This article investigates an empirical puzzle. Taking the case of Botswana, how is it that poverty is so high, when the country largely conforms to pro-poor growth strategies? This article suggests that the minimal role of social-security policies partly explains the relatively high poverty levels. This hypothesis is tested in a large-N study of developing countries which shows that broad-based and generous, rather than pro-poor, socialsecurity policies impact strongly on poverty levels. The analysis further alludes to other obstacles to poverty reduction, such as economic transformation, which may be combined with a pro-active social-policy agenda. Thus, poverty-alleviating strategies should be refocused to allow for a wider and more coherent role for social-security policies.