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Brazil’s Bolsa Familia Program Celebrates Progress in Lifting Families out of Poverty

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Bolsa Familia project profile
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Brasilia, Brazil, December 19, 2005— Brazil’s flagship social program, Bolsa Familia is one of the largest of its kind in the world. Two years after its launch, it  is improving living conditions for eight million poor families throughout Brazil, and the government hopes to achieve universal coverage (around 11.2 million families) by 2006.

 “Bolsa Familia has already become a highly praised model of effective social policy," said World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz. “Countries around the world are drawing lessons from Brazil’s experience and are trying to produce the same results for their own people."

Brazil President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva launched the Bolsa Familia Program (BFP) in October, 2003 as his government’s flagship social program. Like other “conditional cash transfers" (CCTs) in the region, the program seeks to help:
  1. reduce current poverty and inequality, by providing a minimum level of income for poor families; and
  2. break the inter-generational transmission of poverty by conditioning these transfers on compliance with key human development objectives, such as school attendance and health visits

The BFP consolidates four pre-existing CCTs previously operated by separate ministries, and thus serves as a “unifying force" for social policy in Brazil, spanning social assistance, education, and health.

While the Ministry of Social Development manages the program, beneficiary payments are made through the banking system and many aspects of the program’s implementation are decentralized to Brazil’s 5,561 municipalities.

The implications of Bolsa Familia stretch well beyond Brazil’s borders. As Mr. Wolfowitz noted, countries around the world are benefiting from Brazil’s experience in this regard – and trying to emulate it.

“The efforts of Brazil and of the Bolsa Familia Program provide clear leadership in the global fight against poverty and hunger,'" said Pamela Cox, World Bank Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean.

The Work of the World Bank

The World Bank has engaged in a long-standing partnership with the Government of Brazil from initial inception of the BFP, through design and launching, to implementation.  This support includes analytic and advisory assistance, and technical and financial partnering under a $572.2 million loan. 

The loan is designed to include built-in results mechanisms (“milestones") which link disbursements to programmatic and technical improvements in the program.  Thus, even though the Bank’s financing represents less than 10% of the total BFP budget, Bank support is helping to strengthen the overall quality of the program.

Although the Bolsa Familia Program is still young – with an impact evaluation survey underway – some results are already apparent:

  • Efficiency gains, in terms of reduced federal administrative costs due to the consolidation of four programs into one;
  • Positive impacts on local economies, with the transfers generating local economic activities (particularly in smaller, poorer localities);
  • Good targeting, with the majority of benefits going to the extreme poor; and
  • Improvements in school attendance.

Improvements in food consumption, diet quality and child growth have also been measured.

“Bolsa Familia is having a positive impact and, to date, there is no quantitative evidence to show that it is creating dependency among beneficiary families," commented Kathy Lindert, team leader for the Bolsa Familia project. 

She identified several challenges for the future, including continuing to strengthen Bolsa Familia’s systems for targeting, monitoring, and evaluation; ensuring the program does not operate as a “successful but isolated island" by complementing it with investments in education, health and infrastructure services; and helping families to graduate from the program.

“The program is still expanding to meet the goal of 11.2 million poor families by the end of the year," noted Cox.  “The continuity of this program during future administrations in Brazil is of the utmost importance."

* An earlier version of this story was originally published October 28, 2005

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