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innovation and ICT in social protection – the way forward?

February 7, 2011


The subject of ICT4D and technological innovations in particularly the area of social protection is not something that I am very familiar with but certainly something that has crossed my path a number of times these past months. The potential of ICT and innovation for development is now widely recognized as well as the acknowledgment that we need to look at opportunities as well as positive and negative side effects. If IDS is truely reflective of the larger development agenda and the debates around poverty reduction, the fact that research on the role of technology and innovation is high up on our strategic agenda should be an indication of its importance. Last week’s blog entry for the Guardian by Adam Oxford makes reference to some of the critics of ICT4D but also describes how it has changed lives in a rural community in Zambia. Despite the lack of electricity or other infrastructure such as running water, Chikanta has an internet cafe that allows for obtaining information about farming technologies and prices, giving farmers a better bargaining position when it comes to selling their produce.

My own recent example of the potential for innovation is from Malawi, where we did fieldwork for UNICEF to document child and HIV sensitive social protection interventions. Malawi runs a social cash transfer scheme and transfers are distributed to recipients during monthly ‘pay-days’. This physical payment is labor-intensive as it requires social welfare officers, assistants and police to make it a smooth and safe process. But it also provides an opportunity to extend a cash transfer scheme beyond the mere provision of income. Extension workers are now invited to talk and provide advice on an array of issues, including health, education and agriculture, and are as such able to reach out to the most vulnerable household in the community. Malawi is now looking into more technological advanced methods for payment of transfers, allowing for cost-saving opportunities. The ability to reach people at lower cost might allow for loosening the eligibility criteria for the programme and achieve greater coverage of poor and vulnerable households.  Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind the implications of the introduction of new technologies, both positive and negative, beyond the element of cost-saving. With respect to the aspect of linkages of and referrals across services, the moment of physical payment of cash transfers to all recipients in a cluster of villages  in one location presents a unique opportunity for reaching out to the most vulnerable and for them the replacement of such occassions by a smartcard or phone credit might create a gap rather than fill one.

payment of cash transfers in Malawi - soon to be history?

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