Tackling extreme poverty in Kenya, sustainably and affordably, is an extraordinarily complex endeavour. Here we take a systems-based perspective on the quality of collective efforts to date, and ask ‘What next?’ is necessary to maintain progress.
Building Shared Understanding: Clarity on problems but no agreement on solutions.
Whilst the work of policy makers and practitioners is being driven by myriad interests and agendas, a broad consensus about the nature of the problem appears to be emerging, and steps are slowly being taken to align efforts. In 2015/16, the last time a national analysis was completed, there were over 16 million people classified as the ‘absolute poor’. Of these, 3.9m were considered the ‘extreme poor’, meaning that they struggle with their daily existence. Furthermore, the distribution of poverty varies enormously across counties; from less than 3% in some, to over 50% in others.
However, crucial gaps in knowledge remain; who are the extreme poor, what are the systemic conditions which ave contributed to their poverty, where are the entry points to provide effective support, how can barriers be overcome, what works in scaling up success, how can these be sustainably afforded? We believe that collective efforts to explore questions such as these hold the key to the ambition of sustainable graduation from poverty.
Securing Commitment: Joint ambitions need translating into action.
The Kenyan Government should be lauded for its commitment to providing social welfare to enable its citizens to meet their rights. For example, it is now funding over 50% of the Hunger Safety Nets Programme (HSNP) established by DFID – an initiative to support people living in the Northern arid-lands with cash transfers. Efforts are now underway to roll out programmes such as these to additional counties, and to integrate different forms of social protection (such as pensions or support for vulnerable children) into a coherent framework that makes sense nationally and locally, both to help the right people in the right way and to maximise economies of scale.
But, we we suggested earlier, even this is not enough. Now collective attentions must turn to the question of what to do beyond cash transfers to generate sustainable pathways out of poverty. We believe the time has come to develop some answers, together.
There are already numerous schemes which merit further support; mechanisms exist to coordinate cash transfer services, oversee agricultural investments and deliver rural development programmes. But a mighty challenge remains in leveraging existing efforts, and in ensuring current investment planning not only gathers pace but also coheres into a collective national approach with strong input from County Governments.
Lifting eyes up and beyond the conventional 5-year programming horizon toward 2030, 2035 or even further, could help establish the space and freedom for new forms of collaboration. The current willingness of Government and its development partners must be seized upon to build a more ambitious shared vision for the future.
Changing the Dynamics: Diverse interventions, but what works at scale?
A myriad of initiatives, investments and policy reforms are rapidly evolving the social protection space in Kenya; Investments in infrastructure, women’s empowerment, a new old age pension, mobile ICT, value chain partnerships and many more… all promise positive impacts within a busy landscape.
What is unclear is how to translate this into meaningful impact for poor people at scale. Typical poverty graduation projects reach thousands of people, but initiatives need to reach millions. New jobs are created and training occurs but these efforts are not keeping pace with the numbers of young people entering employment markets each year.
Bold interventions can change the dynamics in the system. For example, the Government recently launched a pension for those over 70 years of age (known as Inua Jamii). This pension provision will draw down on Government funds which will in turn influence other aspects of the social welfare system. For instance, funds might be used by grand-parents to support their children to access higher-quality health care or to help grand-children attend a better school. As the government continues to integrate social welfare recipients into a single National Registry, such effects intended or otherwise, will become apparent.
The best place to move forward may be to work at county level with those having energy for change. Small pilots with a few thousand people are useful, but genuine change requires larger scale implementation that offer real models for county-wide coverage.
It is in this context that the array of new economic and social programmes being commissioned by the World Bank, DFID, Gates, USAID will be launched. Each will have their contributed their own intended and unintended influence upon the system from 2019 and beyond. The question is whether they will encourage change in a similar direction.
Enabling Coordination: Established platforms need to drive collaborative action.
At national level, there are platforms for partners to come together around key issues. The national Social Protection Secretariat leads the Government’s agenda and convenes interested stakeholders. They are committed to finalising the National Social Protection Investment Plan, laying emphasis on which development priorities the sector will support till 2030. Its role is vital, yet the Secretariat themselves recognise that coordination needs strengthening.
As a result, there isn’t a clear sense of what is going on across this landscape, and, unsurprisingly, various initiatives are vying for future funding. The assortment of approaches being proposed will themselves suffer from a lack of coherence, and are likely designed around an organisation’s own interest; food insecurity, nutrition, economic deprivation, economic empowerment of women and so on.
No doubt such issues are important, but a coherent and nationally applied framework for graduation could be a game-changer. With this in mind, the Secretariat intends to map and assess social protection programmes in Kenya’s counties to establish a common directory, and to develop common guidelines & standards of operation. This will be a helpful next step.
Augmenting Learning: Information flows need to reach frontline change-makers.
We see evidence-based learning as vital for evolving and scaling current approaches. To help with this, the Secretariat has plans to develop a Community of Practice (COP) Kenya Chapter to help harness the wealth of knowledge that exists & to strengthen linkages and coordination across various approaches. This builds on other initiatives explicitly designed to promote learning, such as the second national Social Protection Conference held in March 2018.
But more needs to be done, most importantly to cohere the efforts of actors providing social cash transfers with those focused on economic development and poverty reduction. The work is only just beginning in understanding how to graduate poor Kenyans from social welfare programmes, particularly those that are poverty based.