Thematic areas

Flagship Thematic Area: Adaptation

Adaptative social protection systems for new and emerging challenges


  • Following the conclusions of the 109th Session of the International Labour Conference in 2021, the ILO will continue and strengthen its support to constituents to build back better and for a human-centered recovery from COVID-19, including through the adaptation of social protection systems to new and emerging challenges in a coordinated and integrated way
  • Although COVID-19 has been a wake-up call for governments on the importance of universal social protection, it also exposed gaps and limitations within existing systems, including lack of anticipation, fragmentation, and limited coverage, as well as operational and capacity weaknesses. 
  • In a world of more frequent changes and greater stresses, the continuity of public action, including social protection, will increasingly depend on its capacity to anticipate and adapt. If previous crises and new and emerging challenges in the world of work have triggered several siloed engagements to adapt social protection systems to evolving contexts, it is necessary to build a comprehensive, integrated approach to social protection across contingencies, vulnerabilities and contexts in most countries.

Adaptation implies that national social protection systems consider in their processes and parameters the constraints related to new forms of work and life environments including evolving crises, conflicts and disasters, transitions or transformations, affecting individuals or larger segments of the population, to maintain and extend the universal right to social security.

  • Adaptation of social protection systems requires a strong coordination between local and national levels. Adaptation implies a contextualization into the institutional, economic, social and environmental realities of the country, and requires coordination between all levels of decentralization and localization, because the individual risks typically covered by social protection systems will in these scenarios often be linked to very localized situations and will have to find the best answers according to the national system's capacities.
  • Adaptation is iterative and must build on lessons learned and opportunities arising from crisis; Adaptation implies that the opportunities, in terms of financial, technical and human resources arising from these crises can be fully exploited to strengthen systems not only in terms of coverage, but also in terms of anticipation and collaborative support for prevention strategies necessary to mitigate risks and address the causes of vulnerabilities. Additionally, social protection systems must plan their own physical, functional and financial resilience in case of shocks.
  • Adaptation capacities have limitations. The adaptation of social protection systems is only possible within the statutory, functional and financial capacities of institutions and actors that may at some point be overwhelmed or considered illegitimate: the ILO's focus must then be in support of alternative actors and processes, including humanitarian cash groups.

Social protection across the triple nexus

The “triple nexus”, or the Humanitarian – Development –Peace Nexus (HDPN), aims to reinforce interlinkages between humanitarian, development and peace actions by strengthening collaboration, coherence and complementarity. The approach seeks to capitalize on the comparative advantages of each pillar – to the extent of their relevance in the specific context – to reduce overall vulnerability and the number of unmet needs, strengthen risk management capacities and address root causes of conflict.

The triple nexus is particularly relevant for social protection, as humanitarian assistance today is increasingly delivered through cash transfers rather than in-kind distributions (when possible), creating a set of technical and operational convergence opportunities. One of the recommendations of the humanitarian reform is precisely to link humanitarian cash transfers and social protection systems, mainstreamed by the caucus on cash under the Grand Bargain and the related working group active under the SPIAC-B. At the same time, the ILO has supported its constituents within inter-agency coordinated efforts to deliver emergency responses during the COVID-19 crisis and is now building on this experience to offer longer-term conflict-sensitive adaptation strategies.

Within the triple nexus context, the ILO has a clear a role to play to support its constituents to adapt their social protection systems, including social insurance, social assistance and ALMP, to living environments increasingly shaped by risks of disasters, conflicts and harsh transitions, while linking with relevant stakeholder including e.g., the disaster risk reduction, climate adaptation, human security and humanitarian communities. The Decent Work Agenda is an essential element of the triple Nexus where employment, decent working conditions, social protection and social dialogue can contribute to peace and resilience. In collaboration with Member States, tripartite constituents, international and national partners, and with the direct involvement of local populations and stakeholders, a three-fold approach to crisis response can allow for an immediate response such as cash transfer while simultaneously stimulating national protection scheme and assist long-term socio-economic development in an inclusive and rights-based manner. By doing so, decent work and social justice are promoted as key drivers of resilience and peace, addressing the underlying factors of fragility that made the society and economy particularly vulnerable to external shocks in the first place.

Technical Support

The ILO’s plays a critical role as a thought leader and vocal advocate for the universal right to decent work and social protection, including across the humanitarian-development-peace nexus. The technical support offered under this thematic priority draws closely on other technical areas (including but not limited to those concerning extending social security to workers in the informal economy and protecting workers in all types of employment e.g. along value chains, social protection for migrants, refugees and their families, social protection, climate change and just transition, financing social protection and digital transformation of social protections systems) and aims at strengthening linkages and synergies and breaking siloes.

In particular, the ILO may offer technical advice/expertise and capacity building to ILO Member States on:

  • Support forecasting new and emerging challenges and assessing associated risks and vulnerabilities.
  • Support conflict-sensitive social protection strategies that reinforce social justice and social cohesion.
  • Support building preparedness of systems by projecting these scenarios along the policy, program and administrative levels to strengthen their integration and coordination, responsiveness and inclusiveness, as well as their own resilience.
  • Support mobilizing the adequate collaborative networks to address those challenges, drawing on inclusive participation, transdisciplinary knowledge, innovative technology, and cross-sector policy areas.
  • Costing the integration of those risks in existing or new schemes, and developing financing strategies to fill those gaps and to building systemic resilience in the medium and long term.

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ILO Experts

Jean-Louis Lambeau
Rim Nour
crisis Just transition and environmentally sustainable economy and society , Adaptation of social protection systems to new and emerging challenges , Migrants and refugees