The World Bank says economic inclusion programmes are on the rise in 75 countries, reaching approximately 20 million poor and vulnerable households and benefitting nearly 92 million individuals.
The bank said this in a statement on Tuesday in Washington D.C. on its newly published “State of Economic Inclusion (SEI) Report 2020: The Potential to Scale”.
According to it, the surge comes at a crucial time, as more than 700 million people around the world face extreme poverty, a number on the rise for the first time in two decades.
The report profiled economic inclusion programmes, usually a combination of cash or in-kind transfers, skills training or coaching, access to finance and links to market support.
It added that these programmes which help boost income and assets of the world’s poorest, were fast becoming a critical instrument in many governments’ large-scale anti-poverty strategies.
It also said that they were likely to continue, especially in areas affected by conflict, climate change and shocks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mari Pangestu, Group Managing Director, World Bank, was quoted as saying that one of the most stubborn challenges faced in development was positively transforming the lives of the extreme poor and vulnerable, a problem exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This report presents, for the first time, a systematic review of economic inclusion programmes around the world and sheds light on how governments can best invest in social protection, jobs and financial inclusion to help the poor build a better future for themselves,” he said.
The report which examines over 200 programmes across 75 countries, noted that governments around the world are increasingly scaling up economic inclusion initiatives through social safety nets.
In-depth case studies covering the Sahel, Bangladesh, Peru and India highlighted the evolution of economic inclusion programmes and how they are addressing challenges such as urbanisation, gaps in human capital accumulation, adaptations to shock and technological change.
The bank said that the implications of COVID-19 featured broadly in the report, which looked at the fallout of the pandemic at the household and institutional level.
“Economic inclusion programmes for the poorest show strong potential to improve livelihoods as part of integrated policy responses focused on containing the pandemic, ensuring food security and supporting medium term recovery.
“Experiences in Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Zambia and other countries, show how economic inclusion programmes can build on, rather than replace social assistance programs,” it noted.
Birgit Pickel, Director for Global Health, Pandemic Prevention in the German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, was quoted as saying that the pandemic had put a spotlight on the importance of linking social protection and economic inclusion when it comes to protecting people against shocks.
“We continue to provide significant funding for social protection and jobs.
“However, there is a strong potential for economic inclusion programs to build on pre-existing government social protection systems and this may prove critical in the long-term recovery from the COVID-19 fallout,” he said.
The bank said that the report revealed that women’s economic empowerment was a key driver of interventions, with nearly 90 per cent of the programmes surveyed having a gender focus.
World Bank said findings from the report and other work from Partnership for Economic Inclusion (PEI) showed that women make up the majority of workers in sectors such as education, retail travel, hospitality and domestic services.
It noted that the sectors had been mostly affected by COVID-19.
“Lessons from previous crises highlight the importance of this gender focus to avoid declining opportunities for women, de-prioritisation of female health services and increased gender-based violence.”
Olivia Leland, Founder and CEO of Co-Impact, said economic inclusion packages were well positioned to support women to address the plurality of COVID-19 related impacts.
“In particular, the pandemic has highlighted the need to strengthen national systems and to make sure that they are inclusive and equitable by design, so that women and others who have been historically marginalised are not left out.”
The report also discussed key debates on programme impact and costs, as these were the critical factors affecting the sustainability of economic inclusion programmes at scale.
Michal Rutkowski, Global Director of the Social Protection and Jobs Global Practice at the World Bank, said leveraging digital technology would be critical to advance capacity constraints and to strengthen programme management.
He added that many programmes were already utilising government social registries, beneficiary registries and other government databases to identify potential participants.
Alongside the SEI, the PEI is also launching an online and open-access PEI Data Portal, which underscores a commitment to open access to support global learning and programme implementation.
The bank, however, said it was taking broad and fast action to help developing countries strengthen their pandemic response.
This is by supporting public health interventions, working to ensure the flow of critical supplies and equipment, and helping the private sector continue to operate and sustain jobs.
The WBG is making available up to 160 billion dollars over a 15-month period ending June 2021 to help more than 100 countries protect the poor and vulnerable, support businesses and bolster economic recovery.
“This includes 50 billion dollars of new International Development Association (IDA) resources through grants and highly concessional loans and 12 billion dollars for developing countries to finance the purchase and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines”, it added.