There is a certain consensus in Brazil about the progress that has been made due to the public policies which were enacted with relative continuity and consistency in the last twenty years. With the direct investment of public funds, the most favorable results can be seen in education, healthcare and the fight against poverty. After reaching some of the proposed quantitative objectives, it then becomes necessary that these policies are revised with the addition of new goals of quality and efficiency. We can say that a good public policy is one that has a certain date by which it must then progress to a new stage or be replaced.
In the case of education, it is important to highlight the quantitative data that pertains to primary and secondary education. This year was the first time in our history in which more than 50% of young people completed primary education at the correct age. The completion rate of middle school increased from 65.4% in 2004 to 81% in 2015. Moreover, the average years of education for citizens age 25 and under increased from 5.6 in 1998 to 7.8 in 2014. With regard to students enrolled in higher education, the number rose from 2.7 million in 2000 to 7.8 million in 2015. Although this data conceals considerable asymmetries, it is undeniable that there have been important achievements in the sector.
There have also been improvements in public healthcare. Life expectancy in Brazil jumped from 69 years in 2000 to 75.5 years in 2015. This progress has been the result of massive vaccination campaigns for diseases such as polio and tuberculosis, among others, many of which have been almost completely eliminated. There has also been an expansion of care by family physicians, as well as the creation of an efficient system of emergency care – SAMU. And finally, Brazil is well known for its treatment of AIDS.
Various direct investment policies, which were initiated in the 90s and then later expanded in the year 2000, were responsible for reducing the misery of more than 25 million people and for virtually eradicating extreme poverty in the country. The Gini index, which measures income inequality, fell from 0.607 in 1990 to 0.49 in 2014, while the HDI (The Human Development Index) rose from 0.590 to 0.744 in the same period. With these results, it is difficult not to recognize the success of these initiatives, from a social and humanitarian point of view as well as an economic one.
Since the policies mentioned here have achieved their objectives, or at least many of them, the next step is to focus on qualitative goals rather than quantitative ones. What seems to be only a semantic difference requires a revolution from the standpoint of strategy and methods. And it is this revolution that much of the public expects from the government and top officials in the public sector.
The quantitative phase is dependent on the commitment of the federal government to play a central role, the predominance of horizontal and similar strategies throughout the country, the provision of resources, and the link between elite public officials with academics and NGOs to provide support and a certain protection for their strategies. To achieve qualitative goals of efficiency it is crucial to engage other units of the federation, and to define the appropriate strategies for each region or city. It is also necessary to have hundreds of managers, politicians and community leaders who will enforce compliance with these new objectives. The challenge is enormous.
An important starting point will be the unanimous commitment of the leaders of the first phase to the need for change with a focus on quality. Due to the success they have already obtained, these leaders can count on considerable support from their communities, the media and politicians. However, they will have to continue to restate their objectives – and rely increasingly on leaders in society – if they want to be successful in the phase ahead.
Some say that the first phase of these policies was the “easy” stage. After all, besides the fact that the levels were very low (even embarrassingly so), these policies could be managed centrally. I think this perspective underestimates these achievements. Even though they are partial, they are still victories. It is not often that you can ask for changes in public policies and they end up being successful, especially in Brazil.
Ricardo Sennes is a managing partner at Prospectiva and a specialist in political and economic scenarios, the formulation and implementation of public policies, and the evaluation of their impacts on companies. He has experience in industrial policy, industrial promotion, and international integration. Sennes possesses a doctoral degree and a master’s degree in political science from the University of São Paulo (USP) and serves as the general coordinator of the university’s leading international affairs think tank (Gacint). He is currently a non-resident partner of the Atlantic Council’s Latin America program, a member of FIESP’s Council of Strategic Affairs, and a member of the council overseeing of the journal Foreign Affairs (Mexico and the United States).