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Social protection renews optimism for sustainable development

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Worker at the Warrap State Hospital, South Sudan. Photo: UN/JC Mcllwaine

The media often supplements talks of the Global South with illustrations of humanitarian tragedies and persistent development bottlenecks. However, this traditional news coverage overlooks a very positive and impactful transformation taking place in Africa and the Global South: the impressive growth in social protection systems, the establishment of new foundations for advancing sustainable development and for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Social protection programmes are among the most successful development experiences the world has seen in recent years. They have proven to be key in developing countries' efforts to fight poverty and hunger, as demonstrated by the substantial progress made in poverty reduction through the adoption and expansion of social protection schemes in countries such as Brazil, Ethiopia and Senegal.

Making the transformation towards sustainable development by 2030 will require substantial changes in development practices. The steady increase in the number and quality of social protection systems throughout the Global South brings renewed hope and one of the most positive changes the world has witnessed in recent decades. In Africa, 48 countries have established flagship programmes, with more than 120 different initiatives being implemented.

Seizing this positive change as a catalytic force to advance sustainable development is a must. As an effort to support policy implementation and to bring an up-to-date analysis of creative policies blossoming across the African continent, the UNDP World Centre for Sustainable Development (RIO+ Centre) and the UNDP Regional Service Centre for Africa are launching the first RIO+ global report in Gaborone, Botswana.

The report focuses on social protection as a key to achieving sustainable development by building on the experiences of Africa and Brazil to capture lessons that inspire citizens and provide policymakers with information on existing programmes. While Brazil’s contribution to development cooperation multiplied fivefold between 2005 and 2010, the country has partnered with several African countries to promote its successful experiences on poverty and malnutrition reduction.

Calling for the expansion of social protection agenda as a vital tool to transforming development towards sustainability, the global report emphasizes that, despite the significant expansion of programmes throughout Africa, only 20 percent of the continent’s poorest people have access to social protection mechanisms to help them cope when shocks or provide opportunities to emerge out of poverty.

This new report is the result of promising collaboration between the two sides of the Atlantic. It is co-led by the UNDP global policy centre in Rio de Janeiro, a legacy of the historic Rio+ 20 Conference, and the UNDP Regional Service Centre for Africa, with decisive support from the African Union (AU) and the Governments of Brazil and Senegal.

The new global report builds on the recommendations from a global UNDP-AU social protection event held in Dakar, Senegal in April 2015, which identified the mounting demand for an updated analysis of the current state-of-the-art of social protection and for more dialogue between Africa, Brazil and the Global South.

In a global scenario so-often punctuated by stereotyped images of persistent poverty and despair, it is our role to point out to solutions and inspiring examples of action. Strengthening social protection for sustainable development (or SP4SD, as proposed in the report) is a positive new paradigm emerging in the Global South that will be decisive in the realization of the 2030 Agenda.

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