Making safety nets available across the developing world is one of the World Bank’s key themes and was discussed at the 2012 Spring Meetings held in April in Washington D.C. Among many country examples, the Philippines has embraced a unique approach with promising results, and Secretary of Social Welfare and Development “Dinky” Soliman was in town to share the Philippine experience.
In 2008, the food, fuel and global financial crises prompted the Philippine government to expand a conditional cash transfer program, Pantawid Pamilya, with the support of the World Bank and other partners. The program targets chronically poor households with children ages 0-14 living in poor areas. Households that qualify receive cash in return for sending children to school, regularly visiting health centers and for undertaking preventive check-ups for pregnant women.
I was pleased to hear Secretary Soliman report that in little over three years, 3 million of the 5.2 million families identified as poor are benefitting from the program, with 6.5 million children across the archipelago receiving help. In areas where the program has been implemented, school dropouts have decreased; health visits for immunization have increased; and food consumption has improved. A simulation by the Bank and AusAID forecasts that poverty incidence among beneficiaries will be reduced by 6.2 percent under the program.
Conditional cash transfer programs such as this are an effective form of social assistance that was spearheaded by countries in Latin America including Brazil and Mexico. In my former role as the Bank’s Vice President for Latin America and Caribbean, I saw for myself how a well-targeted cash transfer program can make all the difference in helping people cope with economic shocks or other crises, costing as little as half a percent of GDP in Brazil and Mexico. These programs have now spread to over 40 countries, tailored to meet local circumstances with ongoing efforts to improve design for greater effectiveness and efficiency.