Bonn: German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE)
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The primary objective of social protection is to fight poverty and food insecurity. However, there are good theoretical arguments to support the idea that it can also contribute to more complex outcomes, such as social cohesion. This paper investigates the effects of the Tingathe Economic Empowerment Programme (TEEP) in Malawi on three key pillars of social cohesion, namely inclusive identity, trust and cooperation. The TEEP is a multi-component social protection scheme, which targets ultra-poor and labor-constrained households. It provides three randomly selected groups of beneficiaries with three different packages: a lump-sum transfer, a financial and business training connected to the creation of saving (VSL) groups, and a combination of both. A sequential mixed-methods approach was employed to assess the effects of the different project components. This consists of: i) a quantitative analysis based on an experimental design and primary data collected one year after project implementation; ii) a qualitative analysis, based on focus group discussions and individual interviews conducted three years after project implementation.
The study reveals no concrete effects of the lump-sum on social cohesion outcomes. In contrast, the financial and business training makes a difference for social cohesion especially when accompanied by participation in the VSL groups. Indeed, high within-group trust was detected in almost all these groups and the experience of taking part in a common training that participants regarded as very valuable was viewed as a key determinant of this outcome. Moreover, members of the same VSL groups activated different forms of cooperation, both for economic purposes and non-economic ones. Exposure to major external shocks, however, hindered these positive effects.
VSL members’ trust towards other village members (outgroup trust), instead, was low and declined. Similarly, trust towards local institutions was low. An in-depth investigation of the causes indicates that this is not related to the TEEP but to the social cash transfer (SCT) programme on whose infrastructure the TEEP rests. Other village members considered unfair that VSL members received the SCT and this caused jealousy and tensions. Moreover, the members of the VSL groups felt that the local institutions excluded them from other development interventions as they were already benefiting from the SCT programme.
The findings of this study have important policy implications. First, policy-makers aiming at expanding social cohesion should be aware of the possible limitations of just giving cash. Indeed, targeted cash benefit programmes that are not adequately designed and implemented could even hinder social cohesion. Second, another important policy lesson is that VSL groups – already widespread in Malawi for the middle class – can contribute to the expansion of social cohesion and, more in general, can work for the poor, too. Third, there is, however, a need of a longer-term support by external agencies/organizations. As stressed directly by the interviewees, more external assistance would have probably allowed to re-open those VSL groups that had to close in 2017 due to the heavy floods and the delay in some SCT payments.