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.

Ministry of Social Development, Brasilia

Ministry of Social Development, Brasilia

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.


MSD (Ministry of Social Development) and Banco do Brasil (Photo Credit: A Sim)

MSD (Ministry of Social Development) and Banco do Brasil (Photo Credit: A Sim)

Lesson: People can teach you more in one day that a book will teach you in one year. 

Nicoli DosSantos (research, left) and Nina DaNobrega Garcia (research, right) accompanied by Bolsa Familia cash withdrawal posters and payment calendar in the background (Photo Credit: A Sim)

Nicoli DosSantos (research, left) and Nina DaNobrega Garcia (research, right) accompanied by Bolsa Familia cash withdrawal posters and payment calendar in the background (Photo Credit: A Sim)

First day of 'real' research and after 8 hours of non-stop sessions with the experts at the Ministry of Social Development in Brasilia, we've learned more in one day than we learned in one year of preparation. Hard to summarize the range of conversations we had, but I'll highlight some of the design origins of Bolsa Familia and visions on how to adapt the current technologies and social programming to reach 'the unreachaable'. 

The beneficiaries of the Bolsa Familia program are considered 'passive,' in the sense that they do not actively manage their personal account electronically. Instead, beneficiaries present themselves at Cadastro Unico to register for Bolsa Familia (and other programs). Once they register and receive their card, they go to either Caixa bank (1000 outlets) or Lotterias (5000 outlets) to access their monthly cash transfers. When they would like to make changes to their accounts, they again visit the Cadastro Unico in person or sometimes call on the phone. On the other hand, government personnel at the federal, state and local levels use a highly centralized online software to manage Bolsa Familia records. On this platform, government personnel can look up accounts, see the number of beneficiaries in a single family unit, see the various conditionalities attached to the beneficiaries, update important information like school attendance records and receive notifications when accounts require follow up. Currently about 85% of human resources for the management of BFP are put towards updating current accounts, and 15% put toward inclusion of new beneficiaries, called active search. 

A true meeting of the minds between Dr. Joe Wong (Ralph and Roz Halbert Professor of Innovation and Canada Research Chair, left) and Secretary Helmut Schwarzer (Brazil's National Secretary of Citizenship Income). 

A true meeting of the minds between Dr. Joe Wong (Ralph and Roz Halbert Professor of Innovation and Canada Research Chair, left) and Secretary Helmut Schwarzer (Brazil's National Secretary of Citizenship Income). (Photo Credit: A Sim)

A true meeting of the minds between Dr. Joe Wong (Ralph and Roz Halbert Professor of Innovation and Canada Research Chair, left) and Secretary Helmut Schwarzer (Brazil's National Secretary of Citizenship Income). (Photo Credit: A Sim)

One idea is to make an electronic records system where Bolsa Familia beneficiaries could update and manage their own information. This could offer time and cost savings and free up resources to register poor families in the most remote areas of the country (for example, people living in rural areas of the Amazon in the North). This could move the 85/15 ratio of management/inclusion closer to parity.

When asked about other innovations in the program's delivery of the transfers to its participants, the conversation ranged from a Caixa boat to the new Caixa mobile app. The Caixa boat was a mixed success - because of the weight of the security equipment that federal regulation requires, the boat is so large that it cannot navigate smaller rivers. The mobile app is only a couple months old and geared towards beneficiaries. We will see what type of impact it has on record keeping and communication. 

One key takeaway is that in order for Bolsa Familia to be 'universal' - reaching all parts of the Brazilian population equally - it may need to take on different delivery strategies for exceptionally at-risk or remote groups. Personalization for universal access. It is a beautiful UX concept that reflects commercial design - we have to build out all potential use cases to build in the various customization options of a product. The same type of personalization is needed for people in urban and rural areas to benefit equally from social programs. 


Photo Credit: A Sim

Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA) & Canadian Embassy, Brasilia

Institute for Applied Economic Research (IPEA) & Canadian Embassy, Brasilia

From The Airport

From The Airport