Finally, the overwhelmingly nebulous assignment that I was given here at the Brazilian Ministry of Social Development has coalesced into two concrete deliverables which I presented to the team last week.
The first product is a 31-page analysis of what makes Brazil’s model of South-South Cooperation unique, how it works in theory and practice, what the academic literature has to say about its motives and effectiveness, and my own recommendations to address what I see as the three principal and persistent problems. It is essentially a mini-thesis that I never intended to write, but after reading everything I could about the subject, and interviewing officials from over ten government agencies, I suppose this was a useful way to connect everything I learned and document it in one place. I hope it will be useful in some way; my boss thinks it will be instructive for the team and for members of partner agencies to read an outsider’s perspective of the system, with a critique and related recommendations that have benefited from a close-up view but are not constrained by internal politics. That may be the case, but whether anyone actually reads it, I will probably never know.
The second product is more relevant to the team I joined for the summer: the International Office of the Ministry of Social Development, which is responsible for receiving foreign delegations and hosting international seminars to share Brazilian experiences in social assistance and poverty reduction programs so that interested governments may adapt them to their own countries. Although I think this mission is of value both for the dissemination of important knowledge and for Brazil’s foreign policy goals, the team and the Ministry at large have no mechanism in place to track what happens after these visits and seminars – no way to track whether foreign governments implement programs inspired by Brazil’s, no way to follow up on what causes or impedes success in those countries, no way to learn from the experiences of others, and no way to evaluate the impact of all of these efforts. To that end, I put together a proposal of what a monitoring and evaluation tool might look like, based in part by the Clinton Foundation’s model of Commitments to Action, which uses an online database updated with regular Progress Reports to hold actors accountable to what they agree to do following their participation in Global Initiative conferences. I do think that what I proposed is of value to the Ministry, and would help to facilitate more consistent, longer-term engagement with foreign partners that could simultaneously measure and validate the impact of these efforts. Nevertheless, there are a slew of hurdles that a proposal like mine has to pass before it is put into practice – this is the case in any organization, of course, but I can’t help but feel that in the Brazilian government, the obstacles to reforming a system, even in a very small way, are incredibly numerous. Given the current political environment, laced as it is with uncertainty and suspicion, I doubt that many positive reforms are possible in the short-term.
Yet, despite not knowing what will come of the work I put in over the past month and a half, I feel incredibly lucky to have been given this opportunity. The research project allowed me to meet and interview a number of fascinating people in a variety of government agencies, which means I have also been inside more federal buildings here in Brazil than I probably ever will in the United States. One of my favorite visits was to the headquarters of Bolsa Família, where I learned all about the inner workings of a program that I very much admire – and is much more complicated than I could have ever imagined. You can read about that visit here. Needless to say, after talking so much about Bolsa Família in graduate school this year, it was incredibly cool to be there, talking to a manager of the program and getting the inside scoop. I even learned about a raise in the cash transfer amount before it was announced by the president the following week!
On another day, I sat in on a conference about a new law on Early Childhood Development programs. The best part: it was held in the Senate Auditorium!
I spent the better part of the morning weaving through labyrinthine, underground tunnels, collecting numerous security clearances before my colleagues and I finally made our way to the right room. Obviously, I felt like a super spy.