July 24, 2008

NYC Consigue Las "Oportunidades"

He Approves

Mahatma Ghandi once said, “be the change that you want to see in the world”. His words are poignant, but in our world today, hackneyed. In all honesty, the call for change is something we are exposed to everyday. We have treatises written on it, campaigns built upon it, and attempts to inspire it. The ubiquity of the idea has made it trite.

Actual change is easy to talk about and difficult to accomplish. The innovation it requires is both rare and precious, and when it is found, it should be valued. Enter Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City. In 2007, he instituted, through the Commission for Economic Opportunity, a conditional cash transfer pilot program called Opportunity NYC to promote social growth and responsibility in poverty stricken regions of New York. The basic premise behind the idea is to provide financial incentives for the poor to perform actions that we value as a society, but may cost them financially. Such actions include regular attendance at school, high scholastic achievement, health coverage, regular visits to doctors, and job-training. Participants in this incentive-laden program can earn up to $3,000-$5,000 per year depending on family size.

This program is a derivative of a program founded and studied in Mexico. In Mexico, it has resulted in a 4.9% poverty decrease among participants in the first year, and a 18% decrease in the second year. Similar programs have since been instituted in Latin America and are instituted and funded by The World Bank in parts of Africa and Asia. Just to note, an 18% decrease in poverty in New York City is equivalent to raising 250,000 people above the poverty line, or just less than half the population of DC.

“What’s so radical and innovative about this idea?” you may ask. At first glance, the idea seems exactly the opposite. The cynic might say that Mayor Bloomberg came across a good idea sipping on his margarita in Cancun and straight up copied it - it’d be copyright infringement if government programs were commodified goods. However, the truth of the matter is that although this program may be very similar to the one in place in Mexico, it is the first time that a program of conditional cash transfer has been used in a “developed” country. What Mayor Bloomberg has done is completely unprecedented. He has taken a program from countries years behind the United States in terms of developing democracy and social growth and has implemented it in the foremost nation in the world. In doing so, the mayor surmounted the one-way American “Globalization” which attempts to westernize the world without fixing the things that are broken at home. He flipped off the self-righteous American ego that can only give advice and can’t take it – the ego that comes with being the greatest nation in the world.

That, my friends, is change. Mayor Bloomberg is searching for answers wherever they may be found. When it comes to change, there are people that advocate it and people that oppose it; there are people that promote it and there are people that repudiate it; there are people that foresee it in the future and there are people that study it in the past; then there are people that redefine what it means to change in their existence, and those are the only ones who truly grasp it for what its worth.

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