In 1997, Mexico launched a radical new program to combat poverty. Initially named Progresa and now known as Oportunidades, the revolutionary program has become an important example of a sustainable and scalable poverty reduction strategy in the developing world. In Progress against Poverty, Santiago Levy--the main architect of Progresa-Oportunidades--offers his unique perspective on the development of the program, the reasons for its success, the challenges it faces, and its applicability in other nations.
Progresa-Oportunidades was pioneering in its approach. It dispenses money directly to poor households--a change from the traditional method of providing subsidized necessities through intermediaries. However, those cash transfers are conditioned on specific patterns of behavior--recipients must invest in their own nutrition, health, and education. Also, Progresa-Oportunidades was designed to have a widespread, measurable, and sustained impact on various indicators of poverty. It is ambitious in scale, with a national rather than local focus, and its progress is measured through comprehensive evaluation of program operations and results.
Scholarly evaluations of Progresa-Oportunidades have been overwhelmingly positive, and it has inspired similar strategies in numerous developing nations. In addition to discussing micro- and macroeconomic dimensions of the program, Levy reveals the factors that have contributed to its sustainability, as well as the public information mechanisms supporting its implementation and the role of the evaluation process. He identifies the future challenges the program faces, such as making its incentives compatible with those of other social programs, and discusses its transferability to other countries.