Photo: UN Photo/JC McIlwaine

SAPI - Social Assistance, Politics, and Institutions database

Since the turn of the century, social assistance emerged as a leading institution in the fight against poverty in the developing world. Large-scale programmes providing direct transfers to households in poverty have transformed the antipoverty policy agenda, moving it from traditional approaches of food aid and subsidies to regular and predictable forms of assistance.

The rapid expansion of social assistance has also underscored the significant gaps in information and data needed for comparative cross-country research on emerging social protection institutions in developing countries.

There is a growing recognition about the importance of learning from, and understanding, the functioning of a wide range of social assistance programmes and the economic, social and political contexts under which they have emerged.

The fact that there are positive gains from cross-country knowledge sharing, and that the experiences from one country can help others avoid placing resources on ineffective antipoverty policies, underlies the critical role of documenting and making information and data on social assistance programmes widely available.


UNU-WIDER has initiated the development of a new database, ‘Social Assistance, Politics and Institutions’ (SAPI), which will provide a synthesis of longitudinal and harmonised comparable information on: i) social assistance programmes in developing countries, ii) country-level information on economic and social performance, and iii) political institutions.

The SAPI database is part of a large research initiative, The Economics and Politics of Taxation and Social Protection that aims to shed light on the system-wide impacts of social protection and tax systems in developing countries.

There are several valuable databases on social assistance in developing countries. However, these datasets are in their current format limited in their capacity to support longitudinal comparative analysis. The SAPI database aims to expand these previous data collection efforts and provide a consistent and comparable synthesis of programmes and country-level information over the past two decades, covering the following dimensions:

At programme level

  • Design features and characteristics
  • Budget
  • Institutionalization
  • Outcomes

At country-level

  • Economic performance
  • Socio demographic indicators
  • Bureaucratic capacity
  • Governance