Researching change and empowering global impact with social protection.

Worldwide, social protection programs are growing in scope to help combat poverty and reduce inequality in low- and middle-income economies. 

The Social Protection Initiative (SPI), a joint collaboration between the Center for International Development (CID) and the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at MIT, aims to bring together researchers, governments, and nonprofits to spur the next generation of cutting-edge research in social protection in low- and middle-income countries. SPI supports policy engagement through the sharing of insights from completed research. 

Social protection refers to the wide variety of programs that aim to provide financial assistance to low-income families, insure against shocks, and break poverty traps. Designing social protection programs for low- and middle-income country contexts  entails challenges that differ from those faced in high-income economies. For example, governments in these contexts 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 expand, 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. 

While the body of evidence has been growing on social protection, key evidence gaps remain. To spur a new body of rigorous impact evaluations on social protection, J-PAL and CID established SPI to fund policy-relevant research on social protection programs in low- and middle-income countries. 

Research Questions 

  • What are the right transfer size, frequency, timing, and duration to reduce food insecurity, improve education, and enhance livelihoods?
  • How can existing social assistance programs and program designs be adapted dynamically to help address systemic shocks?
  •  What is the optimal design for unemployment insurance in the presence of a large informal sector?

Faculty Co-Chairs

Rema Hanna Headshot

Rema Hanna

Harvard Researcher
Jeffrey Cheah Professor of South-East Asia Studies
Harvard Kennedy School 

Benjamin Olken headshot

Benjamin Olken

Affiliated Researcher
Director, J-PAL
Jane Berkowitz Carlton and Dennis William Carlton Professor of Microeconomics
Massachusetts Institute of Technology


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Featured Content


CID Faculty Spotlight: Rema Hanna on Social Protection in the Post-Covid Age


Designing a public transit network: Evidence from Jakarta, Indonesia



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

Photo credit for "Research Directions on Social Protection in Low- and Middle-Income Countries": Ivan Mahardika | J-PAL