03 The Department for Social Prosperity, Colombia
The Department for Social Prosperity, Colombia
Develop Government Capacity for Action
Toolkit step: Develop Government Capacity for Action
In Brief: Created in 2011, the Department for Social Prosperity (DPS) develops, coordinates and enacts all governmental policies that aim to compensate victims of conflict and reduce poverty. The DPS provides a central hub for private-sector activities that help to reduce poverty and strategically introduces concepts of social innovation and entrepreneurship across government initiatives in Colombia.
While the DPS is still in its infancy, the Department’s initial reform efforts demonstrate important operating principles, including providing public services with a private-sector approach and addressing macro problems through micro strategies.
The DPS provides several insights for policy-makers looking to Colombia as an example of how to build public capacity, including:
- Empower leaders to drive innovation within government
- Focus efforts to support social entrepreneurship in areas where unique, national priorities or challenges would be most impacted by innovation
- Identify where business currently interacts with government and how a new structure could streamline, expedite and amplify these synergies
Policy Goals and Development
The Department for Social Prosperity (DPS) is one component of the institutional and structural government reforms that have stretched over many political administrations in Colombia, making the country “a regional leader in narrowing the [economic] gap with the world’s most efficient regulatory practices”, according to a recent report from the International Finance Corporation and the World Bank.1 These reforms have included implementing a faster enrolment process for healthcare services, simplifying tax compliance, streamlining paperwork for business registration, restructuring government agencies and now addressing poverty.
This comprehensive, structural approach to reducing poverty has taken shape in a new Sector for Social Inclusion and Reconciliation. The Sector is tailored to Colombia, as the country continues to face extreme issues of social inequality due to the ongoing 40-year armed conflict between the Colombian government and guerrilla groups. With the understanding that those affected by the conflict are often also economically underserved, the Sector consolidates attention and efforts around supporting the victims of violence and poverty, a combined population that accounts for approximately one-third of all Colombians.
President Santos created the DPS in 2011 via a special presidential decree. His decisive action in support of the DPS is part of the Prosperity for All national development plan on which he campaigned. The Department was created as the central hub for all government activity aimed at poverty reduction and peacekeeping and is a central entry point where beneficiaries, non-governmental organizations and the private sector can easily engage in achieving the Sector’s goals.
Policy in Action
The DPS consolidates many social service programmes by directly administering several divisions and overseeing other offices that have been reassigned to the Department.2 The DPS provides advocacy and technical assistance to its divisions and assigned offices, while direct funding is typically provided by Congress and the Ministry of Finance. Throughout, the DPS provides support according to the unique needs of each programme rather than taking a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Below are three examples of how different programmes reside within the DPS structure:
As a programme within a Division of the DPS: The pre-existing Families in Action programme has been redesigned and is now administered through DPS’s Social Income Division. Building off of similar initiatives in other Latin American countries, the programme offers a new model for the provision of welfare by issuing direct payments to families upon successfully enrolling their children in school and health services.3
- As an initiative of the DPS: To coordinate the activities of several programmes aimed at improving the conditions for entrepreneurial development among its beneficiaries, the DPS will soon be launching its private-public alliance strategy, including initiatives to increase impact investing and social enterprise.
- As an agency assigned to the DPS: The National Agency for Overcoming Extreme Poverty (ANSPE) is tasked with identifying and implementing strategies to support the most impoverished regions of Colombia. The ANSPE achieves this goal through several programmes, including the Social Innovation Centre for which a dedicated office comprised of 45 staff is working to identify and disseminate new products, services and management practices throughout the national government. In addition, ANSPE is responsible for operating the Red UNIDOS programme (see the “DPS on the Ground” box in this section for more on that programme).
Due to the armed conflict, many DPS programmes necessarily provide more traditional peacekeeping and welfare services. However the DPS is also identifying and exploring new innovations in the delivery of those services. Two core operating tactics underpin these efforts: providing public services with a private sector approach and addressing macro problems through micro strategies.
The first tactic is reflected in the private sector experience of many DPS leaders. President Santos and the Director of the DPS, Bruce Mac Master, are often identified as technocrats themselves, setting an entrepreneurial and apolitical tone. This leadership lends to the Department’s credibility within the private sector and fosters a business-minded approach to the management of the more than 20,000 employees and millions of beneficiaries under the Department’s programmes.
In addition to using modern technology and communication practices, the DPS has created several decision-making structures that improve internal management. For example, the DPS Director leads a weekly meeting with all the directors of DPS agencies, each of whom is invited to raise their most pressing issues to troubleshoot together, with the goal of achieving better coordination.
Through its second tactic to address macro problems through micro strategies, the DPS approaches Colombia’s poverty issues holistically, but recognizes that most solutions will be implemented at the micro level. The DPS is designed explicitly to be a partner with the private sector, non-governmental organizations and individual citizens on the ground. To that end, most DPS programmes require local beneficiaries to participate.
This local focus is also exemplified by the DPS leadership. For example, the Routes to Prosperity initiative requires that all DPS programme directors travel each month to a different Colombian region in need of special intervention. The directors meet with local government officials and leaders, and work together to design a customized plan to improve the conditions of that community.
Impact to Date
The programme is still in its infancy and is therefore difficult to evaluate. Most of the DPS’s activities appear to be on track to meet their stated goals; however, observers caution that a mid-term perspective is necessary to assess the Department’s success. When restructuring government systems, and particularly in a scenario like the DPS where pre-existing programmes are organized under one department, addressing issues of entrenched bureaucracy and corruption can be challenging. Similarly, developing a new coordinating department runs the risk of creating more of the bureaucracy that the Department was tasked with eliminating. The DPS will continue to provide an honest and transparent evaluation of its programmes to encourage ongoing iteration and, therefore, innovation.
Policy Recommendations for Scaling Social Innovation
The DPS is unique to Colombian culture and politics. However, the Department addresses many broader issues, providing a model from which other governments can learn:
Empower leaders to drive innovation with government
An underlying DPS philosophy is that to combat poverty, a country cannot only dedicate financial resources but must also direct human capital to the problems. This sentiment is echoed by DPS Director Bruce Mac Master, who strongly believes that the most creative and intelligent minds should be dedicated to the task of reducing poverty. The Department’s operating tactics can be attributed directly to its exceptional leadership.
Focus efforts to support social entrepreneurship in areas where unique, national priorities or challenges would be most impacted by innovation
A public priority in Colombia is repairing the damages of the armed conflict. With this uppermost in their minds, political leaders understand that violence and poverty go hand in hand. The DPS was created to address both and is therefore seen as the best approach to creating long-term peace and prosperity, allowing for comprehensive, cross-sector collaboration. When considering which of the DPS’s components might be applicable and replicable in other countries, governments should first identify the specific issues that would benefit from ideas of social entrepreneurship and innovation. In identifying these issues, policy-makers should consider both the practical factors of efficiency and efficacy and the broader social and political agenda to which social entrepreneurship and innovation can be tied.
Identify where business currently interacts with government and how a new structure could streamline, expedite and amplify these synergies
The private sector can now engage with government to reduce poverty through one central portal, the DPS. In assessing the need for similar action in other countries, it is important to first understand where the private sector is currently working with government to meet public-sector goals, and then determine how a hub-like structure could act as facilitator for those activities.
DPS On the Ground
A programme within ANSPE (an agency assigned to the DPS), Red UNIDOS identifies opportunities for social innovation and strategic partnerships between local communities, government entities and the private sector. The programme pairs families with mentors who assess their needs based on 45 indicators that cover all aspects of prosperity, including education, health, housing, working conditions and access to judicial systems. The results of the assessment directly inform the types of support provided to the family. They are also aggregated at a community/ regional level to help government agencies and the private sector better understand how to target their corporate responsibility efforts to increase the prosperity of the areas in which they work.