The deal is simple: vaccinate your children, send them to school; and, if you are pregnant, visit your public health center, regularly starting with the first 12 weeks. In exchange, the BOOST Program will give you a monthly allowance between BZ$44 and BZ$82 (US$22 – US$41) per person, up to a maximum of six per household.
The BOOST program, which stands for Building Opportunities for Our Social Transformation, provides small cash assistance to poor households subject to specific conditions.
A little over a year in operation, it already reaches 3,177 households (12.5% of all Belize poor households) and over 8,600 people, which represents about 6% of the poor population.
Despite the recent launch of the BOOST Program (February 2011), some of its current features already match or surpass best practices in the world. Recorded school attendance for children included in the program is at 97.3% (3238 of 3328 students, May 2012).
Thanks to this program, Rosario Chub from Punta Gorda, Toledo, is able to provide for the basic needs of her children and keep them in school. “The Program is good. It is helping people. I am doing a lot with this little money. Now the children have shoes, food and uniforms.”
The program has also been positively received among school principals. Rossana Briceño, principal of St Peter’s Anglican School in Orange Walk, said that “at the end of the day, the kids are doing better. Absenteeism is a lot less, and I see these children now and they want to come to school.”
I am doing a lot with this little money. Now the children have shoes, food and uniforms.
Rosario Chub BOOST beneficiary
The program features a differentiated payment structure by grade and gender, to address relatively high drop-out rates for boys. These are added incentives to complete standard grades and advance into secondary education.
Access to bank services
The BOOST Program is also supporting poor households in accessing financial services, such as savings and micro-loans as a first step towards their financial independence.
BOOST is expanding membership of credit unions, and strengthening the savings and productive investment potential of beneficiary households. At present, 81% of the program beneficiaries receive safe, secure transfers at zero cost through the credit unions.
“I am now a member of the credit union and I want to start saving money for the children”, says Rosario Chub, who, like other beneficiaries, has also increased her access to saving and other financial services.
“The BOOST Program has achieved a level of financial inclusion of program beneficiaries that far exceeds similar programs that have been in operation for 15 years”, said Rogelio Gomez Hermosillo, the former Director of the Oportunidades Program in Mexico, which reaches 30 million households.
In fact, a new report by the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) finds a much higher rate of beneficiaries with access to bank services in BOOST than in the two largest conditional cash transfer programs in the region, at 43% in Brazil and 25% in Mexico.
The first step of a larger movement
For the past two years, the World Bank has provided technical assistance to support the design of the BOOST Program, including knowledge exchanges with conditional cash transfer experts from Jamaica and Mexico.
The new phase of technical assistance aims to provide flexible support to address the central operational challenges of the Program and make recommendations on different approaches to strengthen program operations.
“The BOOST Program represents a significant step forward to develop a smart social safety net that promotes human capital growth, savings, and productive investments by poor households, but it is only the first step of a larger movement that is needed to strengthen the quality and accountability of social spending in Belize,” says Sarah Berger Gonzalez, World Bank Social Protection Specialist.
Despite the advances, operational challenges remain, resulting from the rapid ramp-up, limited financing and small number of program personnel. Limited financial envelopes have resulted in the number of qualified, eligible households exceeding enrolment by 30%.
Other challenges include the need to strengthen communication of program objectives and responsibilities, coordination of actions across ministries, and monitoring of information to assess program impacts.
Here is a discussion of the program when the PM was interviewed by Twocanview. http://twocanview.com/2012/03/26/an-interview-with-the-prime-minister-of-belize-by-aria-lightfoot-and-fayemarie-anderson-carter/