Op-Ed
D. Brent Hardt
Charge d'Affairs to Barbados
Caribbean Analysis
Bridgetown, Barbados
October 13, 2009


Fighting poverty and inequality is a priority for governments throughout the Western Hemisphere. We are committed to lifting people out of poverty and moving them from the informal to the formal economy. On September 22 at a conference in New York, leaders from the Western Hemisphere gathered to showcase what works, share best practices, and establish a network to help national, regional, and municipal governments find expert advice on design, implementation, and evaluation of social protection programs. In New York, United States Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton joined Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, ministers of social development, non-governmental organizations, and private sector representatives together with the leaders of the Organization of American States, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean in launching the Inter-American Social Protection Network.

Social protection consists of all those interventions that seek to enable poor and vulnerable households to better manage risk, benefit from economic growth, and move out of poverty. Every country in this hemisphere, including the United States, has searched for ways to combat poverty and inequality. At the Fifth Summit of the Americas in April the presidents and prime ministers committed to establish this Network in order to help poor families compete in the global economy.

Many countries have implemented conditional cash transfer programs, an innovative concept pioneered in Brazil and Mexico. While the details vary from country to country, many governments provide a small monthly cash stipend to mothers if they ensure that their children stay in school and receive regular medical examinations. It is a simple idea linking responsibility with opportunity. Conditional cash transfer programs have a track record of success. According to the World Bank, conditional cash transfer programs have reduced national poverty rates by 8 percent in Ecuador and Mexico, nearly 5 percent in Jamaica, and 3 percent in Brazil. Other positive results include higher school attendance rates, lower incidence of disease, higher birth weights, and improved child nutrition. These programs, if well designed and tailored to meet the realities of each country, can help produce better-educated, healthier citizens. But as Secretary Clinton noted, they are not a “silver bullet” that will eliminate poverty. They are one tool that policy makers can use to help reduce poverty by investing in people.

There is much we can learn from one another. My country is a case in point. Mayor Bloomberg explained how he went to Mexico in 2007 to learn about Oportunidades and liked it so well that he not only used it as the basis for a pilot program in New York City, but adopted the name when he launched Opportunity New York City. President Bachelet explained how Chile is helping a number of Caribbean countries in the design of their social protection programs. There are many other innovative programs at the national, provincial and municipal levels that can also serve as models.

The United States is committed to working with our colleagues to make the Inter-American Social Protection Network a mechanism to which we all contribute and from which we all benefit. This effort is about helping democratic governments deliver the benefits of good governance to their citizens and enabling those citizens to take responsibility for their own futures. As Secretary Clinton said, "It isn't charity; it's an investment."