The Graduation and Social Protection conference: What did we learn?

  1. Graduation that is defined as exiting from a social protection programme after a certain time period, or after reaching a threshold level of income or assets, risks having people falling back into poverty when the support is withdrawn and the next shock hits them.
  2. Graduation that is achieved by combining social protection and livelihood development (such as asset transfers and access to finance) has a greater chance of providing people with sustainable livelihoods after they leave the programme.
  3. The most effective approaches require cross-sectoral coordination, so that households do not exit from social protection support into ‘no support’, but instead move from social assistance to accessing a broader range of social services and economic opportunities.
  4. The linear pathway to graduation that is implied in many graduation model programmes fails to recognise that livelihoods are not linear, and that the primary functions of social protection are to provide life-long insurance and to build resilience over the life-cycle.
  5. The achievements of successful graduation programmes should be put into context.  Most participants move from extreme poverty to moderate poverty – so they remain poor – they remain self-employed, and many ultra-poor people will never have the potential to graduate.
  6. Stakeholders have different attitudes to graduation.  While some believe that graduation is essential to reduce dependency and maximise poverty reduction impacts, others believe that the focus on graduation distracts attention away from the core functions of social protection.
  7. Political commitment is crucial for programmes to succeed, but too much political pressure can result in premature graduation, and can undermine the government’s commitment and responsibility to provide basic welfare and safety nets to all citizens and residents.
  8. A disaggregated and context-specific approach to social protection and graduation is called for.  Social protection systems should provide a permanent safety net for some poor and vulnerable people, and an opportunity to graduate out of poverty for others.

An innovative feature of the conference was the addition of a one-day workshop on Friday 9 May, organised by the Social Protection Sector Working Group for Government of Rwanda officials who are engaged with social protection.  The Conference Directors interacted with these officials about the implications of the graduation conference for social protection thinking and practice in Rwanda.  This workshop provided a rare opportunity for the deliberations of an international conference to be taken forward into implications for policy and programmes, discussed with and by national policy-makers, immediately after the conference ended. 

Stephen Devereux is convenor of the Growth & Social Protection theme of Future Agricultures. He is Co-Director of the international conference on ‘Graduation and Social Protection’, which was co-hosted by the Government and Rwanda and the Centre for Social Protection from the UK Institute of Development Studies, with financial support from Irish Aid, the UK Department for International Development (DFID) and UNICEF.  Other blog posts from the conference can be found on the IDS Vulnerability & Poverty team blog.