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from North to South to South to South

November 16, 2010


IDS hosted a very  interesting seminar yesterday by Romulo Paes de Sousa, Brazil’s Vice Minister of Social Development and Fight against Hunger. It brought together the areas of development and social policy with the Vice Minister reflecting upon Brazil new emerging role as world player. The country has shifted from being a receiver of aid money to becoming a donor itself and taking a more outward look on the world. Furthermore, it is home to one of the most widely acclaimed social policies, being Bolsa Familia. As a result, Brazil has become the place to go for other developing countries, especially Africa, to learn about successfully implementing a large-scale and government-owned social protection policy. And the Ministry of of Social Development is somewhat struggling with that new role in the process of South to South learning because how do you transfer social technology in terms of social policy from one place to another? Is it even possible to learn from a programme that has strong government leadership, local buy-in and operates in a quite technically sophisticated manner for the development of social policy in, say, a middle-sized African country that is highly dependent on aid, has weak (central and local) government structures and lacks basic infrastructure? The Vice Minister did not provide concrete answers in yesterday’s seminar. He emphasized the importance of country context and the danger of just copy-pasting from one country to the next but did not point towards specific elements that could serve as important lessons learned apart from strong leadership, commitment and local ownership. But then again, it is not an easy question to answer. 

The issue of how to learn from policies and programmes in one country or context and apply those lessons learned in another context is something that we struggle with in our work at IDS on a regular basis. I am currently leading a project in the Eastern and Southern African region on social protection initiatives for children and AIDS. It is a regional project but we will be looking at country-level efforts and programmes. One of the objectives of this project is cross-country learning and the formulation of lessons learned at regional level and it will be a real challenge to think regionally without losing sight of context-specificity.

If you would like to have a critical insight into the the Bolsa Familia programme in Brazil, this article in the Economics (July 2010) is an interesting read.

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