Senior Brazilian policymaker outlines challenges of social technology transfer

16 November 2010

The challenges faces by Brazil as it develops into a major south-south donor were highlighted when Rômulo Paes de Sousa, the Deputy Minister at the Ministry of Social Development and Fight against Hunger in Brazil, delivered the inaugural seminar of IDS's new programme of work on Brazil's emerging international role.

Dr Paes de Sousa presented the experiences of the Brazilian government in its efforts to develop technical cooperation with African countries, and in particular efforts to transfer "social technologies" such as the highly successful Bolsa Familia conditional cash transfer programme.

Bolsa Familia

The Bolsa Familia social protection programme has contributed significantly to the reduction of poverty in Brazil and is of interest to a number of countries looking to establish their own successful national social protection programmes.

Under the programme, Brazil's poverty index fell from 42.7 per cent to 28.8 per cent, with extreme poverty falling from 12 per cent to 4.8 per cent. Inequality also fell, with the GINI coefficient dropping from 0.581 to 0.544.

In the seminar, which was co-hosted with the IDS Centre for Social Protection, Dr Paes de Sousa said that if such south-south learning is to be effective it is important to understand the differences between donor and recipient countries. These include differences in:

  • Institutional apparatus
  • Budgetary availability
  • Public service infrastructure

He said that complex service delivery initiatives, for example in health and education, present an even greater challenge than a cash-based programme such as Bolsa Familia, requiring commitment and resources to train staff, provide facilities, and ensure standards and quality control.

As Brazil continues to develop and strengthen its cooperation with African countries, he added that structures and systems needed to be improved. Many questions remained, including: What institutional structures and arrangements would optimise cooperation? Are existing bilateral arrangements effective? Would new multilateral arrangements be more effective?

IDS Brazil programme

Dr Paes de Sousa was invited to speak at IDS by the Institute's new Brazil programme, which will bring together researchers from several departments at IDS who have worked on different areas of policy in Brazil.

IDS Fellow Alex Shankland said: 'The new programme, which is linked to the Sussex Brazil Group that we are also helping to set up, is a way for IDS to recognise the growing international importance of Brazil, matching the similar group that we already have for people working on China.

'Brazilian social policy innovations such as Bolsa Família are a key area of interest, particularly because of their potential relevance to African countries as well as to other emerging powers such as China and India, but also because in some cases we believe that they contain useful lessons for the United Kingdom as well. For example, several UK cities have already experimented with participatory budgeting, and the National Health Service could learn a lot from the experience of Brazil's Unified Health System (SUS) with service user participation and citizen oversight.'