Investigating the politics of global policy transfer: the case of social protection in Zambia

Student thesis: Phd


Within the increasingly global agora of social policy-making, social protection has been constructed as a global policy idea by a broad epistemic community of transnational agencies, including the World Bank, ILO and DFID. Competing framings of social protection have influenced the models that have been introduced by these transnational agencies at country level. Cash transfers have gained particular attention, and been actively promoted to governments across sub-Saharan Africa. From its origins as a nation created by colonial borders to the interventions of international financing institutions through structural adjustment and subsequent debt relief, Zambia has long been shaped by external influences and forms of policy transfer. As with many countries in the region, the cash transfer model was introduced in Zambia by donors in the early 2000s, but initially resisted by the political stream. However, in 2013 the Zambian government increased their investment in cash transfers by 700% then rapidly scaled up the programme, and began searching for a targeting design with national character. Against this background, I trace the global policy idea of social protection in Zambia, first through social health insurance (SHI) and then social cash transfers (SCTs). This multi-level study examines the introduction and promotion of these models through the efforts of transnational agencies; their uneven adoption, with slow progress on SHI while SCTs have been adopted and implemented; and the rejection of a centrally designed cash transfer model in communities during implementation, leading directly to changes in design. I develop a framework that integrates policy transfer with multiple streams to analyse the politics of policy-making across global, national and local levels. The framework guides an in-depth qualitative investigation involving key informant interviews, focus group discussions and document analysis at multiple levels. The investigation goes beyond the phase of policy adoption to examine the interaction between global and local ideas during policy implementation, providing a holistic assessment of global policy transfer across these levels. Focusing on domestic receptivity to global policy ideas at different levels, I analyse the mechanisms through which domestic politics influences the global policy transfer process. I find that alignment between problem, policy and political streams continues to matter beyond agenda setting and policy adoption. It is also vital during implementation, which is a site of continued contestation and policy translation. In the case of cash transfers in Zambia, contested notions of social justice have emerged as being a key factor determining the alignment between global policy ideas and local ideas on the ground, centred on understandings of deservingness. The thesis concludes that the social cash transfer policy in Zambia has been shaped by the efforts of a transnationalised policy coalition to promote this global policy idea, interacting with national political dynamics and local ideas of deservingness. This case demonstrates that social and political receptivity to a global policy idea is determined by the level of alignment with domestic political interests, specifically survival strategies, as well as elite and popular paradigmatic ideas, shaping which global policy ideas travel and in what form.
Date of Award31 Dec 2019
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorThomas Lavers (Supervisor) & Samuel Hickey (Supervisor)


  • Political economy
  • Zambia
  • Social justice
  • Policy coalition
  • Ideas
  • Social health insurance
  • Cash transfers
  • Social protection
  • Policy transfer

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