perspectives of Disability Allowance Recipients
  • Paper presentation 3: Kumar Rasaili, P. – Social Protection and Poverty among the Women in Dalit Community in Nepal: An Analysis from Gender Perspective
5:30 pm Reception and Social Protection showcase

The Speed Networking session will be an interactive forum where conference participants from the South Asia region and beyond present and share their experiences about flagship social protection programmes.

Day 2 Main Conference Room Parallel session
September 19th Thursday  
9:00 am Welcome and Wrap up of Day 1
9:15 am Policy dialogue 4. Improving productivity through social protection

In addition to providing a safety net for the most vulnerable people, social protection can also support people to become more productive. This can also facilitate people to move up the ladder of prosperity. In some parts of the world, public works plus or second and third generation public works programs have proven how productive social protection can function successfully.

Chair: Mr. Binod K.C., Secretary, Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security, GoN

  • Dr. Rachel Slater, Professor, University of Wolverhampton
  • Mr. Bjorn Johannessen, Senior Specialist on Employment Intensive Investments, International Labour Organization
  • Mr. Phillippe Leite, Senior Social Protection Economist, World Bank
  • Mr. Prakash Dahal, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security, GoN

Research Presentations 3. Social Protection: Policy and Financing

Chair: Prof. Mahendra Lawoti, Western Michigan University

  • Paper presentation 1: Parajuli, L. – From State Charity to Citizen’s Rights: Exploring Contours of Nepal’s Social Security
  • Paper presentation 2: Baral, D. – Analysing Disbursement of Social Security Entitlements in the context of Rightness: Time, Amount, Person and Place
  • Paper presentation 3: Chakraborty, P. and Radhakrishnan, A. – Fiscal Space for Social Protection in India: Do rights-based entitlements ensure equity in access?

10:45 am Coffee break
11:15 am Policy dialogue 5. Promoting Social Inclusion: Impacts of social protection on vulnerable groups

This session will look at how to design inclusive and robust social protection programmes that reach and support particularly disadvantaged and excluded groups such as persons living with disabilities, minorities, and women and policy options to consider when designing inclusive schemes.

Chair: Mr. Chandra K Ghimire, Secretary, Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens, GoN

  • Ms. Ermina Sokou, Social Affairs Officer, Social Development Division, ESCAP
  • Mr. Mitra Lal Sharma, President, National Federation of the Disabled Nepal
  • Mr. Ram Prasad Ghimire, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security, GoN
  • Mr. Ahmet Tunc Demirtas, Expert for Family, Labour and Social Services, Ministry of Family, Labour and Social Services of Republic of Turkey
  • Mr. MD. Abul Hossain, Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Social Welfare, Bangladesh
  • Ms. Tahereh Zandi, First Secretary, Division of International Specialized Agencies, Islamic Republic of Iran

Research Presentations 4. Productivity and growth

Chair: Prof. Kushum Shakya, Head of Central Department of Economics, Tribhuvan University

  • Paper presentation 1: Whitehead, L. and Shrestha, D. – Mainstreaming Graduation into Social Protection Strategies
  • Paper presentation 2: Karn, S. and Adhikari, S. – Social inclusion and social protection: Economic challenges and social prerequisites
  • Paper presentation 3: Kanel, T. – Do construction workers choose to work informally? What are their perceptions on labour rights at their work?

12:45 pm Lunch
2:00 pm Policy dialogue 6. Developing systems: Policy integration, implementation systems and financing

This session will discuss the systematic approaches of social protection to ensure that people are covered against poverty and risks throughout the lifecycle. The discussion will also focus on how the social protection strategies and programmes are to be coordinated with those of other sectors, including employment and food security. The session will also discuss how integrated social protection information systems can be developed in Nepal.

Chair: Mr. Shreekrishna Nepal, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Finance, GoN

  • Narhari Ghimire and Yadu Acharya, Programme Directors, National Planning Commission, GoN
  • Dr. Franziska Gassmann, Professor of Social Protection and Development, Maastricht University
  • Pinaki Chakraborty, Chief of Social Policy, Chennai Office, UNICEF India
  • Dr. Said Mirza Pahlevi, Head of Data and Information Centre, Ministry of Social Affairs, Government of Indonesia

Research Presentations 5. Child and family benefits

Chair: Dyuti Baral, Adjunct Faculty, South Asian Institute of Management

  • Paper presentation 1: Baniya, J., Yangchen, G., Bhattarai, A. and Nepali, S. – Politics of Implementation of Scholarships: Evidences from Nepal
  • Paper presentation 2: Mahato, S., Sah, R., and Tumsa (Limbu), D. – Issues of Governance and Social Protection in Nepal: A Case Study of Beti Bachao Beti Padhao
  • Paper presentation 3: Mathers, N. – Enabling traditional (gendered) transitions to adulthood: the effects of an unconditional cash transfer on adolescent education, work and marriage in Nepal

3:30 pm Coffee Break

Inter-ministerial dialogue: Social Protection in Nepal

Inter-ministerial dialogue to discuss the next steps for Nepal
4:45 pm Closing Session

  • Hon'ble Dr. Ram Kumar Phuyal, Member, National Planning Commission, GoN, presents Call to Action
  • Remarks by Hon'ble Prof. Dr. Puspa Raj Kadel, Vice Chairman, National Planning Commission, GoN
  • Closing remarks by Mr. Gokarna Bista, Hon'ble Minister of Labour, Employment and Social Security, GoN

Registration is closed

Venue Soaltee Crowne Plaza, Tahachal Marg, Kathmandu 44600
Event Date 18 and 19 September, 2019
Event Time 9:00 am onwards
Politics of Implementation of Scholarships: Evidence from Nepal

The paper is part of a collaborative research project based at the Effective States and Inclusive Development (ESID) Research Centre, University of Manchester. The study looked at the politics of implementing social protection programmes in the form of scholarships for primary and secondary education to students from marginalised backgrounds in Nepal. It was conducted in selected sites in four districts of Nepal—Ilam, Saptari, Lalitpur and Jumla.

Drawing on the findings of the study, the paper will illustrate the following: i) policies on implementing scholarship programmes are inconsistent and non-comprehensive; ii) most of the students in community schools are poor and require extra protection from the state, while the richer ones choose to send the children to private schools; iii) although few poor families reported the scholarship money being useful to buy notebooks and stationery, most recipients shared the view that scholarship amount is inadequate and would benefit if the amount were to be increased; iv) most guardians and parents are not aware of various types of scholarships available in schools, and there is a lack of any formal and adequate mechanism to disseminate information about the scholarships among parents and guardians; v) schools often bypass the guidelines required for the selection of scholarship recipients for ‘poor and meritorious’; instead the selection is done based on the discretion of teachers, and, at times, of members of the school management committees; vi) in some cases, the annual timeline for releasing scholarship programme budget is not consistent and varies across sites which leads to delays in distribution of scholarships, depriving beneficiaries of their scholarship benefits; and vii) monitoring and evaluation of the scholarships was found to be very weak, leaving space for corruption and mismanagement of resources.

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Analysing Disbursement of Social Security Entitlements in the context of Rightness: Time, Amount, Person and Place

Research conducted between 2013–2016 reveals how the processing of eligibility criteria for those entitled to avail of benefits under the government’s social protection programme was often mired in managing technicalities, often resulting in delayed or reduced distribution of entitlements and, in extreme cases, exclusion. Lack of consistency in policy implementation, misuse of funds allocated for social protection to fulfil other administrative performance criteria (such as the Open Defecation-Free campaign) often resulted in eligible beneficiaries not receiving the right amount at the right time. A constructive effort in 2017 on the part of the Department of Vital Registration attempted to address the more serious of the bottlenecks and administrative loopholes in a revised policy, but gaps and grievances prevail.

The research project, funded by a multi-donor trust fund accountability programme, entitled ‘Program for Accountability in Nepal’ (PRAN) and managed by the World Bank, had two sources of data—one, from a baseline and an endline conducted over a project period of 10 months, and two, from a cross-sectional study with data collected over a period of six weeks and this was essentially a public expenditure tracking survey with certain elements of quality of service delivery also incorporated into it.

For the project, both a baseline and an endline survey were conducted. During the baseline, the survey respondents were asked questions about SSE beneficiaries at their household level, assessing their level of awareness about government provisions for the same. In the endline, the same survey respondents were asked questions again, assessing if any changes had occurred in the 10-month period between the baseline and the endline.

Cross-sectional data was collected from 5,376 individuals from 100 VDCs in Dhankuta, Bara, Banke, Bardiya and Bajhang districts from the Eastern, Central, Mid-western and Far-western development regions of Nepal over a period of one and a half months from the end of December till early February, coinciding with the time just after the last date of submitting eligibility documents for inclusion in the SSE list from the next fiscal year. Local enumerators and social accountability practitioners from 10 civil society organisations working in these five districts were provided training in data collection processes before they began the surveys. Focus group discussions were also conducted by the enumerators in selected areas to provide additional details pertaining to challenges in accessing SSE. The research was conducted in a period when Village Development Committees were the point of disbursement and the VDC Secretary was the authority entrusted with the disbursement process.

This paper attempts to follow the process of disbursement of allowances from two points. First, from those claiming eligibility or the individual, which is a key unit of analysis. The paper will highlight personal accounts and beneficiary experiences of how they initiated the process of documentation to claim benefits, the challenges they faced, the outcomes: Did they receive the allowance, and if so, was it at the right time and in the right amount? If not, what were the reasons provided by the government authority at the point of individual disbursement and did these get documented anywhere? The focus will be on three dimensions in particular:

  • Assessing the extent of exclusion of eligible people and identify reasons.
  • Assess the social impact of SSE payments on beneficiaries.
  • Identify problems faced by beneficiaries in receiving SSE payments.

The government has listed nine categories of citizens for which SSE have been earmarked. These include: i) senior citizens above 70 years from all ethnic/caste groups other than Dalits and Karnali residents, ii) senior citizens above 60 years of Karnali region, iii) senior citizens of Dalit caste above 60 years, iv) single women above 60 years who have never married or are divorced, v) single women of any age who are widows, vi) children under five years from Dalit caste/Karnali region, vii) persons with disabilities (PWDs)—full, viii) persons with disabilities—partial, and (9) members of ethnic/indigenous groups at risk of extinction. Given that over two thirds of government funds were allocated to two categories of vulnerable groups: senior citizens and single women, the research was focused on these two categories as well, with some information also collected for children under five and PWD through focus group discussions and key informant interviews.

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Fiscal Space for Social Protection in India: Do Rights-based Entitlements Ensure Equity in Access?

India has legislated rights-based entitlements for food, education and work through the National Food Security Act, 2013, the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2002 (amended in 2019), and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, 2005, respectively. The Right to Food Act is aimed at providing subsidised food grains through the Public Distribution System (PDS) to a large number of targeted households, that is almost about three fourths of the rural and half of the urban households in the country. The Act implicitly also covers the nutritional needs of children through the universal Integrated Child Development Services for children below five years of age and the Mid-Day Meal Scheme for children enrolled in public primary schools. The Right to Education Act (RTE) is aimed at providing free and compulsory education in all publicly funded schools and also reserving 25 per cent of the seats in private schools for admission to children from poor and economically weaker sections of the society. The Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MNREGA) is aimed at providing at least 100 days of paid work to an adult member of a household that volunteers to engage in publicly funded unskilled manual work. The scheme is now a global example for enhancing livelihood security and asset creation in rural areas in several parts of the country. The fiscal cost of these three programmes is roughly around 1 per cent of the GDP for the year 2017-18. These expenditures are only a subset of the total social protection spending in India.

This paper examines whether these rights-based entitlements have contributed to increased access and equitable distribution of fiscal resources across the states for these three programmes. Based on the data collected across major states of India, it is observed that over the years, the aggregate allocation in these programmes has declined as a percentage of the country’s GDP. It is also observed that in spite of the geographical concentration of the poor and most vulnerable population in certain states, the allocation is comparatively low in these regions. This points to the accentuation in inequality in access despite rights ensured through legislation.

The paper argues that it is important to rethink the way these programmes are designed, implemented and monitored. It discusses that there needs to be greater flexibility in the design of these schemes so that sub-national governments can play a more proactive and meaningful role in improving access. Providing greater flexibility in design with a clear assignment of function, these schemes have the potential to achieve the objective of No One Left Behind, proposed by the country’s policy think tank, Niti Aayog, for achieving the sustainable development goals. Over time, the schemes could help India’s population graduate from poverty, and thereby the schemes could also move from being protective to actually being transformative.

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Do Construction Workers Choose to Work Informally? What Are Their Perceptions on Labour Rights at Their Work?

Employees are considered to have informal jobs if their employment relationship is, in law or practice, not subject to social protection and other labour rights, and income taxation. Among informal sectors providing wage employment in Nepal, construction is the largest after agriculture-based wage employment. It accounts for 37 per cent of the non-agriculture wage employment in Nepal while 25.4 and 40.3 per cent of the women and men, respectively, are engaged in the construction sector. Almost all men (with exceptions) and all women in the construction sector work informally. This signifies that these men and women are not enjoying their labour rights, including social protection that they are constitutionally entitled to. In this background, this research seeks to explain why construction workers work informally and what their perceptions on labour rights at their work place are.

The paper analyses existing laws and policies to identify critical issues that need reform and the factors contributing to the gaps between ‘law in books’ and ‘law in practice’. Construction workers’ ideas, values and beliefs about the laws dealing with their rights, including social protection mechanisms which are yet to be practised, are examined. Quantitative secondary data such as the National Living Standard Survey and the National Labour Force Survey have been analysed to understand construction work at the macro level. A desk review of legal documents and other literatures has been followed by key informant interviews with labour law experts and government personnel responsible for implementing labour laws. In addition, semi-structured interviews with construction workers provide information about the factors that drive them to work informally and their perceptions on laws and implementing institutions.

The paper is expected to contribute to new knowledge on informal economy and social protection. In particular, the research will provide new knowledge on the factors that drive construction workers to work informally and their perception on laws and policies which principally provide them with labour rights. This will have implication on policy reformulation and amendment in policy implementation strategies.

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Social Inclusion and Social Protection: Economic Challenges and Social Prerequisites

The Constitution of Nepal 2015 provides a broad policy landscape to ensure the fundamental rights of the people. It has made a key departure in addressing exclusion. Inclusion, positive discrimination and equity, the major tenets of the constitution, are expected to produce not just economic but cultural and social integration dividends as well. Inclusion of marginalised and vulnerable groups in various government-run schemes has been a priority for the Government of Nepal as inclusion is fundamentally important to fortify, expand and deepen democracy. This is important in order to envision Nepal as a social democratic welfare state. Social protection measures are emphasised as a necessity in this direction, both socially and politically.

The Government of Nepal has allocated Rs 64.50 billion for the fiscal year 2019-2020 for social security programmes, including the Prime Minister Employment Programme, raising the monthly social security allowance for all senior citizens above the age of 70 and the allowance for the disabled, single women and indigenous nationalities, and child protection grants. At the same time, a contributory social security programme has also been introduced.

On the other hand, Nepal’s trade and industry is arguably in crisis and agricultural productivity is at an all-time low. The lack of access to affordable credit and a dysfunctional bureaucracy have further contributed to weakening Nepal’s economy. As a result, a large number of Nepalis are still trapped in poverty and social protection benefits and services remain a privilege. Therefore, while social protection measures have due currency among Nepalis, its viability can be questioned when viewed from the perspective of economic sustainability.

The commitment to ensure social security of the people requires running an effective and efficient social protection system with regulatory oversight, and delivery capabilities. If social protection schemes are to yield results, the availability as well as effective utilisation of financial, institutional, and human resources remain critical. This paper seeks to examine the ways in which vulnerability and marginalisation might correlate with economic possibilities. An attempt is made to examine social necessity as well as economic viability to sustainably implement social protection programme in Nepal.

The paper is divided into two parts. The first focuses on vulnerability and social protection, and their linkages to social equity and justice. The second part discusses how financially social protection connects to the overall economic well-being of the people. An economic analysis is presented to explore the sustainability of social protection schemes in Nepal. Conceptually, the lens of social inclusion framework is used to inform the analysis. Existing social protection programmes are mapped out and examined to analyse their economic feasibility and social cost. More specifically, the Prime Minister Employment Programme is discussed as a case study to draw inferences. An outlook focusing on inclusive pro-poor governance is emphasised to reduce socio-economic, structural and political vulnerability.

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The Limits of Social Protection Policies in Ethnically Diverse Societies: Lessons for Nepal from a Comparative Perspective

Social protection of poor and vulnerable sections of the population is necessary and important in any society aspiring for peace, equality, justice and development. However, it is not sufficient in ethnically diverse societies. While relatively homogenous countries with social protection policies have established peace and fostered prosperity, the same is not true for ethnically diverse societies, whether developed or developing. Scholars like Horowitz (1985) demonstrated that even well-off ethnic groups engage in violent conflicts, indicating that social protection or the lack of it may not be the major factor for identity conflicts rampant in developing countries. An ethnically diverse electoral polity that implemented social protection policies but rejected or undermined diverse identities have witnessed conflicts and instability whereas those that adopted social protection as well as identity-recognising policies have fostered peace and development.

This paper argues that Nepal cannot build an inclusive future by solely promoting social protection policies. If the aim of promoting social protection policies, on the other hand, is to ignore or avoid substantially accommodating multiple identities of people, that may be a recipe for disaster. The case needs to be made persuasively, especially at this juncture when the Nepali state, and to some extent donor agencies, seem to be emphasising social protection policies, presumably to avoid accommodating identities. An ethnically diverse Nepal is unlikely to attain stability and prosperity without either set of policies.

The paper will carry out a series of comparative analyses. First, I will briefly compare developed countries that are relatively homogenous (Finland, Sweden, etc) and ethnically diverse (Canada, Belgium, Switzerland, Spain, etc). Relying on indicators of social protection, conflicts and accommodation of diversity, the comparison demonstrates that while social protection policies were adequate in homogenous countries, diverse developed countries additionally recognised identities of different groups for establishing peace and promoting prosperity. Along with frequent cases of mobilisation of better-off ethnic groups even in developed countries (e.g., Catalans in Spain), this comparison will demonstrate that prosperity and social protection policies are not sufficient in diverse countries.

Second, I will compare two South Asian countries. Cases from the same region with similar socio-historical (former colonies), cultural (diverse), political (electoral polity) and economic (developing countries) conditions but different outcomes (civil war vs. no civil war) enables more robust analyses. The paper compares Sri Lanka, where the state established extensive social protections but largely rejected identity aspirations of minority Hindus, and India, where the state both recognised identities and promoted social protection policies. Sri Lanka witnessed a three-decade long civil war whereas India avoided such deep conflict. Even though some less intense class-based and identity conflicts plague India, it settled many identity conflicts.

Third, I will compare identity movements that India has managed to settle (Punjab, Mizoram, etc) and those that it could not (Kashmir, Nagaland, etc). This within-country comparison will also identify factors responsible for differential outcomes (settlement vs. non-settlement of conflicts). While the movements in Tamil Nadu, Mizoram, Punjab, etc, ended or declined after the state addressed the aspirations of concerned identity groups, the Kashmir conflict flared up after the centre repeatedly intervened in provincial affairs and rescinded rights initially awarded to Kashmir. Even scholars like Kohli (1997) who largely analysed poverty, development, and governance in India (avoiding identity issues as much as possible) during his esteemed academic career accepted that the self-determination movements arose in India when the state did not accommodate aspirations of identity groups while they declined when the state accommodated them. Finally, the paper will discuss implications of the comparative analyses for Nepal.

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Issues of Governance and Social Protection in Nepal: A Case Study of ‘Chief Minister Bēṭī Paḍhāū, Bēṭī Bachāū Campaign’ of State 2

The issues of governance are significant for the effective implementation, delivery and sustainability of social protection. Political leadership influences overall governance as well as the implementation, delivery and sustainability of social protection in Nepal. The previous experiences on the institutionalisation of social protection programmes in the country suggest that weak and poor governance structures often lead to ineffective delivery and increase corruption. Senior citizens’ allowance was often misused by administrators during the absence of elected representatives in local bodies. People sought better governance with the elections at the local, state and federal levels. However, centre-periphery tussles in terms of inadequate power decentralisation, allocation of resources and policy dilemmas have muddled the hopes of the people.

On 15 January 2019, Province 2 announced the ‘Chief Minister Bēṭī Paḍhāū, Bēṭī Bachāū [Educate Daughters, Save Daughters] Campaign’ as social insurance and social assistance to girls to minimise gender disparity, encourage girls’ education, and combat the dowry system and female foeticide. The scheme includes education insurance/fixed deposit programme for all girls born after 15 January 2019 in Province 2. As the insurance period time is 20 years, a girl child will receive NPR 100,000 after 20 years under the condition that she will have completed Grade 12 and remain unmarried till then. The social assistance programme includes mid-day meals in schools for girls, conditional grants and provision of bicycles to girls studying in Grades 8, 9 and 10.

Poor governance is often reported in the districts of Province 2. An Analysis Report of Minimum Conditions and Performance Measures (MCPM) of Local Bodies in Nepal 2016 reported that four districts seven failing districts in Nepal were in Province 2. One of the two major reasons for this failure is poor governance and service delivery. The report also pointed out the poor implementation capacity of civil servants in the local bodies of Province 2. Similarly, the Report of the Auditor General 2018 said that financial irregularities are higher in the districts of Province 2. These indicators seriously question the effective delivery and sustainability of Chief Minister Bēṭī Paḍhāū, Bēṭī Bachāū Campaign.

The tussles between the federal government and the provincial government as well as subsequent decentralisation of power and resources further add to the challenges of improving governance. The lack of federal policies has prevented the provincial government from taking further steps to formulate its own policies to institutionalise social protection programmes. The uncertainty of policy at both provincial and local levels further contribute to the complexity in governance and service delivery.

Taking primary and secondary data, the paper argues that the poor governance structure and tussles between centre and periphery could lead to deinstitutionalisation and ineffective delivery of Chief Minister Bēṭī Paḍhāū, Bēṭī Bachāū Campaign in Province 2. The paper further recommends policy measures against these obstacles. To measure the governance structure, we use Fukuyama’s (2013) two-dimensional framework and the Minimum Conditions and Performance Measures Assessment Directive of District Development Committees (with revision and amendment) 2008 frameworks. To show the centre-periphery conflict between federal, provincial and local governments, we review the process of formation of institutions and the tendencies that have appeared over time.

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Enabling Traditional (Gendered) Transitions to Adulthood: The Effects of an Unconditional Cash Transfer on Adolescent Education, Work and Marriage in Nepal

Adolescence represents a critical period of life-course transitions and junctures, which can determine the quality of life-long opportunities and well-being. In Nepal, adolescents’ life-course circumstances are limited and shaped by poverty. Adolescents experience high rates of child labour, school drop-out and early marriage. While Nepal has taken important steps towards realising a universal child grant, committing to expand the existing scheme nationally for all under-fives, there remains little state support for the economic security of adolescents.

This study uses Nepal’s Old Age Allowance (OAA) as a proxy for family-income transfer and examines its effects on the life-course circumstances of adolescents who co-reside with older persons. Using data from a bespoke survey conducted in 2017 that sampled 2,018 households in the central Tarai region, the study examines the set of life-course options about which households typically make decisions, including education, work, and marriage. The analysis exploits the age eligibility criteria of the OAA and employs a ‘non-randomised’ regression discontinuity approach. Outcomes for adolescents living with an elder eligible for the OAA are compared to similar adolescents living with an elder who is nearly eligible while controlling for age effects and other potential confounders.

Adolescent boys living with an OAA eligible female, are 10pp (16%) more likely to attend any formal school, 5pp (18%) more likely to attend private school, and 15pp (95%) more likely to have left home in the past three years, mostly for education. Female elders unambiguously use the OAA to boost the educational opportunities of their grandsons. While female elders also appear to use the OAA to boost girls’ access to education, the results are not statistically significant. For male elders, the findings are more complex. Both girls and boys who live with an OAA eligible male experience 8-10pp (25%) higher attendance at public school and 4pp (40%) lower engagement in paid economic work. However, boys are 10pp (34%) less likely to attend private school; and girls are 3.5pp (117%) more likely to have left home due to marriage, indicating that education is not necessarily the default preference.

Additional data analysis and complementary in-depth interviews (n=55) suggest that the OAA relaxes credit constraints, but in different ways for female and male elders. Once they start receiving the OAA, female elders use it to secure loans to boost their grandsons’ private school education. Male elders, who are either viewed as more creditworthy and may be more inclined to risk, appear to do this in anticipation of the OAA. However, with delays of a year or more before receiving the first payment, they cannot sustain the debt and are forced to withdraw their grandsons from private school. The data also supports the possibility that the OAA facilitates loan access for girls’ marriage.

This research fills several gaps in the literature on the effects of cash transfers on adolescents. The results show important differences in the effects of the OAA depending on the gender of the adolescent and of the recipient, including (arguably) socially undesirable outcomes. The analyses also provide evidence for the role of loans in human capital investment, and the associated risks when transfer income is fully anticipated. The findings imply that cash transfers can have positive impacts on adolescents in Nepal but need to be carefully designed to account for the social and cultural forces that shape decisions about their lives.

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From State Charity to Citizen’s Rights: Exploring Contours of Nepal’s Social Security

Nepal, particularly since the mid-1990s, has introduced a number of ‘social security/protection’ measures—from ‘social’ allowance to rural employment schemes, child grants and scholarship programmes—targeting ‘disadvantaged sections’ of the society. Over the years, not only has the number of programmes increased, but the scope/coverage of such programmes has also expanded. And, this has resulted in an increased financial contribution of the State into the sector. The aim of this paper is to look at the evolution of the ever-expanding social security programmes of Nepal to find out under what socio-political contexts the programmes have evolved and how the State has been approaching social security.

This paper argues that while the idea of ‘human development’ through social security is a recent one, the genesis of the idea of providing some form of social security has a rather long history. The social security programme that was limited to state officials has seen an expanded coverage in recent decades. It traces such expansions by looking at the constitutional/legal as well as plan and policy documents of the post-1990 period. This paper argues that, despite the ‘ad hocism’ that is so pervasive, once instituted, some of these programmes (particularly social allowance/pension programmes) are less likely to be withdrawn due to their political ramifications. In a competitive electoral set up, political parties compete for ‘populist’ measures by adding on and extending existing programmes. This paper further argues that there has been a significant transformation in the way social security is approached in Nepal. The dominant mode of viewing social security has moved from reward to controlling means to a charity or generosity mode. This transformation largely has coincided with the transformations that have taken place in the ‘social contract’ between the state and the citizen/subject.

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Target with Care: Shock Responsive Social Protection in a Decentralised Governance Framework

Governments everywhere proclaim to better invest in shock responsive social protection through various instruments such as transfers in cash and kind, provisioning of social services, improvement in infrastructure, and system strengthening. In most cases, however, the outcomes of such interventions are sub-optimal due to poor planning and paucity of reliable evidence before and after disasters. In many cases, the poor and vulnerable populations are left to the risk of engaging in negative coping mechanisms such as distress migration, withdrawal of children from schools, reduction in food intake or essential medicines, and other related vulnerabilities that can lead to an overall drop in physical and mental well-being.

While disasters may hit the rich and the poor alike, it is often difficult to ascertain the critical needs of the vulnerable population. Disasters tend to further exacerbate poverty and vulnerability, unless the limitations of the social protection provisioning prior to the disaster are critically recognised and the needed investments are realistically assessed and planned. During the year 2018, the state of Kerala in India suffered the worst ever floods in almost 100 years, due to torrential rains, opening up of dams and massive landslides. It affected 5.4 million people, displaced 1.4 million people, and took away 483 lives. Relief and rehabilitation measures provided immediate relief, and currently a Rebuild Kerala Initiative is being undertaken by the Government of Kerala. In this context, using primary data evidence about a social protection scheme called ‘Ashraya’ or ‘Destitute Free Kerala’ in a specific district of Kerala, namely, Wayanad, this paper discusses public provisioning for the poor, pre- and post-disaster. The scheme is a good example of the theoretically acclaimed merits of fine-tuning targeting within universalism.

The scheme data was collected by Kudumbashree (the state-wide and grassroots level programme for eliminating poverty), covering all the 26 panchayats in the tribal district of Wayanad. It was analysed and complemented by the collection of primary post-disaster data. This has helped to understand the nature of vulnerability, the state’s interventions in specific areas of social protection, and the challenges faced in the pre- and post-disaster contexts. The paper uses this evidence to make an investment case for both horizontal and vertical expansion of the scheme, so that benefits for the poor do not remain as poor benefits. This may also help to build better resilience among the poor to deal with shocks.

The paper highlights how—as against means-testing or proxy means-testing—people’s participatory identification of poverty and assessment of vulnerability is a valuable tool for generating more credible data about the population in the last mile of development. It discusses how the participatory tool can help in shifting the focus of social protection from redistribution of resources to redistribution of social justice, and thereby also the paradigm of social protection from charity to citizenship. However, certain hard challenges remain. For example, in spite of the close coordination and inter-departmental convergence which the scheme demands by design, for leveraging resources and services for the marginalised people at the local level, the difficulty of doing away with stigmatisation versus dignity is hard to overcome.

The paper is a social policy attempt to initiate policy discussions about rights-based interventions for the heterogeneous destitute population, to influence more effective monitoring and evaluation mechanisms to eliminate implementation errors, and to advocate for improved investment of public funds. These may help to more effectively meet the intended outcomes of eliminating abject poverty in the longer run as well as to build better resilience among the vulnerable populations to handle future shocks.

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Social Protection and Poverty among the Women in the Dalit Community in Nepal: An Analysis from the Gender Perspective

A negligible percentage of people are covered by social protection systems in Nepal, which is the reason for choosing Nepal and Nepali women along with social protection as the core subjects for this paper. This paper is based on secondary research on the life chances of women and Dalit communities living in Nepal to examine the extent to which Nepal has addressed the need of social protection for women, emphasising women from the Dalit community. It analyses data related to the indicators on health, education and income in the Human Development Index and the Multidimensional Poverty Index applying Naila Kabeer’s ‘Social Relations Approach’. Each of these indicators highlights the position of women in Nepal, reflecting gender inequality and poverty among women and Dalit communities. The findings show that women are highly discriminated against in terms of the five dimensions of social relations including, rules, resources, activities, people and power in the following four institutions: state, market, community and family/kinship. Dalit women experience an extra three-tiered discrimination of gender, geography and caste. The findings and analysis of this study suggest an immediate need of an efficient and generous social protection system to overcome the poverty among these highly vulnerable groups.

Gender-specific social protection policies informed by equitableness should be the main concerns of authorities to overcome the extreme poverty rooted among the women in Dalit communities. At the same time, informal rules, gender-blind/neutral regulations and practices embedded within social protection systems should be avoided in order to achieve considerable impacts in social protection over deeply rooted poverty amongst women and Dalits, and to enhance their life chances. These lessons provide insights on the value of cash transfers, women-focused direct benefit distribution and the careful management of beneficiaries’ data. The paper concludes that addressing gender inequality and incorporating gender-specific policies in social protection systems along with other measures of poverty reduction will be crucial for designing a nationally appropriate social protection system, which also helps to achieve the success of United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 1 and its target 1.3 in Nepal.

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Hope for an Inclusive Future: Social Protection of the Disabled in Nepal—Studying the Perspectives of Disability Allowance Recipients

Hope is the other name of human life, and life with dignity today generates hope for the future. Disability in human life is a situation often creating inadequate access to all the possible living conditions and this requires external support to maintain a normal life. There is a need to prevent, manage and overcome situations that adversely affect people’s wellbeing.

Nepal has committed domestically and internationally to create an inclusive society for all. As a party to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD), Nepal has addressed the issue through the constitution of the country and the necessary acts as well as precedents set by the Supreme Court to address routinely denied rights of persons suffering from disabilities. Laws and regulations are also being designed and enforced at the provincial and local levels for possible social security provisions for persons with disability.

This paper is an attempt to study the perspectives of the disability allowance recipients. Methodologically, qualitative and quantitative information from reports of various research organisations at the local, national and international level have been reviewed. Using descriptive and analytical processes to explore if the government provisions have worked well, the primary responses for this study come from field-based interviews of beneficiaries, representative organisations working for the disabled, civil servants in Province 1, the deputy mayor and other members of the social protection section of Biratnagar Metropolis, and civil society in general. A total of 592 individuals were listed as beneficiaries of the disability allowance in the 19 wards of Biratnagar Metropolis at the end of the last fiscal year. Beneficiaries were interviewed in various sites such as their home, the ward office, office of the municipal executive, and at the banks from where the beneficiaries collect the allowance.

Persons with complete disability and severe disability have mixed responses towards the social security allowance. They feel that it is a positive step of the government overall. They feel relieved with the recent increment in the allowance though it is not adequate. During the interviews, some also expressed dissatisfaction at the lengthy and tiring process in the banks and at the local government offices. A few of them wanted registration to be done from through a website, with the grants delivered at their doorstep every month. There are also those who feel that the provision of grant challenges their dignity and personal efficiency. This latter group does not want to be passive recipients of grants and plead for a rights-based approach in distribution of opportunities. The disabled could be paid incomes rather than provided with social security allowance devoid of any contribution to the society. This, they believe, will decreases the financial pressure on the government and help it focus on empowering the persons with disabilities.

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Mainstreaming Graduation into Social Protection Strategies

The ultra-poor make up over half of the estimated 797 million people living in extreme poverty. To attain the right to social protection for people living in extreme poverty and, simultaneously, SDG Goal 1, it is necessary to implement holistic, complementary and assessed interventions that support the realisation of national social protection floor initiatives and other human rights. We argue that the ‘Graduation’ approach, which aims to equip the extreme poor with the tools, livelihoods, and self-confidence to escape extreme poverty after the end of the intervention, is one such approach.

The ‘Graduation’ approach pioneered by BRAC, addresses the lack of assets and skills of the ultra-poor by combining support for immediate needs with longer-term investments in training, income generation, and business development. Consequently, within two years, participants are able to help themselves ‘graduate’ into sustainable livelihoods with stronger resilience. Launched in Bangladesh in 2002, BRAC’s ‘Targeting the Ultra-Poor’ (TUP) programme has reached 1.9 million households, graduating 95 per cent out of ultra-poverty. Bandiera et al’s (2016) evidence from a seven-year study of BRAC’s TUP programme, and Banerjee et al’s (2015) impact evaluation of six CGAP-Ford Foundation pilot programmes implemented by non-governmental organisations and governments across Africa, Asia and Latin America show broadly positive results through Graduation. The consensus is that Graduation enables the ultra-poor to meet their essential needs, increase labour supply and experience positive occupational change (i.e., from agricultural labour/domestic servitude to livestock rearing), reduce poverty and increase annual earnings, assets and savings. The study concludes that the programme exhibits an impressive return on investment, which over the working life span of a participant can be as much as USD 5.4 for each dollar spent. Other studies also show positive impacts such as increased political involvement. Ultimately, Graduation allows individuals to live more sustainably and with greater dignity.

Beyond its programmatic confines, the Graduation approach can play a stronger role when linked to and integrated with national development strategies and services. Graduation can help address coverage gaps in social protection systems by facilitating access to them and create linkages and access to basic services, especially financial services to build resilience and improve economic conditions in the long term. Its proven efficacy makes it a natural ally of and complement to social protection. The adoption of the Graduation approach can complement as well as strengthen existing social protection initiatives by combining complementary mechanisms. The proliferation of Graduation-type approaches provides good examples of how to mainstream it into nationally owned social protection floors (SPFs).

When paired with strong social protection systems and adequate safety nets, the Graduation approach can have long-lasting positive impacts, contributing to SDG 1. According to the World Bank (2018), the momentum around Graduation is strong and growing with government leaders and others testing, implementing, and scaling Graduation-inspired economic inclusion programmes that reach and serve the poorest. The Graduation logic can also be found in Mexican Prospera, the Brazilian Brasil sem Miséria strategy nestled in the Bolsa Família programme, and Chile’s Ingreso Etico Familiar (formerly Chile Solidario). While governments in Peru, Paraguay, and Ethiopia are paving the way by adding productive livelihoods features onto their existing social protection programmes, governments in Indonesia and the Philippines are converging existing programmes into cohesive, Graduation-type packages of interventions. In the Philippines, BRAC is providing technical assistance to the Department of Labour and Employment to target existing beneficiaries of a conditional cash transfer programme with Graduation components to provide participant households with a comprehensive and sequenced set of interventions to place them on an upward trajectory into sustainable and resilient livelihoods.

It is critical to note that Graduation is only ‘a pathway’, rigorously tested, adaptable and scalable approach to reduce extreme poverty, and is not an alternative to social protection. It can be a strategic complement that can build on social protection mechanisms to tackle extreme poverty challenges in the country. Different pathways to mainstreaming Graduation include:

  • embedding components of the Graduation approach within national SPF strategies;
  • renewed endorsement of Graduation approaches by multilaterals/proponents; and
  • national experimentation with Graduation through pilots designed for national expansion.
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