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Uruguay’s award-winning innovations for social protection

Till Johannes Hartmann's picture
Photo credit: Jimmy Baikovicius

Uruguay stands out in Latin America and the Caribbean for the significant and early progress it achieved in terms of social protection.

Now gaining global attention, Uruguay is pioneering an award-winning information system to reduce poverty and vulnerability. The system addresses challenges faced by many governments in targeting and coordinating social assistance and, with reduced costs from license-free software, it could soon be replicated in other countries.

Uruguay spends more on social programs than any government in the region (about 25% of its GDP, and over 80% of total public spending). While these resources have enabled great advances, the wide array of institutions responsible for deploying them creates coordination challenges.

For example, Florencia, a resident of Canelones, is 76. She accesses government services for her pension, her medications, and for the grandchild she takes care of.

Through the paperwork she completes, all three agencies responsible for these services collect information on Florencia, but they have no way to exchange it with one another. At least Florencia is accessing services – many others don’t even know these benefits exist. Expanding these issues to the scale of national policies and programs, it is easy to see the formidable challenges for getting the most out of social spending, and for effectively reaching the most vulnerable.

To address these challenges, the World Bank in 2006 joined with Uruguay’s Ministry of Social Development to explore designing an integrated information system to link relevant institutions, complete with indicators for developing, tracking, and extending social programs to those who most need them. The result was the proposed Integrated Information System for the Social Area (SIIAS).

A joint working group of participating institutions was established to develop and deploy SIIAS, with continued support from the World Bank through the Institutions Building Technical Assistance Project (IBTAL). Now up and running, SIIAS brings together data on 3.2 million beneficiaries of 57 social programs from 16 different state organizations. It is accessible to both institutions and individuals, who can request a record of benefits received. What’s more, the total cost for the design and implementation of SIIAS amounted to only USD 3.4 million, a great value for money considering its impacts, which include:

  1. Improving the targeting of social programs – When the government visits Florencia’s town to get information on potential beneficiary households, that data now goes directly into SIIAS, which, integrated with existing databases of different institutions, helps it target services to needs.
  2. Simplifying processes to select beneficiaries – SIIAS enables the Government to identify vulnerable households and people like Florencia. This mechanism was used to automatically select 46,000 households to receive a water subsidy, 67,000 households to receive an electricity subsidy, and 48,400 students to receive the Montevideo Cultural Card (providing discounts on cultural activities).
  3. Simplifying procedures for beneficiaries – By integrating information from different institutions, SIIAS makes it easier for Florencia to access services and benefits. With this feature, 200,000 eligible households no longer have to complete cumbersome forms or present certificates to receive family allowances.
  4. Providing decision-makers and civil society with an integrated vision of social policy - SIIAS enables policy-makers, NGOs, and researchers to get a clear picture of the supply of and demand for social assistance in Uruguay, in terms of both magnitude and location. With special software, more than a million addresses have been georeferenced, generating maps to visualize and target vulnerable groups. SIIAS also helps policy-makers anticipate the needs of beneficiaries over time, optimizing the social protection system by accompanying the life cycle of individuals, and better accounting for risks and intergenerational factors.
  5. Establishing standards for institutional coordination and information exchange – SIIAS improves and standardizes data processing in social service institutions. Enhanced data quality and availability will ultimately enable social policies that are more precise and effective, in terms of their objectives and strategies.
Last year, the Organization of American States (OAS) awarded SIIAS the Inter-American Prize for Innovation in Effective Public Management, signaling the exciting possibilities for this powerful tool to improve effectiveness and efficiency in delivering public goods and services, in Uruguay and potentially, around the world.

If you want to learn more about SIIAS, please click here for a short video (in Spanish)! 

Or read an interview with project coordinator Ricardo Figueroa! 

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#Uruguay is pioneering an award-winning information system to reduce poverty and vulnerability.

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#​Uruguay's information system, SIIAS, brings together data on 3.2 million beneficiaries.