The families that volunteered for the study did not know each other. Although Morales admits this seemed problematic, "In retrospect, it should not have been a surprise that this worked, because these folks desired the same sort of things: a better life for themselves, their family and their community."
By allowing club members to spend grant money, "we set up a structure that rewarded them for doing good," says Morales. "So often, poor people of Mexican descent think their reward will come in heaven: 'God will repay you.' Instead of such diffuse reciprocity, we made it concrete; gave them an opportunity to get rewarded next week."
Morales readily concedes that the project would not work without the infusion of money.
"But almost no public program works without an infusion of money. I say we should appropriately experiment with alternative means of providing services, and find ways to transform clients into partners," he says.
Existing skills became the basis for progress, Morales says, noting that the participants themselves organized each meeting. "These people run households, they are already organizers. Why can't they run a slightly bigger organization, and get a better sense of how it operates?"
If existing skills can be applied to the larger world, Morales says, "the implication is that every bureaucrat, when looking across the table, should not see a client or a number, but someone who can cooperate in getting the job done and improving life."
The social currency approach is not a panacea, Morales says, but rather something that "works around the edges and reduces overall costs in the system, by making people healthier and avoiding the very expensive emergency room visits."
Morales has no hard evidence of tangible health benefits, which were not assess
|Contact: Alfonso Morales|
University of Wisconsin-Madison