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Brazil’s Contribution to a World Free of Poverty

Jim Yong Kim

Valor Economico

March 24, 2014

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In medicine, knowing the best treatment is not enough to secure the health of a patient. We may have proof of its efficacy and know its relative cost and the best way to administer it. But if we can’t deliver it due to poor service, the healthcare system has failed.

The same can be said of public policy. There are vast amounts of research and data to support various policies and programs. But even the best conceived program will never come to fruition because of setbacks during implementation.

This implementation challenge is well understood by the countries the World Bank Group works with as well as by our staff. We’ve seen countless ideas to address poverty and inequality unable to live up to their promise for lack of ability to execute. 

We are trying to remedy this situation. Today, we are making a strong push toward systematically capturing and sharing knowledge about project implementation. To that end, we are working with selected countries to establish “Science of Delivery Hubs.”

Brazil is spearheading a key part of this effort, through the Brazil Learning Initiative for a World Without Poverty (WWP), a partnership between the World Bank, Brazil’s Ministry of Social Development and Fight against Hunger, the Institute for Applied Economic Research, and the UNDP International Policy Center for Inclusive Growth.

This week, high level representatives from 70 countries from around the globe have had the opportunity to learn from Brazil's experience and interact with Brazilian policy makers at the South-South Learning Forum on Social Protection and Labor Systems in Rio de Janeiro, where World Without Poverty will be launched.

When it comes to success stories, Brazil is an obvious champion. Between 2001 and 2011, extreme poverty more than halved – from 9.7 to 4.3 percent of the population. A total of 22 million people – more than the population of Angola or Romania -- were lifted out of poverty. Moreover, in contrast to many middle income countries, inequality fell over the same period. These impressive achievements were due to more than just a growing economy and a dynamic labor market. They owe a lot to Brazil’s pioneering design and implementation of innovative social programs, with Bolsa Família being the most prominent example.

Bolsa Família was one of the first conditional cash transfers programs. It built on prior cash transfer programs with conditions at state level as well as Mexico's integrated approach to poverty reduction and human capital development under the PROGRESA program. Since its inception, Bolsa Família has become a reference point for social policy around the world. Reaching, in 10 years, a quarter of the population – over 50 million people – the program has achieved positive impacts on health and education, all in a complex, decentralized context and with low administrative costs.

The success of Bolsa Família is the result of systematic investment in implementation capacity, effective management tools, and a constant process of learning and innovation. There is a lot to learn from this and from the follow up experience of Brasil sem Miséria, which focuses on training and credit, access to public services, and an “active search” (Busca Ativa) for poor citizens not yet reached by Bolsa Família. Many states and municipalities are boosting the federal efforts by establishing complementary programs customized for their particular contexts, developing solutions to long-standing implementation problems. Brazil’s bold and inspiring goal to do away with extreme poverty, which still affects some 16 million, seems well in reach.

All this justifiably draws enormous international interest. Bolsa Família has already helped inspire the development of similar programs or management tools in many countries, including Kenya, Tanzania and the Philippines. At the same time, Brazil can benefit from systematic learning from local and international innovations. There is a significant amount of knowledge generation and exchange taking place already. However, World Without Poverty  is based on the idea that we can do better.

Drawing on the perspectives and strengths of its partners, World Without Poverty will support and stimulate a rigorous approach to capture knowledge about the implementation and results of social programs, and promote knowledge exchange both nationally and internationally. The initiative has already brought together expertise from Latin America and Africa and is sharing knowledge about social policy in Brazil, which will be actively used to help other countries   adapt and benefit from Brazil’s experiences.

I am convinced that we can accelerate progress in the fight against poverty and  social equity by drawing on the vast experience and knowledge that already exists around the world. Making this happen is not going to be easy, but Brazil is showing the way.


Dr. Jim Yong Kim is President of the World Bank Group. More information can be found on World without Poverty at www.wwp.org.br.