The role of public works in addressing poverty: Lessons from recent developments in public works programming

This study explores recent innovations in public works (PW) programming in sub-Saharan Africa to address the challenge of social protection provision in contexts of chronic mass under- and unemployment. Three ongoing national programmes introduced in the mid-2000s are explored: the Ethiopian Productive Safety Nets Programme, the Rwandan Vision 2020 Umurenge Programme, and the South African Expanded Public Works Programme (PWP). These have introduced a variety of innovations relating to the scale and duration of employment provided, the sectors in which employment is provided, the creation of performance incentives, and coordination with complementary interventions. While they aim to provide social protection which enables participants to graduate out of poverty, they are designed in recognition of the fact that mass graduation is unlikely in the short term given the structural determinants of poverty and under- and unemployment. The programmes still face challenges in providing effective social protection for the working-age poor, but nonetheless they offer valuable options for future programming and differ significantly from the conventional PWP approach adopted in the region.