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Reducing the Financial Burden of Education in Haiti

Policy Innovation in a Fragile-state Context

By Susana Martinez-Restrepo, Daniela Gregr | Revista Humanum, June 5, 2012

CREDIT: Susana Martínez-Restrepo © 2012.

On May 27, Mother's Day in Haiti, the government launched Ti Manman Cheri (Dear Little Mum), its first-ever conditional cash transfer program. In the presence of the first lady, Sophia Martelly, and newly appointed Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe, a ceremony was held at a school in Cité Soleil during which 200 mothers received the Ti Manman Cheri cash grant.

Ti Manman Cheri is a conditional cash transfer program aimed at reducing the financial burden of education in Haiti and thus improving the living conditions of beneficiary households. The program targets mothers living in the most precarious neighborhoods of Port-au-Prince (Belair, Carrefour Feuilles, Cité Soleil, Fort National) who have registered their children to attend primary school. The program will be financed in its first year by the Venezuelan Petrocaribe Fund. With the launch Ti Manman Cheri, Haiti follows in the footsteps of its neighbors in the region who have successfully implemented CCT programs. After many years of on-and-off debate about the feasibility of such a scheme in Haiti, the Government has taken a bold initiative in this direction.

Two features make Ti Manman Cheri an innovative program. The first special feature are the Mothers' Committees, which intend to minimize fraud and channel any school fee increases into school investments. In absence of quality standards for basic education, and in a context of an overwhelmingly private (but low quality) education system, the Mothers' Committees could become a stimulant to quality improvements [PDF]. In the long term, the committees could also serve as platforms for additional and complementary interventions.

The second innovative feature is that Ti Manman Cheri will use mobile money to transfer the monthly grants to its beneficiaries. Many critics of CCTs in Latin America suggest that distance to urban centers with bank networks excludes many possible beneficiaries and makes mothers travel considerable distances from rural areas just to receive the subsidy [PDF]. Mobile money can be a helpful instrument to provide social transfers to low-income beneficiaries who live in remote or distant areas without banking services, or who fear retrieving cash from bank accounts for security reasons.

By design, mobile money has an additional advantage: It can limit the kind of products that someone buys with the transfers. Although it is too early to tell the real impact in terms of security, consumption patterns, or efficient beneficiary targeting, mobile money is quickly catching on in low-income countries and can be a great tool for policy makers targeting specific problems or populations.An example of this in Haiti is the UNDP CARMEN project (more here) in which beneficiaries receive mobile money to spend specifically on construction materials from certified vendors for repairing or rebuilding their homes.

In a post-crisis, fragile-state context like Haiti, the challenges to the successful implementation of a conditional cash transfer program are numerous and daunting. Lack of education, security concerns in the targeted areas, lack of an updated poverty map, and institutions that are starting to get back on their feet after the earthquake all have to be taken into account in the initial design of this initiative. Moreover, the specific context does not allow for an easy extrapolation of models and lessons from other countries in the region.

As a consequence, the program launched on May 27 is highly context-specific and characterized by a light conditionality, geographic and categorical targeting criteria, a transfer amount based on income estimations in the informal economy, and measures to mitigate an unmanageable influx of demand. Despite these challenges and in light of the financial burden of education on poor households in Haiti, who more often than not fall (further) into debt for sending their children to school, the program bears great potential for improving living conditions and reducing household debt.

As the first social protection initiative of its kind in Haiti, the first year of implementation will be a major test for Ti Manman Cheri. At the end of this phase, the program will need to be evaluated in light of a long-term perspective and the larger endeavor of creating a more comprehensive and integrated social protection system. In the meantime, however, it is an exciting step on the path to recovery.

© 2012 Revista Humanum. Republished with kind permission.

Read More: Aid, Charity, Development, Education, Gender, Human Rights, Youth, Haiti, Americas

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