Flagship Programme on Social Protection

Governments, UN meet to plan for SDG achievement on social protection

Developing countries and donors have met in Geneva, together with UN agencies, to kick-off a multi-stakeholder partnership for the achievement of social protection targets under the Sustainable Development Goals

Press release | 25 October 2017
GENEVA – Representatives of developing countries, international donors and the United Nations have met in Geneva to chart a course for the expansion of social protection as part of efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The meeting brought together more than 80 representatives of development partners and countries to ILO headquarters to address challenges faced by social protection practitioners and explore opportunities for closer collaboration.

Deborah Greenfield, ILO Deputy Director-General for Policy, opened the meeting by laying out the ambition behind the SDGs, which seek to make social protection coverage a reality for all. “If the importance of universal social protection is recognized rhetorically today,” she said, “it remains tangibly out of reach for roughly half of the world’s population, or nearly 3.8 billion people.” The persistent gap in social protection coverage remained a theme throughout the meeting, together with the need for social protection to better respond to emerging trends that threaten to exacerbate current social protection deficits, including forced displacement, climate change and technological disruption of the labour market.

The event served as the occasion to sign a USD 3 million partnership agreement with the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg whose government is a longstanding development partner to the ILO and founder of its flagship programme on social protection. “Luxembourg is collaborating with the ILO’s flagship programme in several key countries focused on the installation of social health protection schemes,” said Luxembourg’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, H.E. Mr. Pierre-Louis Lorenz. “We continue to support the efforts to make social protection a reality for all and ensure that, as called for in the SDGs, no one is left behind.” During the event, the ILO and King Baudouin Foundation also launched a fund that will allow to launch awareness raising and communication campaigns on social protection, and to raise resources from philanthropists and private sector actors to support the development of social protection systems and floors.

Those gathered heard about progress being made in several countries that are supported by the ILO’s flagship programme which provides policy advice and technical assistance to countries seeking to expand social protection guarantees in line with the SDGs. In particular, SDG 1.3 calls upon UN Member States to implement “social protection systems and measures for all, including floors.”

Mr. Widad Osama K.M. Herzallah, Director-General of the Palestinian Social Security Corporation agency, outlined progress made in the establishment of his social security agency—the first of its kind in the occupied territory—and expanding coverage to Palestinian workers. “Thanks to these efforts and partnership with the ILO, we have created an effective social security system to protect workers and their families,” he said. “It is an important measure to restore social justice in Palestine.” Newly-hired staff at the agency will carry out a series of study visits to programme partner countries like Algeria and South Africa to support their administrative capacities.

Malawi’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, H.E. Mr. Robert Dufter Salama, suggested that a strong cooperation between various stakeholders in his country was critical for making progress in the development of Malawi’s social protection floor, supported by the ILO programme. “Getting all stakeholders together, with the ILO, workers, employers, non-governmental organizations—and with the government as the kingpin,” Mr. Salama said, “will go a long way to ensure that the future social protection expansion efforts are a success.” The ILO programme has supported the government to review the Malawi National Social Support Programme, which includes a broad range of social protection interventions, and has co-led the development of its successor programme, the Malawi National Social Support Programme II.

Representatives from Cambodia, Egypt and Lao PDR also described recent achievements thanks to support from the ILO programme, and called for redoubled support from programme partners. Cambodia, in particular, where social health protection coverage was extended to nearly one million workers in less than one year, is now facing the daunting task to expand social health protection coverage to workers in the informal economy.

During the meeting, bilateral and other donors to the programme were on hand to describe how their respective institutional priorities are being pursued and achieved together with those of the ILO programme.

Mr. Thibault Van Langenhove, Project Manager at Agence Francaise de Developpement (AFD), described the impetus behind his institution’s decision to join the programme. “The AFD obviously has a strong commitment to climate change, which is linked to the Paris Climate Accord. At least half our projects need to directly link to climate protection,” he said. “We have entered into a partnership with the ILO so we can consider how to integrate the climate aspect in social protection programmes that support the reduction of greenhouse gasses.” The AFD-ILO partnership looks at programmes that can offset economic and welfare losses following the closure of polluting industries or restrictions on economic activities for local residents created by land conservation efforts. “We are currently working with the ILO on research, but hope in the next year that we will be able make these aspects operational in several countries.”

Participants also cited a need to explore the potential for linkages between various humanitarian and development programming initiatives. Hélène Atrafi, Policy Officer at UNHCR, described the work her organization continues to do for an unprecedented 65 million forcibly displaced persons across the globe. “One of the valuable partnerships UNHCR has is with the ILO with whom we work to secure greater access to national health insurance and work-related social protection coverage for refugees,” said Ms. Atrafi. ILO and UNHCR are collaborating on feasibility studies to support host countries that are interested in enrolling certain protracted refugee populations in national health insurance schemes. The initiative seeks to ensure a coverage and quality of care for refugees on par with those enjoyed by nationals. “We recognize the expertise of the ILO on social protection, and seek to work with the organization to develop comprehensive refugee responses,” she continued.

Traditional development donors such as France, Ireland, Germany, Italy, Portugal and the European Commission were joined by delegations from new development cooperation partners of the ILO such as Algeria, China, Kuwait and Qatar, which have also contributed to the programme. The African Development Bank shared innovative ways to partner with ILO’s Flagship programme by mainstreaming social protection in infrastructure development projects. Members of the Global Business Network for Social Protection Floors such as Auchan, Geely, L’Oréal and El Corte Inglés, were also present to share the win-win partnership that allows them to support the achievement of SDGs on social protection.

Mr Mahmood Al-Siddiqi, Representative of the Ministry of Administrative Development, Labour and Social Affairs at the Permanent Mission of Qatar to the United Nations in Geneva, described his country’s engagement with the programme to support social protection expansion efforts. “Qatar is pleased to be one of the partners for the first time,” he said. “We believe social protection floors have a central role to play in order to achieve the SDGs by 2030, and increase economic and social development for everyone through the pursuit of social justice.”

The ILO’s Global Flagship Programme on Building Social Protection Floors for All targets 21 countries for accelerated assistance in establishing at least basic income guarantees and essential health care for citizens and residents. Old-age pensions and unemployment protection, as well as maternity and other family benefits, are all part of the programme’s purview, which seeks to cover 400 million additional individuals in target countries with such benefits before the year 2030. The Programme also builds knowledge and partnerships to support more countries.

As Christophe Perrin, ILO Deputy Director-General for Field operations ad interim, stressed in his concluding remarks, the ILO’s Global Flagship Programme is supported by a multi-stakeholder partnership for SDG 1.3 including representatives of governments, workers, employers, civil society, private sector companies and foundations as well as traditional and emerging donor countries, development banks and members of the United Nations system.