Celebrated by academics, multilateral organizations, policymakers and the media, Mexico’s Progresa/Oportunidades conditional cash transfers program (CCT) is constantly used as a model of a successful antipoverty program. This paper argues that the transformation of well-trained scholars into influential practitioners played a fundamental role in promoting a new conceptual approach to poverty reduction, ensuring the technical soundness and effectiveness of the program’s design, incorporating rigorous impact evaluations as part and parcel of the program’s design, and persuading politicians to implement and keep the program in place. The involvement of scholars-practitioners also helped disseminate the new CCT “technology” to many countries around the world quite rapidly.
It makes sense that scholar-practitioners can increase the chances of success of a policy intervention. Scholar-practitioners are more likely to emphasize data gathering and evaluation exercises to demonstrate success (or failure) and make changes to improve policy. Additionally, scholar-practitioners are more likely to share data and results from evaluation exercises widely. Finally, they can play a major role in spreading knowledge about successful interventions in multilateral institutions and public policy programs.
This conclusion is based, to a large extent, on the author’s personal experience when she was senior advisor and chief of the Poverty and Inequality Unit at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) (1997–2001). During this time, she was instrumental in facilitating the first-round of impact evaluation of Progresa and in promoting CCTs more broadly.