During the closing session of a Social Protection Conference held in 2011, the Government of Bangladesh committed itself to developing a National Social Protection Strategy (NSPS). The development process began in early 2012 with the work of a joint donor mission, which provided a blueprint of the management model and approach later adopted by the GoB. In Autumn 2012, it was announced the NSPS drafting would be overseen by a ten-member Inter-Ministerial Committee chaired by the Cabinet Secretary (supported by Cabinet Division) with the General Economics Division (Planning Commission) acting as the NSPS Implementation Unit. This was followed in 2013 with a formal action plan to develop the strategy, and the appointment of a lead institutional partner to undertake background research and drafting. The formal NSPS development process is made up of three consecutive phases; the first stage a series of research papers; the second stage development of a draft strategy including stakeholder consultations; the third stage finalization of the document and its adoption.
This first component seeks initially to complete the National Social Protection Strategy and its effective operationalization, and will then proceed by building permanent governance structures as well as policy and analysis capacities. Securing broad based support, especially in the light of a possible change of Government, must necessarily complement this component. Policymakers across ministries and levels of government, require a reliable evidence base to better inform the design and implementation of more effective and comprehensive social protection interventions. This will also require strengthening the capacity of government agencies and research institutions to conduct and effectively utilize qualitative and quantitative research on social protection issues, and to translate this knowledge to the operational sphere. This will require interim mechanisms to generate high-quality research to meet the immediate needs, while, over the longer term, improving the capacity of government agencies and local research institutions. Decision makers are looking for in-time inputs and data so that they can better track changes in poverty and vulnerability and understand how various social protection instruments can address these challenges.
Initially this component will supply original qualitative and quantitative social protection research answering critical questions raised by government ministries and other stakeholders, sourced from external experts and consultants. Topics are likely to include the contribution of social protection
to growth and inclusion, issues pertaining to gender equity, forecasting the impact of policy choices on poverty and vulnerability, assessing cost-effectiveness and value-for-money, and other cross-cutting questions. Activities will necessarily draw on the NSPS and provide tailored policy advice to government counterparts through policy memos and briefs.
A major element would be building the capacity of official sector agencies and research facilities to carry-out quantitative and qualitative analysis. These efforts will be linked to the establishment of a social protection research centre within existing government system. Providing ministries and other government agencies with relevant research findings will also increase the demand for quality research, stimulating domestic market providers (by both CSO think tanks and commercial entities).
Wider capacity building activities will target identified government focal points, local think tanks and independent institutions and enhance their ability to design, undertake and disseminate original social protection research. This work stream will include a range of methods to improve capacity including: joint implementation of research projects; facilitating relevant seminars and workshops; setting up of an annual conference on social protection; and establishment of a standing panel of advisers (both national and international) based on a retainer fee system (developed from current proposals to support the development of the NSPS).
Institutionalization and Social Protection Coordination Structure
To implement the NSPS, the institutionalization and strengthening the governance of reforms based on the current Inter-ministerial Committee led by the Cabinet Secretary is a useful mechanism. Social Protection coordination has to be transformed from an ad hoc working arrangement to a coordination structure charged with development and oversight of the system. Two agencies are important in this regard. One is the Cabinet Division and the other one the General Economics Division (GED) of the Planning Commission.
The Cabinet Division provides high-level lead on sector coordination, including broader coordination of ministries on matters related to social protection. The Division is the convener of a 30-member Central Monitoring Committee for Social Safety Nets. This very broad-based committee has been made more functional by the formation of an inter-ministerial 10-member core committee to oversee the formulation of the NSPS. This core committee provides a good vehicle for taking the NSPS further into implementation.
It is vital that coordination and governance of social protection – and especially coordination and collaboration between implementing line Ministries – continues to be led at this level. A Social Protection Specialist will support the Cabinet Division to strengthen its ability to coordinate Ministries. The TA will include support and advice to the wider Social Protection Inter-Ministerial Committee and its core Committee, while also building the capacity of Cabinet Division to understand and coordinate social protection, including through the existing local-to-central reporting system and its resultant database.
The programme will also seek to strengthen the existing Local Consultative sub-group on Social Protection, which is part of the Extreme Poverty Local Consultative Group (LCG).
The Planning Commission is responsible for making strategic level policy, such as the Five Year Plans. A core group of GED will work with the support of technical assistance staff. The programme will focus on strengthening the core capacity of GED, through establishing a NSPS implementation unit. A Senior Social Protection Specialist, along with a number of long and short term specialists, will be placed within GED to provide strategic advice on social protection policy, including engaging in liaison with Ministry of Finance and Line Ministries concerned.
UNDP will be mainly responsible for: (i) overseeing activity plans and proposals for specific activities that will support the implementation and roll-out of the NSPS in collaboration with the General Economics Division and Cabinet Division; (ii) ensuring that activity plans and specific activities are implemented to a high standard; (iii) undertaking effective administration and financial management of programme resources; and (iv) monitoring the TA. An NSPS Implementation Unit will be established in the form of a Secretariat to be located at GED with a supporting wing at Cabinet Division.
Within Component 1, the output is framed as:
An evidential base and mechanisms for policy analysis and better management of the social protection system are built; and analytical and policy key capacities within decision making and administrative institutions are developed.
Specific activities would include:
Institutionalization of current arrangements for development of the NSPS into a permanent Government establishment supporting social protection policy, planning and coordination (in hand with Cabinet Division and GED).
- Supporting analysis and research in wider policy circles (via GED).
- Production and maintenance of a standing database of programmes and repository of other analytical inputs (via Cabinet Division and GED). These will be housed within a GoB institution and designed to enable continuous up-dating beyond the completion of the programme. This database, repository of existing Union-Upazila-District-Centre reporting, will be complementary to other Government databases. It will also be made compatible with other databases and be accessible to stakeholders concerned.
- Workshops on issues like micro-insurance, electronic payments and monitoring mechanisms; National and international conferences on NSPS implementation strategy, progress and monitoring mechanism; Campaign programmes and engaging with national level think tanks (via GED).
- Establishment of international linkages for learning and lesson sharing via twinning arrangements (via GED):
- Field visits and regional and international study tours to promote experience and lesson sharing;
- Two formal twinning arrangements.
- Building policy level linkages with the national planning machinery (via GED): – Resource on-going capacity within GoB, building on the NSPS to maintain linkages to the national planning process. This will specifically, during the first two years, assist the drafting of the social protection section of 7th 5-year plan; – Design and roll out a national M&E system, linking to the existing Union-UpazilaDistrict-Centre reporting structure and its repository database, as well as into SFYP M&E goals. The system would be housed within the Planning Ministry (potentially attached to BBS). This facility would also advise on standard setting and communicate standards on income and consumption poverty, basic nutritional requirements and other MDG-based standards.
- Building linkages with allied sectors, specifically (via Cabinet Division and GED): – Maintenance of the NSPS inter-ministerial core committee to provide a policy forum to address cross-cutting issues – specifically on education, health, nutrition and gender; – Undertake policy evaluation on programme design features and their coherence with other sector strategies. vii. Building local linkages between localities and different delivery programmes (via GED and Cabinet Division): – Establish a professional association of social protection practitioners, incorporating government and non-government members; Develop a scheme for local and programme based M&E and Quality Assurance (QA) functions to link into the national M&E framework and its repository database led by the Cabinet Division from local up to central level; – Enabling the national provision of policy and practice notes and presentations on social protection programme implementation issues; – Establish a knowledge network based on UNDP’s Solution Exchange model for local deliverers (UPs) to share knowledge and access national TA and advice.
Policy Research, Knowledge Management and Communication, Capacity Building
Provision would be made for an established policy research unit/centre on Social Protection within existing government system, to support the evidence base. Where in the government system the unit will be housed will be decided in dialogue with the government, academia and development partners. This centre could build a strategic partnership with an international research institute with relevant experience in policy advisory support, research and capacity building in the area of social protection. The centre would play a key role for capacity building of the current core group. This may also be linked to a standing panel of external experts, who might be consulted as needed.
Support activities would include: .
i. Setting up a policy research centre to enable innovations in social protection programming and systems; this would (via GED):
– Provide evidence on cross-cutting issues to a NSPS national technical group or any other policy forum;
– Facilitate innovations in social protection programming and systems funded through a piloting and testing facility under Component 3.
ii. Research and evidence-building supporting policy analysis (via GED):
– Synthesis of key lessons of experience to support more effective policy analysis and publication of in-time briefings;
– Building a micro-simulation model for ex ante policy analysis and research to inform policy makers on the design and feasibility of social protection initiatives;
– Provision of in-depth results assessments (research reports) for ex post policy analyses, including those assessments that will be recommended by the NSPS
– notably to ensure that result evidence from different programmes is robust; – Offering guidance on programme and systems design (also see Component 2 below) drawing from best practices internationally.
Knowledge Management and Communication
A significant amount of knowledge will be generated by the SPPS and also by other government and development partners in social protection programmes. General Economics Division, and the Cabinet Division inter-ministerial core group, will also be responsible for managing knowledge and information on social protection across government.
The NSPS implementation unit will place significant emphasis on communication, to ensure that research and policy is disseminated. This will aim to build understanding among citizens of the Government’s policy and practice on social protection.
The NSPS implementation unit will develop a cross-governmental Communications strategy. This will include building a website on social protection in Bangladesh. The NSPS Implementation Unit will publish a regular newsletter as well as occasional papers, with a particular focus on disseminating research and policy analysis generated by the SPPS.
A key partner for the NSPS implementation unit will be the media. A Communications Officer will ensure that a media strategy is developed and implemented. This will include engaging actively in the development of radio and television programmes, the use of new media, and regular press releases.
The NSPS implementation unit will through use of various communications channels facilitate that citizens are fully aware of government social protection programmes, including their entitlements and means of accessing benefits and grievance processes.
Capacity Building Training
Tailored policy institutional capacity building will be provided (via GED):
– Developing user-friendly manuals and other capacity building tools;
– Including social protection issues in national civil service training linked to the Bangladesh Public Administration Training Centre (BPATC)
– development of relevant modules and training-of-trainers support;
– Comprehensive and bespoke training of government officials (at all levels; UnionUpazila-District-Centre) on how to interpret and analyse poverty data to inform planning and policy making;
– Standardized training and coaching activities that will enable policymakers and research institutions to make use of mainstream statistical packages (e.g. STATA, SPSS, E-views) and training on mixed (q squared) poverty research methods;
– Facilitating policy notes based on empirical evidence, to inform public dialogue and decision-making.
Innovations and Research Challenge Fund
Provision would be made for an Innovations and Research Challenge Fund to support the evidence base and promote innovations within the system, focussing on key areas of concern (via GED) in the form of a fund that will enable the piloting of new technologies and approaches within individual delivery programmes and within the system. The fund will be allocated competitively according to agreed criteria.
The Challenge Fund will provide funding to government, civil society and research organisations through a competitive process. Topics might cover a broad spectrum, but the focus would be on researching key policy issues and presenting innovative forms of delivery. The fund will be partially earmarked for the key area of adaptive social protection – climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction research with a focus on those most vulnerable tested within the pilot delivery component – but in the main open for competition to support ground-breaking action research.
Proposals must be consistent with the purpose and goal of the SPPS. Proposals can support CSOs – with partners such as local government – to generate evidence on government social protection schemes and policy through research, enabling organisations to undertake advocacy, build the capacity of organisations to engage in policy dialogue with government, and monitor the delivery of social protection programmes, potentially enabling citizens to access schemes to which they are entitled.
The selection of proposals will be the responsibility of a Selection Committee, which will comprise the following:
- A government representative from the SPPS Project Board, to be selected by the government Ministries on the Board;
- A representative of GED; Two social experts to be nominated by GED/Cabinet Division;
- A representative of the development partners on the SPPS Project Board, to be selected by them;
- An ex officio member from the Technical Assistance Group – the senior advisor responsible for social protection, as Secretary of the Selection Committee.
Technical Assistance will provide administrative and secretarial support to the Selection Committee and undertake quality assurance of the activities and outputs of each Challenge Fund project. A designated officer will ensure that monitoring and evaluation mechanisms are in place in all projects.
Specific responsibilities of Technical Assistance with regard to the Challenge Fund will be to:
– Ensure a high quality selection process for the Challenge Fund;
– Providing technical and financial assessments on Challenge Fund proposals to the Selection Committee;
– Contract all those selected by the Challenge Fund to implement projects;
– Effectively monitor progress with each Challenge Fund project, to ensure they are implemented to a high quality and in a timely manner;
– Ensure good financial management by each institution selected to implement a Challenge Fund project;
– Transmit funds to each Challenge Fund project in a timely manner;
– Ensure effective planning and reporting by each project;
– Ensure effective monitoring and evaluation of each project;
– Ensure that monitoring and evaluation mechanisms are in place in all projects;
– Facilitate lesson-learning and sharing across projects, through quarterly meetings of all partners and projects.
Parliamentary and Civil Society Engagement
The programme would seek to secure ownership and broad based support. This work stream would be initiated in the first year with a high quality political economy analysis of the NSPS and the wider social protection arena, recommending quick wins for gaining cross party buy-in. This will be followed up by developing political support for social protection reform through a work stream engaging with the parliament, and developing parliament capacity to engage with a range of stakeholders: civil society, private sector, NGOs, think tanks, etc. This would also be complemented by initiating take-up campaigns and advocacy efforts via existing poverty reduction and social protection programmes and projects.
Effective policy development by government will require active and knowledgeable engagement by the civil society and research institutes, both to provide innovative approaches and effective challenge function. Civil society and research institutes can also be effective in monitoring the implementation of social protection schemes – in support of local government – promoting solutions based on evidence.
i. Engagement with relevant Parliament sub-committees, as well forming a group with special focus on social protection, with members of both the governing party and opposition;
ii. Arrangement of workshops on an agenda of Social Protection and its implementation strategy and specific issues like Government-to-Person (G2P) payment platforms, etc;
iii. Engagement through study tours to visit best practice Social Protection Programmes for learning in different parts of the world;
iv. Advocacy materials and tools would be developed and published for dissemination in Parliament;
v. Planned national level campaign on Social Protection programmes and providing communication for development.
Building on UNDP prior work with the Institute of Microfinance and PKSF, efforts would on the one hand strive to secure an improved regulatory basis for delivery of micro-insurance services, and on the other hand engage insurance providers in undertaking pilot activities through SWAPNO, possibly also including other projects such as UPPR (Urban Partnership for Poverty Reduction) and CDMP (Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme). The piloting would include selection and design of insurance products, devising the delivery partnerships and mechanisms, training of selected micro-insurance providers/intermediaries and awareness campaigns on the benefits of insurance risk pooling for the intended clients.
Insurance aims to offer basic self-coverage for key contingencies, and is an obvious adjunct to mainstream social protection. However, insurance penetration in Bangladesh is extremely shallow, the second lowest in South Asia. This is not merely a result of insufficient supply, but equally lack of informed demand due to inadequate knowledge, unaffordability, supply of unsuitable products and lack of trust. Problems of moral hazard and adverse selection also need to be tackled. Some essential elements have to be put in place for insurance to be an effective risk reduction instrument for the poor:
a) Insurance has to be affordable, with the premium amount being reasonably linked to sum assured, based on actuarial data. This has up till now not been the case for microinsurance in Bangladesh. However, PKSF has recently through actuary expertise been able to determine premium rates based on reality. This is a major breakthrough for sustainable micro-insurance delivery.
b) The insurers have to be trusted. One bad experience with an insurer in a small well knit community can have long term adverse effects on client faith in insurance services. The poor have a higher degree of trust in NGO or MFI staff with whom they are already acquainted than in agents of commercial insurers.
c) The claim settlement system has to be simple and expedient. For a poor-friendly product, the system should be less paper-oriented and executed expeditiously in a matter of days rather than weeks. Commercial insurers generally take the opposite view, with cumbersome and often delayed claim settlement.
Partnering with PKSF through their recently enhanced capacity to deliver realistic micro-insurance products and its Partner Organisations as intermediaries at the outset seems to be a viable option. However, there is a caveat: PKSF Partner Organisations can as per present provisions of the Microcredit Regulatory Authority provide insurance only in combination with micro-credit. For substantial penetration of insurance for the poor to occur, micro-insurance needs to be delinked from credits as a microfinance product in its own right. This will be the object of parallel advocacy work to reform the current regulatory framework to a more enabling environment for pro-poor services.
Specific activities to be included in piloted micro-insurance include:
– Training of intermediaries on approaches, roles and responsibilities;
– Awareness raising of intended clients in understanding the insurance concept;
– Creation of a knowledge base for dissemination and planning expansion of schemes.