Spreading the world’s best news

A UN report shows Brazil is winning, and exporting, its anti-austerity policies, writes Hans Zomer

Spreading the world’s best news

BRAZIL may have disappointed on the football pitch during the recent World Cup, but a UN report shows that it is a winning a far more important match, and a new information service is helping highlight such stories of success.

The UN Development Programme report on human development shows that Brazil is one of the countries where progress has been greatest over the last 30 years.

The report, which measured standard of living and levels of education, ranked Brazil 79th on a list of 167 countries, and it is not even the highest-ranking country in Latin America. Chile (41), Cuba (44), Argentina (49), Uruguay (50), Panama (65), Venezuela (67), Costa Rica (68), and Mexico (71) all scored better.

However, Andrea Bolzon, co-ordinator of the ‘Human Development Atlas’ in Brazil, says the country has improved strongly over the last decades, as a result of deliberate policy choices. The Brazilian government raised the minimum wage, promoted employment, introduced affirmative action measures to reduce racial inequality, and championed social programmes, which resulted in great improvements for poor people.

One of the most successful social programmes was the ‘Bolsa Familia’, a project for income transfers that was begun by former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2010), and was continued by the current president, Dilma Rousseff. More than 13m families, or around 50m people (out of a total population of 200m), were lifted out of extreme poverty by this programme. Yet the programme only had a cost equivalent to 0.5% of the country’s gross national product.

The Economist magazine has described the Bolsa Família programme as an “anti-poverty scheme invented in Latin America winning converts worldwide”.

And the World Bank is also praising this anti-austerity measure: “The virtue of the Bolsa Família is that it reaches a signification portion of Brazilian society that has never benefited from social programs. It is among the world’s best targeted programs, because it reaches those who really need it. Ninety-four percent of the funds reach the poorest 40% of the population. Studies prove that most of the money is used to buy food, school supplies, and clothes for the children.”

This success means that Brazil is now exporting the model to almost 20 other countries — including Chile and Mexico, and further afield to Indonesia, South Africa, and even the US. New York City announced its ‘Opportunity NYC’ conditional transfer of income programme, modeled on the Bolsa Família, changing American attitudes towards welfare on the way.

This type of example of a developed country learning from the experiences in the so-called developing world is the focus of a new Irish initiative.

A news service aimed at showing real-life examples of social change is now taking off, and winning supporters internationally, too.

Called ‘The World’s Best News’, it aims to burst some of the myths that exist about developing countries, while also challenge stereotypes.

The World’s Best News, available on Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, and Flipboard is a news service with stories that do not make the mainstream news, but that are equally important, and often very surprising.

The initiative grew out of research into people’s attitudes towards the wider world, which showed that more than half of the people in Ireland do not think that Africa is any better off than it was 20 years ago — despite massive evidence of huge progress and economic growth on the continent.

Certainly, the image of developing countries as places of deep and unending suffering and corruption, urgently in need of aid workers or soldiers to sort it out, is rapidly becoming outdated.

The World’s Best News does not follow the mainstream media’s focus on the dramatic and the sudden, but instead aims to go beyond the headlines, and focus on the bigger trends. If we allow ourselves to challenge our preconceptions and if we are willing to learn from those we previously only saw as helpless and poor, we might just find it easier to play our role as global citizens to the full.

Hans Zomer is director of Dóchas, the Irish association of development NGOs, representing 49 agencies working in the area of humanitarian and development aid. Visit www.worldwewant.ie.

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