The Politics of Cash Transfers in Brazil and Mexico

An event of Bloomberg Center for Cities

Leao and McKenna

4:15 p.m.
Bloomberg Center for Cities, Taubman Third Floor, Harvard Kennedy School

About the Event

What are the implications of turning the real world into a laboratory? Brazil and Mexico were the first two countries in the world to implement conditional cash transfer programs to combat poverty starting in the mid-1990s. Their differing approaches for governing the programs, managing data, and making poor families visible in order to receive benefits—top-down from the Mexican federal government via the Progresa-Oportunidades program and sited closer to beneficiaries in Brazil by giving municipalities a central role in the Bolsa Familia program—reveal important and unanticipated political effects.


  • Luciana de Souza Leão, Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan
  • Moderator: Liz McKenna, Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School

Refreshments will be offered and registration is requested.

This in-person event is open to all Harvard University ID holders.


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Luciana de Souza Leão

Luciana de Souza Leão

Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Michigan

Luciana de Souza Leão is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Michigan, specializing in cash transfer programs, racial inequalities, and the politics of data. She received her Ph.D. in sociology at Columbia University in 2019. Before coming to academia, Luciana worked as a development economist for the World Bank in Brazil for three years and has since been active in the public debate about global poverty, with her research being cited in such venues as the Washington Post, The Guardian, O Globo, and Folha de São Paulo, among others. Luciana has published in the main journals in her field, such as the American Economic Journal, American Journal of Sociology, Theory and Society, and World Development. She teaches courses in global poverty and inequality, political sociology, and the politics of knowledge.

Liz McKenna
liz mckenna

Liz McKenna

Assistant Professor of Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School

Liz McKenna, an assistant professor of public policy at HKS, is a political sociologist who studies the influence of civil society on democracy. Her research employs a range of methods, from ethnography to social network analysis, to examine the role of organizations, political power, and social movements in Brazil, the United States, and globally. Liz is a co-author of two books on democratic organizing (published by Oxford University Press and the University of Chicago Press) both of which examine how organizations cultivate constituency bases that successfully shift political power. Her dissertation on political terrain shifts in Brazil won the 2021 American Sociological Association’s Best Dissertation Award, and her work has been published in numerous outlets including Perspectives on Politics, International Sociology, the Journal of Community Psychology, Social Science Research Council, and the Washington Post.

Her research is supported by organizations like the Democracy and Power Innovation Fund, Fulbright, and the National Science Foundation. Before her academic career, Liz worked as a political and community organizer in Ohio and Rio de Janeiro. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in social studies from Harvard College and a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of California, Berkeley.

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