Bolsa_FamiliaMore than a decade ago, in Brazil, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva spearheaded a national social welfare program as a part of his network of federal assistance. Bolsa Familia was born in 2003 as a poverty reduction initiative that relied on conditional cash transfers in a country where income inequality has persisted for decades.

Since that time, Bolsa Familia has blossomed into one of the largest programs of its kind, with close to 14 million Brazilian families receiving funds.

In 2001, Brazil’s Gini coefficient, a tool used to measure inequality, hovered at around 0.6, which is particularly high for global standards. On the Gini coefficient scale, the closer the number is to 0 the better, “0” denotes perfect equality whereas “1” represents perfect inequality where one individual owns all the wealth.

However, between 2001 and 2013 the measure declined, thanks in part to Bolsa Familia and other poverty reduction programs.

Bolsa Familia targets families below the poverty line and creates stipulations for receiving funds meant to increase human capital. For instance, children under the age of 17 must regularly attend school and mothers need to ensure their children are vaccinated.

According to a 2010 analysis of polling data and media coverage by the World Bank, the strict conditions for government assistance legitimized Bolsa Família with Brazilian voters and generated widespread support on both ends of the political spectrum.

The program has also been lauded for being highly affordable. “The amount spent on Bolsa Família is nothing,” Yoshiaki Nakano, the director of the São Paulo School of Economics, said in an interview with Foreign Affairs. As one of the world’s largest poverty reduction programs, Bolsa Familia costs Brazilian taxpayers less than 0.5 percent of the country’s $2.3 trillion GDP.

Bolsa Familia was structured to benefit not only those living in extreme poverty, but all Brazilians.

President Lula explained the benefits to Foreign Affairs when he first introduced Bolsa Familia, “When millions can go to the supermarket to buy milk, to buy bread, the economy will work better,” he said. “The miserable will become consumers.”

Daniel Liddicoet

Sources: World Bank 1, Estadao, World Bank 2, Foreign Affairs
Picture: Google Images

The end to extreme poverty will not occur solely as a result of charities, businesses or governments. Defeating extreme poverty entails changing the rules, systems and structures that are designed to keep people poor. Change must occur through a country’s specific policies and practices that contribute to keeping people in extreme poverty.

Countries should ensure that governments, businesses and individuals act to establish alignment in the vested interests of the world’s poor. If executed progressively and strategically, such systems, structures, policies and processes can make a change. Five countries have made a boisterous and public commitment to ending poverty – Brazil, Colombia, Malawi, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Brazil – The Bolsa Familia Program

Efforts to end extreme poverty in Brazil originated from Bolsa Familia. The program directly transfers cash to pre-designated households deemed impoverished. The decisions about allocation are based on assessments of the depth of poverty rather than household composition. Over 45 million people are currently enrolled in the program. As a direct result of Bolsa Familia, the number of those living in extreme poverty in Brazil has dropped from 20.4 million to 11.9 million.

Colombia – Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative

In 2010, Colombia created a poverty reduction plan and multidimensional solution to address poverty. Their national development plan has three pillars: employment, poverty reduction and security. Due to a lack of successful poverty reduction results by the original program, adoption of a new poverty reduction strategy called the GOC occurred. According to the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, the strategy outlines the poverty index designed to monitor and measure different indicators of multidimensional poverty. This initiative will reflect the multiple deprivations that people suffer by identifying disparities across health, education and living standards. It will indicate the number of people who are poor on a multidimensional level and assist in allocating funds and determining efforts to eliminate extreme poverty.

Malawi – Malawi Growth and Development Strategy and the Farm Input Subsidy Programme

In 2002, the Malawian government launched the Malawi Poverty Reduction Strategy (MPRS), which had the express purpose of achieving “sustainable poverty reduction through empowerment of the poor.” In 2005, the MPRS was reorganized as the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS). Currently, the MGDS comprises the overarching policy framework for social and economic development to reduce extreme poverty. In 2005, the Farm Input Subsidy Programme was introduced as a measure to increase agricultural production. In an effort to ensure food security, the government provides subsidized agricultural inputs to farmers with smaller land holdings. This has matured into agricultural policy. An estimated 50 percent of the Ministry of Agriculture’s budget is spent on methods to reduce expenditures of research and extension. The subsidy program is now a firmly established pillar of Malawian agricultural policy.

The United Kingdom – The Department for International Development

In the United Kingdom, The Department for International Development (DFID) leads national efforts to end extreme poverty. Their primary areas of focus are creating jobs, empowering girls and women and saving lives. The DFID honors the international commitments and purpose to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Their objectives are achieved through the effective improvement of governmental transparency, openness and value of money and policy development on economic growth and wealth creation.

The United States – USAID

In the United States, the USAID is the leading agency that works to end extreme global poverty. Their philosophy suggests an interconnected world in which instability anywhere around the world can impact us domestically. Thus, the focus is on military collaboration in active conflicts, efforts to stabilize countries and the building of responsive local governance. Essentially, the main objective is to utilize the transition period between conflict and long-term development by investing in agriculture, health systems and democratic institutions.

In order to end global extreme poverty, we must invest in common solutions. If all countries make the pledge commitment to end 0.7 percent of poverty, we can end extreme poverty by 2030.

– Erika Wright

Sources: Global Citizen, Global Humanitarian Assistance, Global Poverty Project, UK GOV Rural Poverty Portal, World Bank USAID
Photo: The Atlantic

Brazil Swamped in Garbage
Brazil’s metropolis, Recife, is often associated with mystical bridges, vibrant entertainment and picturesque beaches. The splendor of this tourist hub, however, has recently been blighted, when in November the Jornal do Commercio released a photo of a nine-year-old boy swimming in a garbage-filled canal beneath one of the most famous bridges. What’s more, he was picking cans out of the contaminated water so that he could sell them.

Although Brazil has the ninth largest economy in the world, it is fraught with extreme economic disparity. Half of the country’s income is enjoyed by a meager 10 percent of the population, while the poorest 10 percent receive less than one percent.

Half of the country’s 60 million children live in poverty.

The photo of nine-year-old Paulo Henrique exposes this grim reality. According to government accounts, in Recife alone nearly 65,000 children live in the slums in the Arruda and Campina Barreto neighborhoods on the city’s north side. And a good majority of them are making their fortunes by wading through waste.

In reaction to the photo, the Brazilian government promised to provide welfare for Paulo, his mother and his five siblings. As a more all-encompassing response to the issue of poverty, the country created the first global center for poverty reduction in March. Mundo Sem Pobreze (World Without Poverty), will become a market of ideas and experiences in applying programs to benefit the most disadvantaged citizens.

The inspiration behind Mundo Sem Pobreze came from Bolsa Familia, the most successful Brazilian program in history. In just one decade since its advent, the program has managed to reduce poverty by half in Brazil, 50 million people of which were low-income Brazilians.

Though the photo of Paulo is saddening and morose, it has opened up a national conversation in efforts to address the issue of poverty. Photos can often have a profound impact on society; historically, they have served as galvanizers of radical change. During the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, the iconic photo of a young African American man being attacked by a police dog in Birmingham, Alabama pushed the U.S Government to finally intervene after decades of discrimination and violence.

Photos have the capacity to reach an entire nation, even an entire world. The photo of Brazil swamped in garbage has created a dialogue that will hopefully set the pace for a united national movement to eradicate extreme poverty.

– Samantha Scheetz

Sources: Save The Children, Vice, World Bank
Photo: VICE

economic Inequality
As the curtain of the World Cup comes down, the fever and enthusiasm for soccer are going to be put aside for a while. In addition to hosting a seemingly successful World Cup, Brazil is facing numerous social issues such as economic inequality.

Brazil has one of the highest Gini Coefficients, which indicates how unequal the nation’s social distribution is. The richest 10 percent of population is controlling 42.7 percent of the wealth, while the poorest 34 percent own only 1.2 percent. According to the figures of IBGE (Brazil’s government statistics bureau), approximately 16.2 million people (8.5 percent of the country’s population) live under around $1.30 per day.

The disparities are too obvious to ignore. People can feel the inequality right away by standing in front of the expensive beachfront apartments, with favelas (a Portuguese term for a slum) next to these displays of wealth. “Paradise for the rich” has become one of the nicknames for Brazil. To eradicate this social problem, the government has come out with the Brazil Without Misery program.

The central part of the program is the Bolsa Familia cash transfer program started in 2003, which gives low-income families cash from $15 to $95 per month according to per capita income. In return, the families promise to send their children to local schools.

The second step of the program is to put more people under the protection of healthcare and the benefits of public infrastructure. Third, the Busca Activa (or “active search”) aims to help the poorest who are isolated due to geological reasons or lack of information. The Busca Activa has registered 678,000 families who were previously unnoticed.

The Brazil Without Misery program aims to eradicate poverty by 2014. It is the middle of July, but there are still millions of people remaining homeless, living in slums and under the poverty line. Problems such as corruption still riddle the country.

In 2013, Pope Francis visited the slums in Brazil, scolding the rich and corrupted who put themselves before the people. Just like he said, a “culture of solidarity” should replace “selfishness and individualism.” Clearly, there is still a long road ahead if Brazil is to solve its issues of inequality.

Jing Xu

Sources: Chaurahha, Reuters, The Rio Times
Photo: Insight Guides

Brazil has created an anti-poverty program, Bolsa Familia “Family Grant,” which gives cash money to mostly women. Since its implementation in 2003, around 11 million families, a quarter of Brazil’s population, have joined the Bolsa Familia program. This program is the largest of its kind and is based on a conditional cash transfer.

If a family earns less than 120 reais ($68) per family member each month, the mothers are given debit cards and up to 95 reais ($35 to $70) each month by the federal government. As part of the program, their children are required to attend school and receive vaccinations. If a family does not meet these conditions, their payments are suspended after several warnings.

Similarly, microfinance programs in Brazil give women loans to empower them and alleviate poverty. Although evidence from several studies supports the idea that microfinance empowers women, these microfinance programs have not succeeded due to their reinforcement of “informality of labor and the creation and persistence of gendered discourse that places greater burden on women.” The microfinance loans, despite the programs’ positive intentions, may place women under greater stress. Instead of pursuing activities that may benefit themselves and their families, these women can become trapped by the programs, and become less independent as a result.

The microfinance programs give loans and credit to primarily women because they believe that females are more reliable than men, and that they will use the money on food, education and family; women will not squander the money on alcohol, drugs and gambling.

However, are women truly more reliable than men? Although researchers argue that women repay loans faster and save more money than men do, this may be due to popular perceptions of the female gender. Women are believed to be more honest, sensitive, caring and nurturing due to their gender and traditional female roles of childrearing and domestic chores.

There are two main concerns about the program. First, corruption and fraud could prevent beneficiaries from receiving 100% of the money. Local officials could also report inaccurate information on eligibility to receive kickbacks. Second, these programs are meant to be a “temporary boost” to aid the poorest families in Brazil. Critics worry that it could turn into a permanent program upon which many families will remain dependent.

While the microfinance programs have failed, Bolsa Familia has seen early success. The program has reduced income inequality across the country, encouraged the growth of small businesses and increased the rate of economic growth. The cash money allows women to be more financially independent from their husbands and to have a larger decision making role in the household. After 10 years of the Bolsa Familia program, researchers have found that the program is empowering women and changing traditional gender roles in Brazil.

– Sarah Yan

Sources: Deseret News National, Economist, Prospect Journal
Photo: Keck Journal

For decades, Brazil has been considered an underdeveloped nation with inequality, crime and dirty slums. Yet Bolsa-Familia, the country’s largest welfare program, has in recent years transformed Brazil’s poverty predicament for the better. Launched in 2003 by former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the program has benefited almost 50 million Brazilians and become a guide for numerous similar programs worldwide.

According to the World Bank, Bolsa-Familia is a primary reason for Brazil’s most contemporary social improvements. On the condition of sending their children to school and to regular medical exams, underprivileged Brazilian families receive an equivalent of about $35 each month withdrawn from a state-run bank by each family’s mother. Not only does this promote investment in children, it also empowers women to take financial responsibility for their households.

Bolsa-Familia is responsible for about 28% of Brazil’s poverty reduction. In the decade between 2002 and 2012, the proportion of Brazilians living with less than the $32 equivalent decreased from 8.8% to 3.6%.

Yet even with such extreme improvement in the lives of Brazilians, there is still more work to be done. When asked what they like to do for fun, a shocking 85% of Brazilians answered, “watch television.”

In an innovative effort to develop cultural expansion within the country, Brazil has developed a program known in Portuguese as Vale Cultura. The program constitutes a rechargeable coupon worth around $20 per month, available to Brazilians who make at most $300 per month.

While some may argue that both Bolsa-Familia and this new Vale Cultura program drain state funds and promote a dependency on welfare, various reports have noted otherwise. Of those on Bolsa-Familia, 12% have been able to give up the benefit, which accounts for less than 0.5% of Brazil’s gross domestic product. Such extensive success at such a low cost gives reason to believe that Vale Cultura may be an exciting opportunity with little risk.

Brazilians, according to a study conducted in Sao Paolo in 2013, on average only pick up four books per year and finish only two. The country is relatively isolated, despite its recent economic successes, and the poorest Brazilians are disproportionately underprivileged when it comes to cultural sophistication. Vale Cultura is an attempt to remedy this conundrum.

It will take time, of course, for Brazilians to develop a taste for this newly available culture. But culture minister Marta Suplicy is not disillusioned by the time it will take for this program to see success. The purpose is for people to try new things and to attain access to the cultural attractions many Brazilians previously ignored.

– Jaclyn Stutz

Photo: The Guardian
The Washington Post, The World Bank, The Guardian, BBC

A new program in São Paulo, Brazil is providing the working poor in Brazil with access to art and entertainment. This “cultural coupon” is awarded monthly and has a value of around $20. Vale Cultura, as it is known, can be used for a wide range of cultural experiences including theatre and movie tickets, books and art classes.

In an interview with the Guardian, Culture Minister Marta Suplicy said, “We want people to go to the theatre they wanted to go to, to the museum they wanted to go to, to buy the book they wanted to read.”

The goal is not only to enrich the lives of Brazil’s poor, but also to create consumers of cultural media.

The cultural coupon is only part of a larger strategy in Brazil for combating poverty known as Bolsa Família. Bolsa Família fights extreme poverty by providing poor Brazilians with monetary transfers onto a magnetic card. The program focuses on families whose monthly incomes are between $17 and $34 and supplements their income anywhere from $5 to $33 per month.

It might seem culturally adverse in the United States to consider direct monetary aid to the poor, but Bolsa Família’s results are undeniable.

According to the World Bank, “BF has been key to help Brazil more than halve its extreme poverty – from 9.7 (percent) to 4.3% of the population.” The project now aids approximately 14 million families and has put a dent in the transference of poverty from one generation to the next.

The cultural coupon seeks to build on the success of Bolsa Família by expanding the government’s ambition. Currently, the program is only available to people who earn well more than Brazil’s minimum wage, but the program looks to extend its reach to over 42 million people.

Currently, the program is extremely popular with many businesses (small and large alike) that offer Vale Cultura cards to their employees. Still, program representatives remain levelheaded with their expectations and argue that cultural participation and inclusion will be a slow process.

With that said, Brazil still faces many difficult challenges in its fight against poverty. Bolsa Família and Vale Cultura have made a substantial difference in the lives of millions of Brazilians, but their success should not mask the realities of extreme need.

The World Bank estimates that 13% of the population lives in poverty. Particularly in rural areas poverty maintains a firm hold. People in rural areas remain far from aid and are often adversely affected by deforestation and corporate monocropping.

Programs like Bolsa Família and Vale Cultura aim to strengthen the most vulnerable Brazilians.

– Chase Colton

Sources: The Guardian, The Washington Post, World Bank, World Bank News, World Bank Countries
Photo: Hanneorla Hanneorla