The theory and practice of social protection in developing countries has advanced at a rapid pace over the last decade or so. There is a growing consensus around the view that social protection constitutes an effective response to poverty and vulnerability in developing countries, and an essential component of economic and social development strategies. This paper argues that the rise of social protection constitutes a response to global trends, but with considerable regional diversity. It examines the factors determining the future course of social protection and identifies urgent research needs. © 2009 International Development Centre, Oxford.