Adopting Comprehensive, Coherent and Coordinated Policies in Social Protection: A View from the Americas

Date: 27 March 2014
Author: Alexandra Barrantes

Adopting Comprehensive, Coherent and Coordinated Policies in Social Protection: A View from the Americas

In the context of the principles of social protection, through the Social Charter of the Americas,1 the countries of the region acknowledge they have “a responsibility to develop and implement comprehensive social protection policies and programs, based on the principles of universality, solidarity, equality, nondiscrimination, and equity that give priority to persons living in conditions of poverty and vulnerability, taking into account their national circumstances.”

Countries in the Americas have recognized the central role of the state in the fight against poverty, inequity, inequality and social exclusion, as stated in the Communiqué of the Second Meeting of Ministers and High Authorities of Social Development “Strengthening and sustaining social protection systems”. They also recognize of the need for intersectoral coordination. The document reiterates that poverty and inequality are multidimensional phenomena, and hence “require intersectoral and coordinated interventions in the framework of a national social development strategy”. In signing the Charter, countries have confirmed the need to promote “the implementation and strengthening of governmental strategies that integrate the work of various ministries and public agencies to ensure greater impact on the efforts being made to confront those challenges. Intersectoral coordination is essential to broaden the impact of a diversity of social policy interventions.”2

Moreover, Social Development Ministries in the region have highlighted a call to all sectors of society (including civil society, non-governmental, academic, private sector and community organizations) to collaborate in providing input for the design and implementation of systems to monitor and evaluate public policies in social development and to establish strategic alliances between the state and the various social groups “in a framework of shared responsibility, to confront the challenges of poverty, especially extreme poverty, inequality and vulnerability.”3

Exchanging experience

In a fairly recent exchange of experiences4 between social development ministries and/or related agencies from 11 Latin American countries, 32 social protection and promotion programmes (all non-contributory) were presented and shared, ranging from food security and nutrition programmes, to universal transfers and/or pensions, youth employment, housing, overarching poverty eradication strategies, multidimensional poverty indexes, single beneficiary systems, conditional cash transfers, income generating and small and microenterprises, early childhood intervention, elderly and differential services for indigenous and afro-descendant programmes.

Out of these, at least 18 programmes highlighted coordinated action with non-governmental actors such as non-governmental organizations, foundations, academia, community and regional organizations, private sector enterprises, religious institutions, and private health providers. The involvement of these actors was mainly in programme implementation, and/or design, and/or promotion, as well as in training, evaluation, provision of services and employment.

In some of the showcased experiences, countries appear to have formalized or institutionalized coordinating mechanisms between governmental and non-governmental partners, as is the case with national councils, intersectoral commissions and technical committees.

Challenges remain

Even though coordination of social protection policies has improved throughout the region, it continues to be a challenge, mainly due to the complexity of the issues at stake and the multiplicity of approaches and sectors involved. Some of the main challenges identified by individual countries pertain to the difficulties involved in coordinating actions by several agencies, actors and sectors, and in some cases specific mention was made of attempts to increase the level of trust among the different sectoral stakeholders in terms of their capacities in implementing these social protection programmes. It is therefore evident that despite their progress on this front, countries are still striving to improve both operational and policy coordination among and within different ministries, actors, sectors and regions.

There does however appear to be a general understanding throughout the region of the crucial need for comprehensive social protection systems, the importance of coordinating advances on the contributory side of social protection with the many non-contributory advances, and a concerted effort to bring solutions to fragmented systems across the region. Hence, a push towards more comprehensive and integrated social protection systems taking into account the multidimensionality of poverty should be accompanied by the incorporation of the whole spectrum of actors involved. Furthermore, efforts should be made to improve the approaches to intersectoral coordination not only in terms of involving more governmental institutions, but also by further engaging non-governmental actors. Intersectoral coordination will need to be a central component of a new generation of social protection programs, policies and strategies.

1 Social Charter of the Americas, Chapter III, Article 14. The Charter was adopted by the Organization of American States in June 2012.

2 Communiqué of the Second Meeting of Ministers and High Authorities of Social Development. Strengthening and sustaining social protection systems, Cali, Colombia, 2010. (Note that this link downloads the word file directly.)

3 ibid.

4 Third Workshop on Social Protection and International Cooperation. Colombia, 2012 (website in Spanish).

Alexandra Barrantes is an international development professional with more than 14 years experience in social protection, poverty reduction and inequality, democratic governance and cooperation for development. She is currently Social Protection Specialist at the Department of Economic and Social Development with the Organization of American States (OAS) where she coordinates the Inter-American Social Protection Network (IASPN). The IASPN is a regional cooperation and policy exchange mechanism for key stakeholders in the social protection field. She develops innovative tools for South-South cooperation among social development agencies, as well as coordinating the development of a regional knowledge and learning platform on social protection ( She also coordinates technical assistance and capacity building activities throughout the region. Alexandra Barrantes received her BA in International Relations from Universidad del Salvador, Argentina, and her MA in International Development from American University.

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