The Soccer World Cup Is Over, but Off the Field Brazil Is Winning

On July 24, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) published a new report on human development, showing that Brazil is one of the countries where progress has been greatest over the last 30 years.

The Brazilian soccer team may have ultimately disappointed the fans, but the country has other achievements to be proud of. The 2014 Human Development Report showed that Brazil is one of the countries making the most progress. And that is not by accident, but the result of a determined policy - an anti-austeriy policy now winning converts around the world.


On July 24, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) published a new report on human development, showing that Brazil is one of the countries where progress has been greatest over the last 30 years.

The UN report measuring standard of living and levels of education ranks 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.

But Andrea Bolzon, coordinator of the "Human Development Atlas" of 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.

The Bolsa Familia

One of the most successful social programmes was the "Bolsa Familia", a project for income transfers that was started by former President Lula (2003-2010), and was continued by the current president, Dilma Rousseff. More than 13 million families, or around 50 million people (out of a total population of 200 million), were lifted out of extreme poverty by this programme. Yet the programme only had a cost equivalent to 0.5 per cent of the country's gross national product (GNP).

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 percent 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, Mexico, and further afield to Indonesia, South Africa, and even the USA. 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.

Rich countries learning from poor countries

And this type of example of a "developed" country learning from the experiences in the so-called "developing world", is what 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.

"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.

Seeing the news differently

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.

The news that developing countries are changing rapidly is simply not making it into our consciousness. While we may be living in an age of mass media, the fact is that the potential for group think is increasing, not diminishing: We get our information about the world primarily from our peers and from the media, but our media coverage of large parts of that world is confined to crises and catastrophes, and more and more of the information we receive comes from social media, which favours news from people who already think like us.

In this context, it may become hard to notice that the picture we have of the world around us is no longer valid. Certainly, the image of developing countries as place 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 aims to go beyond the headlines, and focus on the bigger trends. And this is important, as through globalisation our lives are inextricably linked to those of billions of other people in countries we may not understand.

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 that we will find it easier to play our role as global citizens to the full.


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