When the Oportunidades program began in Mexico in 1998―under the name Progresa―few could have imagined what this initiative would mean 10 years later, not only for the country, but for development theory and practice.
This pioneer in conditional cash transfers incorporated an innovative impact assessment methodology that has become not only an example of development effectiveness, but also a model for similar programs throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as in Africa and Asia.
Through its conditional cash transfers, Oportunidades presently is benefiting 25 million Mexicans, contributing to improved nutrition, health, and education. After its initial start in rural areas, the program in 2002 was expanded to urban areas while keeping impact assessment an integral part of its operations.
Throughout its more than 10 years, those who have evaluated Oportunidades have had the opportunity to study the life stories of families participating in the program and compare them with other families in similar socio-economic conditions who have not benefited from the program.
These impact assessments have revealed data that speak for themselves. For example, children participating in the program since at least six months of age grew half an inch taller than those who were not program beneficiaries.
In rural areas, Oportunidades beneficiaries were also found to have better motor skills, language acquisition, and short-term memory.
Elsewhere in Latin America and the Caribbean, many other conditional cash transfer programs similar to Oportunidades are being carried out, including in Brazil (Bolsa Familia), Ecuador (Bono de Desarrollo Humano), El Salvador (Red Solidaria), Honduras (PRAF), Jamaica (PATH), Nicaragua (Red de Protección Social), and the Dominican Republic ( Solidaridad).
These programs have proven their effectiveness in reducing poverty and ensuring a better future for generations to come.
In view of all this, it is not surprising that this week Mexico will again become the world focus for discussion in the field of impact assessment. For the first time, a Latin American country is hosting the international event Mind the Gap: From Evidence to Policy Impact, at which more than 400 development program managers, researchers, and public policy makers from around the world will gather for three days in the Mexican city of Cuernavaca to share experiences and, above all, find formulas for ensuring that these proven examples of effectiveness foster public policies that lead to more effective development.