Social Protection

J-PAL’s Social Protection sector focuses on identifying policies and programs in low- and middle-income countries effective at providing financial assistance to low-income families, insuring against shocks, and breaking poverty traps.

Worldwide, social protection programs such as cash or in-kind transfers and social insurance are growing in scope to help combat poverty and reduce inequality in low- and middle-income economies. Designing social protection programs for these contexts, however, entails challenges that differ from those faced in high-income economies. For example, governments in many low- and middle-income countries may not have data on people’s employment status and incomes, which makes it difficult to effectively target benefit programs to those most in need. 

As social protection programs continue to grow in scope, it is critical that governments build robust systems that can both address long-term poverty and help vulnerable households adapt to economic, health, climatic, or other shocks. 

In addition to supporting policymakers in applying evidence from randomized evaluations to their work, sector chairs and staff write policy insights that synthesize general lessons emerging from the research, condense results from evaluations in policy publications and evaluation summaries, and fund new research through the Social Protection Initiative.

Research Directions on Social Protection in Low- and Middle-Income Countries
Social Protection

Research Directions on Social Protection in Low- and Middle-Income Countries

The Social Protection Initiative (SPI) funds randomized evaluations of social protection programs in low- and middle-income countries and supports policy engagement to share insights from completed research. To help diagnose the evidence gaps and provide a foundation and guide for SPI's funding...

Two women hold up their Indonesian benefits card to receive bags of rice.

Introducing J-PAL’s new Social Protection Initiative and sector

We are launching a brand new sector and initiative at J-PAL to generate rigorous evidence on the effectiveness of social protection programs and to help partners apply evidence to high-level decision-making. 

A woman wearing a face mask pulls a food item off of the shelf in a grocery store.
Evidence to Policy

Community-based targeting to combat Covid-19-induced poverty

Using community targeting methods to distribute cash transfers during Covid-19 has provided relief to over eight million recipients previously unenrolled in any social protection program in Indonesia.

Men walking on the street wearing masks
Evidence to Policy

Designing a social protection program during Covid-19

J-PAL affiliated researchers supported the Government of Chile in designing a cash transfer program during the Covid-19 pandemic, which reached almost 3 million households. 

A woman holds a bowl of rice

The Impacts of In-kind Food Transfers versus Electronic Vouchers on Poverty Reduction in Indonesia

Researchers partnered with the Government of Indonesia to measure the impact of replacing the delivery of their food assistance program from in-kind transfers to electronic vouchers on household welfare. The reform was more effective in delivering assistance to targeted beneficiaries and helped...


The Effects of a Universal Basic Income during the Covid-19 Pandemic in Kenya

Taking advantage of a pre-existing large-scale evaluation of a universal basic income project in Kenya, researchers measured how different types of cash transfers impact recipients’ income, reported well-being, food security, mental health, and social interaction in the context of the COVID-19...

Sector Chairs

Scientific Director, J-PAL Southeast Asia

Co-Chair, Social Protection

Member, Executive Committee

Jeffrey Cheah Professor of South-East Asia Studies

Harvard Kennedy School of Government

The photo shows Ben Olken in a button-up shirt

Director, J-PAL

Scientific Director, J-PAL Southeast Asia

Co-Chair, Social Protection

Member, Executive Committee

Jane Berkowitz Carlton and Dennis William Carlton Professor of Microeconomics

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Sector Contacts

Headshot of Lisa de Rafols

Policy and Communication Associate, J-PAL Global

Headshot of Emily Romano

Senior Policy Manager, J-PAL Global

Headshot of Beatriz Velho

Policy Manager, J-PAL Global