Poverty-fighting tool: conditional cash transfers

December 30, 2008

The New York Times recently published an in-depth article about a poverty-fighting program called Oportunidades in Mexico.  Instead of traditional government welfare programs that offer subsidized food or healthcare, the program gives the poor cash on the condition that the money is spent on “activities designed to break the culture of poverty and keep the poor from transmitting that culture to their children.”   Some examples of these conditional cash transfer activities include:

  • Money for school fees, contingent on the child’s attendance record
  • Money for food, subject to preventative health checkups
  • Money, on conditions of attendance at monthly educational workshops on health topics (like purifying drinking water)

Initial objections about Oportunidades stemmed from the program’s potential to increase domestic violence, given the machismo culture of poor, rural Mexico. The program is targeted towards women who are the primary spenders in the family.Women must leave the house to receive payments, attend workshops, and visit the clinic.  Workshops are about women’s rights and self-esteem.  Women also get their own money and control how it is spent.  Indeed, the stories reflect the shifting balance of power between the husband and wife; transitions that are fraught with tension and anger in the beginning, but fade over time when the program’s benefits are realized.

Overall results have been impressive thus far.  In Mexico, rates of malnutrition, anemia, and childhood and adult illnesses have dropped.  Children enrolled in the program drop out less frequently, repeat fewer grades, and stay in school longer. In some rural areas, the percentage of children entering middle school is up by 42% and 85% for high school.

Similar programs are being rolled out in 30 other countires (mainly in Latin America) including Turkey, Cambodia, and Bangladesh.  New York City is also starting a pilot program under Mayor Michael Bloomberg called Opportunity NYC.

To learn more, read the New York Times article and the World Bank case study on Oportunidades.

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FallA Speaker Series…Market-Based Solutions to Poverty

August 26, 2008

I couldn’t be more excited to announce a new speaker series for FallA that GIH has been helping organize along with two Acumen Fund Alumni, David Lehr and Jocelyn Wyatt.  The speaker series is titled: Enterprising Solutions: Market-Based Approaches for Reducing Global Poverty.

You can read all about the class including the specific topics and speakers for each week.  This class is going to be an excellent forum to discuss and learn about these newer market-based approaches to development.  My goal is to make the class as inter-disciplinary as possible by inviting students from across the campus to join the debate and dialogue about these topics.   We want to use this class to help students meet others who are interested in these same areas, regardless of their discipline.

This speaker series is the result of a partnership between GIH and two excellent ambassadors to this field: David Lehr and Jocelyn Wyatt.  David and Jocelyn have volunteered their time to lead lectures at the beginning of each class and used their fantastic network to recruit some top-notch speakers!  I can’t thank them enough for their dedication to making this class happen.

I look forward to seeing you in class!

-Roxanne Miller

GIH Co-Chair


A tale about going to Tanzania

May 6, 2008

Today’s SF Chronicle had a fantastic article about a doctor’s life-changing trip to Tanzania in today’s paper.

The story of this doctor is relevant as many of us prepare to do work in developing countries this summer. I am looking forward to hearing how these trips and experiences change our lives, just as they changed the life of this family.

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Paul Farmer on 60 Minutes

May 4, 2008

60 Minutes did a great piece on Paul Farmer this evening. Very inspiring about his work with Parnters in Health in Haiti. It’s a must see.