Miguel Guzman

Miguel GUzmanCan Cash End Poverty in Peru?

Although born in the United States, Miguel Guzman was raised in the Dominican Republic until he was 8, and those circumstances may have set him on his career path.

“Coming to this country was a culture shock, but as you adapt to cultures and languages, your mindset becomes more international,” he says. “It’s not just your block or your neighborhood you know, but your world.”

Starting in 2011, Guzman will direct his global gaze toward an attempt to alleviate poverty in rural Peru, thanks to a Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant. Sponsored by the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, this is part of the U.S. government’s flagship international exchange program. Its goals are promoting international understanding and finding solutions to shared concerns.

Guzman earned an A.A. in liberal arts from Borough of Manhattan Community College in 2008 and graduates in 2011 with a B.A. from Baruch College. Working out of the Institute of Peruvian Studies in Lima, one of that country’s oldest and most influential nonprofit think tanks, he intends to evaluate how well “Plan Juntos” (the Together Plan) works toward ending poverty, particularly among women and children in rural Cuzco.

Enacted in 2005 following similar initiatives in Mexico, Chile, Brazil and Honduras, Plan Juntos is Peru’s first conditional cash transfer program. It “aims to reduce extreme poverty by promoting human capital development and attempting to end the intergenerational transfer of poverty through direct cash transfers to households that meet the requirements,” he writes in his Fulbright application.

Participants – primarily impoverished women – receive a fixed monthly payment of 100 soles (approximately $30 U.S.) for four years regardless of household size on the condition that they assure that their children make use of basic public services. For example, mothers must secure complete civic identification documents for themselves and their children, assure that their children attend school at least 85 percent of the time and have a complete series of vaccinations and health exams, and that they also have health and pre- and post-natal care checkups as needed.

In theory, Plan Juntos’ cash payments immediately relieve poverty, allow disadvantaged families to build financial assets and work toward self-sufficiency.

“I wish to study how much the investment made on behalf of recipient households in the education of their children has affected their capability of breaking the cycle of extreme poverty,” says Guzman’s Fulbright application. “I intend to use the resources of the Ministry of Education, which has a vital team incorporated within the Juntos organization, four regional coordinators and a network of educational supervisors, who are in charge of a monitoring system for school attendance.”

He learned about the Fulbright program while interning over the past two summers at the Ford Foundation in its financial assets, metropolitan development and freedom of expression units.

After his Fulbright grant and possibly a year or two of work related to international issues, Guzman intends to head to graduate school – but in precisely what remains to be determined. “Spending a year abroad, you never know how it will change you, but I definitely want to do economic work in the region,” he says.