Social Policy programs

After more than 15 years, conditional cash transfer (CCT) programs have become the backbone of targeted social policies in Latin America. In fact, more than 100 million Latin Americans live in households on the receiving end of these programs. There is general agreement about the benefits of CCTs and their success in improving the health and education of children in families that participate. But CCTs do not go far enough to bring about the significant changes needed if we are really serious about overcoming extreme poverty. For that reason, we must innovate and create programs that maintain the progress that transfer programs have achieved while allowing recipients to find reliable pathways that move them out of poverty and into sustainable livelihoods.

Although some maintain that CCT plans could include the goal of overcoming poverty, I believe the way forward is to complement this approach with additional programs that target the extreme poor. I use the term “graduation programs” to refer to initiatives that enable poor families to move along development paths that allow them to increase their well-being over time by using sustainable income-generating strategies.

In Latin America and elsewhere, there are interesting examples of programs that have demonstrated that extremely poor households can develop skills and implement plans that later translate into income-generating activities. Some of these programs, developed under strict evaluation processes, combine different interventions that are sequenced for maximum impact. The 10 CGAP-Ford Foundation Graduation Pilot projects, based on the BRAC model in Bangladesh, use this approach. One of the main challenges for targeted social policies, therefore, is to incorporate the positive experiences of these private initiatives and transform them into public-sector interventions.

Photo Credit: Michael RIzzo

Two topics merit discussion:

  • The benefits and tensions around the possible linkage of social policies, mainly CCTs, with development policies that can better facilitate movement to a sustainable self-generating income path; and
  • The constraints or bottlenecks that make it difficult for pilots of graduation programs, whether alone or linked with social policies, to be scaled up and incorporated into countries’ public policies.

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