Thank you very much and good morning. We are absolutely delighted to be part of this launch of the Inter-American Social Protection Network. And I am one of those who will have to leave shortly after our presentations, but I am delighted to see so many of our team from the State Department and USAID who will be here, because this is a primary commitment of the United States.
I’m always pleased to be with President Bachelet anywhere, and of course, Chile is a prime example of what we’re trying to achieve in social development, and of course, to Luis Alberto Moreno and the Inter-American Development Bank and to OAS – and please give my regards to the Secretary General if I’m not here when he comes to speak – and of course, to be with our mayor, Mayor Bloomberg, who has taken these ideas and begun to implement them here in New York.
This Inter-American Social Protection Network will help facilitate our efforts to share best practices, to try to determine how we help lift up the people of our hemisphere. We do not have the poorest people in the world, but we have a disproportionate number of poor people, and we have the largest gap between the rich and the poor of anywhere in the world.
So although we’ve been making progress, and I see representatives of the countries that have really focused on trying to lift people out of poverty, we have a long way to go. And the United States is committed to the alleviation and mitigation of poverty and to providing opportunities for individuals to fulfill their own God-given potentials. And this network gives us a chance to coordinate closely, to learn from each other, to implement what works elsewhere given our own particular approach. Now we can exchange ideas, we can have the opportunities that Mayor Bloomberg has seized to demonstrate whether these ideas work universally.
New York City, of course, is a crossroads for the entire world. And the first conditional cash transfer program in the United States was launched by Mayor Bloomberg after he saw for himself the results in Mexico. Millions of Mexican families have gotten a boost toward better education, health, nutrition, long-term stability. Opportunity NYC intends to do the same for the poor within our own city.
And I think it’s important to look at the overall impact of what Chile has done. President Bachelet’s leadership on social and economic development has helped to make Chile an example as to how democracy can deliver significant, sustainable benefits. Because one of the side effects of what we’re talking about today is to show that democracy can deliver.
We are in a crisis of democracy in many places in the world. And I see my friend, Congressman Sam Farr, nodding his head. Elections do not make democracies. They are a necessary condition for people to be able to select their own leaders. But then those leaders can’t just have one election and that’s it, or one election and back to the old ways. We have to figure out how democracy delivers.
And I think if you look at what has been happening in the social development arena in Latin America, we have a story to tell. And it’s a story that may not be in the headlines of the sensational activities that are going on, but it is a story that can change lives. And we’ve seen, in remote villages and big cities alike, governments experimenting with innovative approaches to fighting poverty. And conditional cash transfer programs are one example of this wave of innovation right here in our hemisphere.
They couple two critical forces – responsibility and opportunity – by giving small amounts of money to parents to visit a doctor for a checkup or to keep a child in school. And with these incentives, governments are making it possible for people to invest in their futures even when their incomes are just a few dollars a day. It isn’t charity; it’s an investment. And it’s an investment in every nation’s greatest resource, our people. These conditional cash transfers have given citizens a feeling of ownership and promise about their future. And we have seen the evidence of them taking steps to actually think differently about themselves, to behave differently, to have different expectations for themselves and their families, and the results are promising.
According to the World Bank, conditional cash transfer programs have reduced national poverty rates by 8 percent in Ecuador and Mexico, nearly 5 percent in Jamaica, and 3 percent in Brazil. In Colombia, the conditional cash transfer program has led to higher birth weights and improved child nutrition. And I’m delighted that President Uribe will be speaking to the conference later. In Mexico, anemia is down. Children whose mothers received prenatal nutrition assistance are, on average, taller than children whose mothers were not in the program. That’s a significant change within less than one generation.
Mexico has achieved several other gains as well. The number of families that start small businesses has increased significantly, and so has school attendance. Mexico has taken on the school dropout crisis among girls by paying parents more if their daughters stay in school. And as a result, the dropout gap between boys and girls has begun to close among participating families.
Furthermore, an analysis by the World Bank of several conditional cash transfer programs indicates a lead to a decrease in child labor, an increase in preventative healthcare, and they have actually helped to cushion the poorest families from the shock of the global economic crisis. So we’re seeing positive outcomes. Now we know these are not, as they say, a silver bullet. They don’t work in every country, in every community, on every count. But in many places, they are working, and it gives those extra incentives that people are needing.
So let’s work together in this network to determine what we can do to enhance the results from these programs and then let’s figure out what are the institutional supports that need to be put into place. Sending more children to school doesn’t help if we don’t have qualified teachers or adequate materials. When students graduate, if they don’t have a job in their community, they may migrate out instead of taking their talents and investing back in their own community.
So we have a lot to do on infrastructure and industry and good governance and delivery of services. But I think it has to operate on both ends simultaneously, from the grassroots up and from the top down, because governments have to be held responsible as we see us doing so with individuals in these programs. And I know that you’ll hear from President Bachelet and Mayor Bloomberg, but I’m very proud that it’s New York City which is pioneering this approach in our country. I had eight wonderful years representing this city and this state. And if it can make it here, it can make it anywhere, Mr. Mayor. (Laughter.)
So the United States is proud to be a member of the Inter-American community, and we are committed to the long-term success of this social protection network. We believe that this network will help fulfill the promise embodied in the democratic charter that our country signed eight years ago. And together, we will lift more young people and old alike out of poverty, give more children a chance at that better future, strengthen democracy, and deliver results for people who need us to do so. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)