“Based on peer-to-peer exchange, SOCIEUX+ is a flexible, responsive and simple instrument for cooperation”

SOCIEUX+ is a support system established and co-financed by the European Union (DG DEVCO) and the French, Spanish, and Belgian governments. It is set up by Expertise France, FIIAPP (Spain), BELINCOSOC (Belgium), and Enabel (Belgium). Designed as a flexible and highly targeted instrument for technical cooperation, SOCIEUX+ undertakes short-term actions to respond to the needs and priorities of partner countries. Best practices, experiences and knowledge are shared on a peer-to-peer basis.

Since 2016, the SOCIEUX+ missions have closely associated with partner institutions to create inclusive social protection systems and effective employment policies. Gian Luca Portacolone, SOCIEUX+ Social Protection Coordinator, and Xavier Coyer, SOCIEUX+ Technical Expert, discuss the social protection aspect of this European expertise facility.

What are the challenges for social protection in the world today?

Gian Luca Portacolone – The first challenge is to provide all people with the basic guarantees of social security to prevent and reduce poverty, vulnerability, and social exclusion. SOCIEUX+ is able to provide support for all “social protection floors” identified by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 2012 (education, health, etc.). The extension of social protection is the other great challenge. Coverage is still too low in some countries. This is closely related to the high prevalence of informal work, for example in Africa and Latin America.

Xavier Coyer – Social coverage must also adapt to the needs of certain vulnerable populations. That’s why SOCIEUX+ is interested in target groups such as people with disabilities, the elderly, and children.


How does SOCIEUX+ respond to this?

G.L.P. – SOCIEUX+ is designed to respond to a structural need – to strengthen the institutional, organisational, and individual capacities of social protection institutions – so that they can fulfil their missions.

X.C. – We intervene mainly in two areas: strengthening governance and internal processes (human resources, financial management, etc.); and, developing information systems. Information systems have become an essential tool for managing social protection systems (pensions, health insurance, etc..).


SOCIEUX+ is a facility. What does that mean?

G.L.P. – SOCIEUX+ does not have a predefined program; we intervene on demand. This is how we “facilitate” expertise – a social protection institution or a social partner (union, organisation, etc.) from an eligible country asks us for help when they have identified a need for support on a specific topic.

X.C. – We then discuss the matter with them to clarify the need and define the terms of technical assistance. In the Ivory Coast, for example, we received three requests from the same institution. Carrying them out simultaneously with the same institution represented a risk in terms of absorption of the technical assistance. Through a dialogue with the institution, we built a project that could meet their needs in two actions.


What happens once the request is accepted?

G.L.P. – Each request is a project in itself. It includes two to four activities, the implementation of which involves a certain number of days of expertise, through several short-term missions.

X.C. – We organise a coherent work plan, which is often progressive. In the case of the Ivory Coast mentioned before, our support is part of the diagnosis that will lead to the formulation of the national strategy to develop the social protection systems for the two subjects selected (social assistance and social security).


What expertise do you mobilise?

G.L.P. – SOCIEUX+ essentially mobilises public expertise from the Member States of the European Union. We are looking for practitioners; people working in the field of social protection. Thanks to our focal points in different institutions, we have a fairly wide panel of experts that we can draw from. It works very well with countries with old social protection systems – Spain, France, Belgium, Germany, etc., but also with the expertise of countries like Lithuania or Estonia, whose experiences transitioning to a market economy can be very useful for some partner institutions.

X.C. – It should be noted that SOCIEUX+ is based on an exchange between peers; that is to say, between people who have the same core expertise, who speak the same professional language. It is our role to identify the person in a European institution who will be most able to support their counterpart. SOCIEUX+ offers a continuum between technical assistance; i.e., knowledge transfer, and peer-to-peer exchange, which initiates a dialogue between countries on common challenges.


What is your assessment of SOCIEUX+ at this stage?

G.L.P. – SOCIEUX+’s desires to be flexible, responsive and simple. We really adapt to the requests that we get. Our support can therefore be to take stock of the situation, as well as to formulate much more detailed recommendations for legislative reform or implementation, depending on the country’s stage in implementing their social protection system.

X.C. – SOCIEUX+ is proving to be a real success. Since the launch of the first phase of SOCIEUX+, we have managed more than 150 requests, and the response has been positive. We receive an increasing number of requests, and our partners are becoming more diverse. Part of this interest is because our interventions can also complement the long-term activities of other actors in international cooperation (GIZ, AFD, etc.), which occasionally request our aid.


How do you see the future of SOCIEUX+?

G.L.P. – One of our priorities is to go beyond concrete and technical actions to contribute more broadly to the global conversation on social protection. On pensions, universal access to health, etc., the practices developed within the framework of SOCIEUX+ may be of interest to many countries. In 2018-2019, SOCIEUX+ organised regional meetings in Mexico City, Addis Ababa, and Bangkok. These meetings brought together experts and organisations that collaborate with SOCIEUX+ to learn lessons from the initiatives that were already completed.

X.C. – We are also looking more and more systematically at integrating crosscutting issues into our activities, for example, gender equality, which is very much linked to social policies. But we are also looking at environmental issues, the fight against inequality, and so forth. On 18 and 19 June, 2019, we participated in European Development Days and jointly organized a session to examine the issue of inequality. Initially, the establishment of social security coverage was in response to a need to fight poverty. Gradually, we are also moving towards taking inequalities into account by focusing on the redistributive effects of social policies.

Interview originally published by Expertise France, 14/06/2019.