The success of a conditional cash transfer scheme in Mexico is inspiring imitators in other parts of the world. Launched in 1997, Oportunidades, which now benefits 25 million people in 5 million households, aims to improve health, education and nutrition to the poor by providing direct financial support on condition that they meet certain obligations, such as ensuring that their children attend school and have regular medical check-ups. The scheme withdraws the cash from those who fail to meet these obligations. Evaluations have indicated reductions in stunted growth, anaemia and other problems of early childhood, as well as higher school enrolment, especially for girls. Oportunidades has inspired similar schemes, not only in developing countries in Latin America, Asia and Africa but also in New York City, whose mayor, Michael Bloomberg, introduced a similar scheme, Opportunity NYC, last autumn. Stefano Bertozzi, from Mexico’s National Institute of Public Health, who helped design the programme, cautions that conditional cash transfers cannot work unless they are accompanied by strong supporting services, including good primary schools and health clinics. Because of their absence in parts of Mexico, 300,000 people who meet the criteria cannot participate.
Financial Times, 10 August 2008