“There are men who fight one day and they are good, men who fight one year and they are better, men who fight many years and they are really great, but there are men that fight their entire lives, those are the essentials.” – Bertolt Brecht, German Poet
The days of the traditional welfare state are numbered. With the recent economic crisis, aging and fleeing populations, growing national debts, worldwide inequality, and the need for responsible skilled citizens, governments must turn their attention to induce values of productivity on their people, thus forming these men Bertolt Brecht mentioned. Men who will not just live unrecognized, but will instead actively help themselves and their communities to grow.
Under this reciprocal scheme where the state works as a supporter that both offers and receives help, integral co-responsibility programs enable governments to provide the people with tools to grow by themselves while generating new values that lead to sustainability and poverty eradication. As a result, they receive an aggregated benefit from the work of more productive individuals in a win-win situation for both parts.
A perfect example of this kind of program is the case of “Progresa Oportunidades” in Mexico. Internationally recognized, applied in more than 30 countries, and supported by the Inter-American Development Bank, the “Progresa Oportunidades” program is described by the World Bank as the following:
“…it focuses on helping poor families in rural and urban communities invest in human capital –improving education, health, and nutrition of their children– leading to long-term improvement of their economic future and the consequent reduction of poverty in Mexico. By providing cash transfers to households (linked to regular school attendance and health clinic visits), the program also fulfills the aim of alleviating current poverty.”
With the objective of eradicating intergenerational transference of poverty via conditional monetary supplements and basic services, “Oportunidades” has engaged families by helping them to prepare for the future by using the government’s money to pay for the opportunity cost of sending their children to work. Through conditional cash transfers given to the female heads of households, it seeks to enhance gender equality, achieve a better management of home finances and most of all, take care of the education and health of children who will later be able to enter the labor market if they are sufficiently prepared.
But how can we be sure that the money given is indeed achieving its purpose? One of the most important characteristics of this program is that it was launched along with careful evaluations and assessments that took place from 1997-2002 by an external association known as the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). This organization measured the success of the “Oportunidades” program in terms of school enrollment, nutrition, health, and prevention of diseases in some of the poorest communities. By 2012, “Oportunidades” has continued to grow and now helps 6.5 million families all over the country.
Nevertheless, the program has been strongly criticized for providing education and help without investing in the establishment of appropriate environments to implement the newfound knowledge. This means that despite the fact of having more prepared children, it is very probable that they will continue living under poverty conditions. If there are no good jobs and specialized help to introduce them to productive activities, the government won´t be able to lower its expenses and use this labor to maintain self-sustainable communities.
To address this complaint, the government of newly elected President Enrique Peña Nieto has gotten involved in promoting a new program called the “Crusade Against Hunger”, which will try to complement the void left by “Oportunidades”. The aim of this program is to help 7.4 million Mexicans by focusing on five pillars: Zero Hunger through proper nourishment, correct children nutrition, fostering communitarian participation, reducing the post-harvest losses and most of all, increasing food production.
The combination of the two programs may indeed fill some of the voids left by the previous counter poverty strategies by helping the same people who receive the cash transferences and education to help produce their own food and incur in productive sustainable activities that lead to no more hunger. Notwithstanding, this program is still very young and it is yet to be seen whether it will be able to grow as much as “ Oportunidades”, which represents around 46.5% of Mexico’s federal annual anti-poverty budget.
This is a crucial moment for the current administration to work hard on establishing a successful program that may be superior and complementary to the now stable “Oportunidades”, but it is a fact that if the government wants it to succeed, it will have to stick to the paradigm of co-responsibility. We need to take the responsibility on both sides, generate values rather than dreams and achieve the sustainable paradigm of mutual benefits.