Economic Transfers and Social Cohesion in a Refugee-Hosting Setting

Elsa Valli, Amber Peterman and Melissa Hidrobo

The Journal of Development Studies, Volume 55, Supplement 1 (2019), Pages 128-146


This paper examines if a transfer program targeted to Colombian refugees and poor Ecuadorians in urban and peri-urban areas of northern Ecuador resulted in changes in measures of social cohesion. The program was a short-term cash, food, and voucher program paired with nutrition training implemented over six months by WFP. Although the program did not involve the implementation of intensive activities to foster social cohesion, implicit targeting decisions, socialization, and messaging components may have influenced social cohesion on an interpersonal level

The definition of social cohesion in this study is based on six aggregated indicators: (a) trust in individuals and social connectedness; (b) personal agency; (c) attitudes accepting diversity; (d) freedom from discrimination; (e) confidence in institutions; and (f) social participation. The analysis is based on a cluster randomized control trial based on surveys of over 2,000 households conducted in March-April 2011 (before the first transfers) and in October–November 2011 (‘midline’).

Key results:

  • The program contributed to reported improvements in social cohesion among Colombian participants through enhanced personal agency, attitudes accepting diversity, confidence in institutions, and social participation. These effects are independent of the type of transfer (cash, food, or voucher) and accrue to all Colombian nationals, regardless of their motivation for migration (economic versus political or personal motives).
  • The program had no impact on reported social cohesion among Ecuadorian beneficiaries.
  • Two of the six dimensions of social cohesion are not affected by the treatment among either group, namely, trust in individuals and freedom from discrimination.
  • There were no negative impacts of the program on the indicators or domains analyzed.

The authors hypothesize that these impacts are driven by the joint targeting of Colombians and Ecuadorians, the interaction between these national groups at monthly nutrition sessions, and the messaging around social inclusion by program implementers. The authors conclude that even short-term social protection schemes hold promise for positively affecting social cohesion between refugees and host populations.