Seeking out the Poorest People


Fernando Burgos Pimentel dos Santos



Research in focus: Where are the poor? An analysis of active municipal search strategies

Task forces and ‘flying’ teams in municipalities have been ensuring that the people who were once invisible to public managers improve their living conditions

Objective: To identify the strategies that local governments have used for locating extremely poor citizens and subsequently placing then on the federal government's single register.


• Field research in the municipalities of Conde (PB), Parintins (AM) and Santarém (PA)

• Interviews with Municipal Social Assistance Secretaries

• Interviews with managers who take part in the process of registering families living in poverty and extreme poverty

• Interviews with beneficiaries of the Family Allowance Program


• The Family Allowance Program is essential for guaranteeing the basic rights of families living in conditions of poverty and extreme poverty in these three municipalities.

• The strategy of “seeking out” the poorest people instead of waiting for them to come to the social assistance department offices – the basic principle of active searching – has led to good results in reducing extreme poverty in the municipalities visited.

• Populations that were normally “invisible” to public managers, such as the descendants of former slaves and riverbank dwellers, became beneficiaries of social programs and so improved their living conditions.

• The vast majority of the beneficiaries interviewed recognize the Family Allowance as a “right” and not a “favor” from the government.

What's new 

• One of the biggest challenges is to locate the poorest elements of the population and provide them with public services. Mobile teams and task forces have been used to confront this challenge. Partnerships with other government bodies, civil servants and private companies also help.

• This research identified five very important challenges in the management of social assistance programs and policies in the Brazilian local context: the size of the country (the use of alternative means of transportation, such as boats, has proved essential); the composition of the teams (there is a shortage of social assistants and psychologists and an “I’m the first lady” culture among female municipal social assistance secretaries); integration with other social policies (the communication flow between bodies is generally poor and affects not only supervision but also the formulation and implementation of other policies for overcoming extreme poverty); relationship with the state government (while the federal government has helped with transportation and support for task forces, there are many complaints about state governments); and a correct understanding of the conditional income transfer policy (even some of the technicians who are responsible for introducing the program make criticisms that are loaded with hatred and ignorance).

Contact the author Fernando Burgos Pimentel dos Santos.

Learn more about the research conducted by Fernando Burgos Pimentel dos Santos.