Delivering assistance through shock sensitive social protection

Hearing from a social welfare officer

By James Chavula
Brighton Ndambo in black attire, conducting an interview with an SCTP beneficiary family in Balaka
UNICEF Malawi/2020
16 December 2020

Brighton Ndambo is passionate about his work as a principle social welfare officer.

He works in Malawi’s Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare and is committed to making sure the country’s social safety net programme, that provides cash to a 10th of Malawi’s ultra-poor households, works as it should.

The programme is being implemented by the Government of Malawi with support from several partners, including Irish Aid, KfW, the World Bank and European Union.

Ndambo’s job is pivotal to ensuring no one is left behind as the programme is designed to reduce suffering for people who need a hand up to beat extreme poverty and hunger.

“My job entails ensuring quality programme implementation so that all players are following procedures and that the data from the programme is something we can rely upon.”

While conducting field visits in line with his work, Ndambo says he is happy with the recent government decision to adopt an additional layer to the country’s social safety net known as Shock Sensitive Social Protection (SSSP.)

“It is thrilling to learn that the Social Cash Transfer Programme (SCTP) beneficiaries can now better anticipate and withstand sudden shocks, including chronic hunger,” says Ndambo whilst visiting rural communities in Balaka.

A SSSP system meets seasonal needs, prepares for and responds to unpredictable shocks in cooperation with the humanitarian sector and supports recovery and the return to regular programming.

This means providing shock-affected households with more assistance through the social protection system, or temporarily increasing the social protection caseload if more people are hit by crises.

Ndambo explains that during the lean season, in the months before the harvest, or during other crises, “it (SSSP) aligns our efforts of ensuring that SCTP beneficiary households do not fall back into deeper poverty”. 

In the lean season, SCTP beneficiaries in areas marked with food insecurity receive lean season top-ups to cushion them from the impact of food scarcity.

An SCTP beneficiary with her livestock which she bought through cash transfers.
UNICEF Malawi/2020/Thoko Chikondi
An SCTP beneficiary with her livestock which she bought through cash transfers.

Since 2017, the SSSP has been used in the districts of Balaka, Nsanje, Neno, Phalombe, Ntcheu, Chikwawa, Mangochi and Machinga.

“With the lean season top-ups, beneficiary households can afford not only to buy maize but also eat diversified diets, acquire vital assets and basic needs for their school-going children.” 

UNICEF is supporting the government to implement the SSSP through the provision of technical and operational support, capacity building, and systems strengthening. The UN’s assistance also ensures that Malawi’s social protection system protects human capital development gains.

The SSSP work is funded by Irish Aid, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), and the Joint SDG Fund.

Increasing the adequacy of social protection transfer values in times of shocks is not the only way of using existing systems for more effective emergency response.

During the 2019-20 lean season response, the government together with the UN have targeted non-SCTP shock affected households through the Unified Beneficiary Registry (UBR) and its poverty ranking, the Proxy Means Test.

The UBR aims at being faster, and more efficient during targeting, while at the same time reducing exclusion and inclusions errors.

Presently, the government is also implementing a social protection emergency response to the impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable urban populations in Lilongwe, Mzuzu, Zomba and Blantyre cities.

The future of shock-sensitive social protection in Malawi is still unfolding and has the potential to improve support to poor and shock-affected families.