The Reach Project is an initiative by the Munk School of Global Affairs and the MasterCard Center focused on researching the delivery of social services in the hardest to reach populations in the global south.

Chamber of Commerce Brazil-Canada

Chamber of Commerce Brazil-Canada

This blog was originally published in December 2015 by Ariel Sim, a researcher for the Bolsa Familia Project. You can read more from her at her blog here.


Lesson: Research is circular, always more to learn. For now, I'm happy for the teachable moments. I'm pleased by variations on simplicity. 

A poster describing Bolsa Familia messages for beneficiaries: "When you go to withdraw, get important information about your benefits."  (Photo Credit: A Sim)

A poster describing Bolsa Familia messages for beneficiaries: "When you go to withdraw, get important information about your benefits."  (Photo Credit: A Sim)

I'm understanding my design aesthetic more. It seems (for me) an attraction to some words over others. I like simple frames, simple words. I like big (inhuman) systems explained in (very) human behavior. If we understand a system as a series of human actions and reactions, progress is all about teachable moments. Here, I'm pulling from Leerom Segal's book Decoded Company. Check it out, but also look at his TED Talk about How Technology Eats Bureaucracy. But, why would I send you to sites about company management strategies on a blog about social policy? The answer: basic human behavior is the same no matter the organizational structure. And, I can now confirm that Bolsa Familia's design concepts of simplicity and personalization are not only part of its success, but in deep agreement with management and service design on the private side of things.  

In his book and his talk, Leerom Segal talks about how we need to change the way we manage people. That the most efficient way to change people's behavior is to deliver them information exactly at their teachable moment. For business, this means coaching employees at a specific moment of action where they may need some correction. For Bolsa Familia, it is the same. In order for participants in the program to receive their cash transfers, they have to meet education and health conditions. If they have not met those conditions, they are coached when they go to receive their monthly payment. Instead of receiving money, the Caixa ATM or Lotteria print a personalized message about how fulfill their commitment to receive the benefit (i.e., go to the clinic for a check-up; fix education attendance records). It's a small thing, but it's impactful. I believe the messages infuse the value of education and health into daily conversations. They promote participation among all Brazilian citizens in the social safety net. Incremental changes in attitude and incremental changes in behavior. 

Today we visited the Chamber of Commerce Brazil-Canada to present our findings to Stéphane Larue (Canadian Consul General), Paulo de Castro Reis (Director of Institutional Relations at CCBC), Wanja Campos Da Nobrega (Brazilian Ambassador to Bangladesh), and more. We were very honoured to offer our insights on the Bolsa Familia program, impressions of the social protection ecosystem in Brazil, and the role of markets for technology. In stepping away from the nuts and bolts of the program, the frontline implementors and champions of the program, and repacking our message for a highly expert but generalized audience, this was also our teachable moment. We got to talk about larger implications of the program in Brazil, broad perspectives of the program, and learnings for Canada. In a way, we reversed the zoom on our lens and took a big step back to see the big picture again. 

The lesson? It's working. It's a simple, cheap program, it's contextualized. Because of it's place within a larger social benefits ecosystem, we're unsure if it can be replicated abroad. And we're unsure where it is going in Brazil. But for now, we know that it serves people well and the intergenerational poverty gap is made smaller by this program.

I, for one, am entirely convinced of its value. 


Photo Credit: A Sim

Touchdown South Africa

Touchdown South Africa

Municipality of Dias D'Avila

Municipality of Dias D'Avila