Ayala Consulting designed and implemented the Social Cash Transfer Programme (SCTP) in Malawi reaching 758.000 beneficiaries in 18 districts.

Originally published at: https://www.unicef.org/malawi/reallives_20191.html

Mangochi, June 2017 - Life is far from easy for half of Malawi’s population. They live below the national poverty line, unable to afford the lowest acceptable standard of living. As many as 3 million or more (22% of the population) are categorized as ultra-poor, with half of them also being labor constrained. This means they are unable to meet their basic needs. They struggle to find food, shelter as well as access to essential services such as education and health. This increases vulnerability particularly among women and children.

In 2003 a World Bank commissioned study in Malawi revealed the extent of poverty in the country, prompting Government of Malawi to pilot the Social Cash Transfer Programme (SCTP) in Mchinji district four years later. Over the years, the programme has grown steadily. Today it reaches about 758,000 beneficiaries in 18 districts. 59% of these are children. They come from families with few or no assets, largely comprising the old, the ill or the young, whose labor yields little or nothing.

Since the 2007 pilot, UNICEF, financially backed by various development partners, namely KfW, EU, Irish Aid and World Bank, has supported Government of Malawi in strengthening and expanding the SCTP to where it is today. 170,000 households now receive a modest amount, ranging from $10 to just above $20 every two months. The amount varies depending on the number of people in the family and the number of children in school. The Dutch Government has supported the piloting of a complementary linkages and referral system in Mangochi and Dedza districts to ensure that SCTP beneficiaries are better connected to existing social services with a special focus on providing HIV testing, counselling and treatment services.

On a recent visit to Malawi, Mieke Vogels, Senior Policy Advisor for the Dutch Government, had the opportunity to learn more about implementation of the linkages and referral component. She held discussions with UNICEF (Malawi Country office as well as regional office staff), key Government of Malawi officials and some of the beneficiaries. UNICEF’s Social Policy Specialist Sophie Shawa indicated that there is a strong system within the central government to oversee and implement the SCTP. The Poverty Reduction and Social Protection unit in the Ministry of Finance, Economic Planning and Development provides critical oversight on all social protection programmes. UNICEF supports in strengthening this unit while also supporting the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare which is responsible for the SCTP implementation.

Shawa also indicated that within the current programme many adolescents are being reached, as many of them live in SCTP households. “The linkages and referral programme offers an opportunity to connect adolescents to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services, which is a critical consideration with HIV prevalence at 10%”, she explained.

Vogels who has extensive experience working in sub-Saharan Africa, stressed the importance of learning and sharing experiences within the region, particularly among those countries with similar contexts.

The SCTP is just one of the components within the National Social Support Programme. Others include the public works programme, school meals, micro credit and village saving and loans schemes. During his meeting with the Dutch envoy, the Director of the Poverty Reduction Division Harry Mwamlima said Government of Malawi is working on strengthening synergies among these components to achieve meaningful change in the lives of beneficiaries. He said as the second National Social Support Programme is being developed, the linkages and referral component has been included as one of the pillars. ‘Beneficiaries can only make progress if linkages are well established, wherever there are cash transfers there must be a linkages and referral component,” said Mwamlima.

He added that as Government continues to strengthen the SCTP system ahead of a scale up to the remaining 10 districts, capacitating district councils is key. He acknowledged the support of the Dutch Government in equipping district councils in Mangochi and Dedza with the necessary skills and resources. Vogels pointed out that it was important to consider increasing domestic funding to the SCTP to make it sustainable.

Later Vogels met Esmie Kainja, Secretary for the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare and her SCTP team. District staff within this ministry work closely with community social support committees to conduct the bi-monthly transfers, manage the cases to record any changes in beneficiary status and in the two pilot districts they also facilitate the linkages and referral processes.


Kainja said it is not enough to give money to the poor. “We have to empower beneficiaries so that even if they were no longer receiving the money they stay on their feet, they must be aware of the available services.” She believes that the linkages and referral system, which the Dutch Government is supporting, is contributing to that goal.

© UNICEF Malawi/2017/Phwitiko
Ms Vogels and Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Gender discuss implementation of the linkages and referral component within the social cash transfer programme.

“Beneficiaries are now demanding services, it means they are now empowered,” she explained. The SCTP teams mapped the available services in the two pilot districts; these include agriculture, health, education, entrepreneurship, construction and child protection services. Results from the pilot indicate that the most demanded services are related to education and health. Mieke Vogels observed that the linkage between SCTP beneficiaries and education is particularly important for adolescent girls. “If you send girls to school, you solve half the world’s problems,” she said.

During her field visit, Vogels travelled to Mangochi where she met some of the beneficiaries of her Government’s support. 15-year-old Rukia Rafiki goes to Kausi Primary School. Her younger brother Mwanjali (12) and her cousins 18-year-old Sakina and 7–year-old Diana also go to the same school. Rukia, her brother and cousins live with their grandmother Dawa Kalonga. The four children are orphans and their grandmother is old and disabled. Dawa suffered from a stroke a little over a year ago and has lost the use of her left arm and leg. The family has no source of income, which made them eligible for the SCTP. They now receive 16,000 Malawi kwacha every two months, which is about $21.

Dawa says she uses the money mostly for food and school supplies for the children. She also bought a goat and hopes to sell the meat once she has bred more.

The linkages and referral system connects beneficiaries of the SCTP to essential services in their communities in order to maximize the impact of the SCTP. With funding from the Dutch Government, UNICEF has supported the strengthening of district teams, as well as the recruitment of specialist officers to establish linkages within the SCTP.

For families like Rukia’s this means connecting the children to youth clubs in the area where they can build on their aspirations and benefit from peer support. Rukia’s cousin Sakina is already a member of YONECO youth club. They meet every Wednesday, potentially giving her access to HIV prevention messages as well as HIV testing and counselling. Vogels encouraged Rukia and her cousin Sakina who she met at their school to join the youth clubs and continue working hard in school.

© UNICEF Malawi/2017/Phwitiko
Rukia pictured in class.

In Chiponda village within Mangochi district, Patuma and her 4 children are also SCTP beneficiaries. The 37-year-old widow had no source of income but now uses money from the SCTP to rent a small garden where she grows most of her family’s food. She told Vogels that she also spends some of the money on fertilizer, school supplies and chickens. Patuma is HIV positive and the linkages and referral component ensures regular appointments and treatment for her at Chimala Health Centre. “I need 1000 kwacha to make the trip to the hospital. So I use some of the money I receive to pay for transport,” says Patuma.

Results of the linkages and referral pilot indicate that there is a great demand for services beyond the cash provided. With increased commitment from the Dutch Government, the linkages and referral component will now be rolled out to 6 additional districts: Balaka, Chitipa, Mulanje, Mzimba North, Nsanje and Salima.

After meeting Rukia’s family and Patuma, the Dutch envoy observed that such seemingly small interventions do have a great impact. While in Mangochi she also met the District Commissioner, Moses Chimphepo. She acknowledged the important role of local authorities in ensuring successful implementation of the SCTP as well as the linkages and referral component.

© UNICEF Malawi/2017/Phwitiko
Ms Vogels hears the story of Patuma at her home.

“It’s not just about the money, it is also about the dedication of the local authorities to translate the transfers into something meaningful for the beneficiary communities," reflected Vogels.

For Rukia, “something meaningful” means realizing her dream of becoming a nurse. And for Patuma it means her children can stay in school. 

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