Press "Enter" to skip to content

Vitality and Voyager-like rewards for the poor

The Broccoli Project, an innovative scheme created by Marc Anthony Zimmerman, offers rewards to the poor in exchange for socially beneficial behaviour. Zimmerman, a successful social entrepreneur was inspired by CK Prahalad’s book, The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid. He explains that while the rich are offered numerous incentives through reward schemes, there is nothing similar for the poor. The project works by linking activities such as taking HIV tests to reward vouchers.

The Broccoli project was nominated by Andrea Bohmert of Hasso Plattner Ventures for the regional Global Entrepreneurship Competition run by the City of Cape Town. The project won that competition and the prize of a fully paid entry into the World Innovation Summit in Barcelona (called HiT Barcelona) taking place from the 17th to 19th June. Along with competing for a prize of 50 000 euros, the project will be presented in front of some of the worlds leading venture capitalists who are looking for enterprises to fund.

The scheme follows well-researched projects like the Conditional Cash Transfers in Latin America and more recently New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Opportunity NYC programme. The former programmes have reported a substantial decline in poverty among programme participants.

An issue with these programmes is their high administrative costs which the Broccoli project aims to keep to a minimum using fingerprint technology and barcoded vouchers. Based on the many incentive and loyalty programmes targeting the rich, participants are treated as adults able to make their own decisions about their behaviours. This is a world apart from a handout which has been the traditional way to help the poor.

Vouchers received for positive behaviours such as encouraging attendance of skills-development workshops, staying in school, preventing disease and taking medication can be redeemed at a national retailer for food. In addition to the rewards, anybody can buy and give vouchers which guarantees that a handout at a traffic light turns into a basic food staple such as bread, milk, maize meal or vegetables.

The Broccoli Project is already operational and has been working with a number of organisations including the Desmond Tutu HIV/Aids Foundation. A short news clip from CNBC Africa highlights the benefits of the programme and how it works.

With Zimmerman on his way to Barcelona this weekend, you can support their chances in the global competition by entering a comment which counts as a vote of support for their project.

As Broccoli says on its website “When last did you get the opportunity to make a real, meaningful difference that could literally change the world? And all you had to do was click a button. Vote for The Broccoli Project to win at the World Innovation Summit.”


  • Dale Williams lives a portfolio life. Working to bring out the best in people, he invests in individuals and businesses where there is mutual benefit. Investment comes in the form of time, expertise or money and returns are expected, either financially or in the form of new learning and experience. He found himself an accidental banker in 2004 when he was asked to head up Standard Chartered Bank's retail business in South Africa. A great experience which confirmed that his skills lay in areas outside of banking. More recently he has developed a portfolio of activities which include Executive Coaching, Lecturing, Facilitating Strategy and Scenario Planning Sessions and occasional writing. He has some entrepreneurial business interests and most importantly, family interests. He enjoys spending time with his two young daughters, his wife, his surfboard, mountain bike, microlight aeroplane and trail running shoes. He has an MA from Middlesex.


  1. ian ian 15 June 2009

    One times vote for the Broccoli project on its way. Bravo.

  2. brent brent 15 June 2009

    Agree 200% but the politicians kill all such schemes that do not have the money (and thus influnce) going through the politiicans. In Washington DC a hugely (but limited/trial) popular and very successful school voucher project for the poor (ie mainly Blacks) is being discontinued next year after the trial period elapses as Obama and the Democrats bow to pressure from the powerful teachers union and other powerful liberal political groups that are opposed to PARENTS MAKING THE DECISIONS and thus devaluing the input of activist groups.


  3. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 16 June 2009

    How nauseastingly patronising.

    It WOULD BE American!

  4. Kit Kit 17 June 2009

    I’m broadly in favour of a system like this overall, with a couple of caveats. It isn’t necessarily patronising if done properly; it’s merely a value exchange.

    The key would be to find a wider range of value-adds to individuals in the community that also lend broader value to society at large to net mzx people. There’s no point trading off something fluffy that isn’t perceived to have a value or something that should be provided for free anyway. The benefits need to be well researched or people will just essentially profit seek and turn away from other positive behaviours.

    And…stop the creep that is going to end up in everything being deemed ‘something I should get for free’. I could have sworn I saw students demonstrating about lack of DSTV a while back…

    Rewards for taking medication seems a little weird though in my opinion. I’m strongly in favour of the (yes, labour-intensive) health visitor who comes round every day and supervises. Schemes that have run that seem to have had very high compliance rates pretty much unmatched by anything else.

    The one other thing that needs to be avoided with this kind of scheme is any perception of it being a massive database of personal information that really shouldn’t be available all in one place. That could become incredibly cumbersome to administer as well as potentially compromising for the individual.

    But yeah, if properly managed, interesting.

  5. Sanja Sanja 18 June 2009

    This project epitomizes the kind of misguided venture that regularly undoes the work of knowledgeable organisations aiming for sustainable solutions and pulling out the roots of poverty.

    The essence of this project is bribing vulnerable groups to behave in ways we all seem to be convinced they ordinarily would not. It is founded on a poor understanding of social issues, of poverty, and insults the intelligence and of every poor individual in South Africa. Furthermore, likening it to cash transfers of any kind including the South African social assistance system, conditional or unconditional, insults the intelligence of us all.

    Giving a poor person a voucher in exchange for donating blood, and/or being tested for HIV is immoral and unethical, and an outrage. It amounts to essentially selling part of your body in desperation. For a poor and hungry person to “choose” between giving blood and eating is not a choice. It is manipulation, and an infringement of human dignity.

    Poor people are not stupid, vice-ridden or in need of social discipline. They are just poor.

    This is an unfortunate example of the worst kind of philanthro-capitalism in action. Those responsible for the project would do well to engage in some serious reading and consulting with institutions in the know about poverty and human rights – before Broccoli does more harm than good.

  6. Kit Kit 18 June 2009

    Sanja, where’s the bit about giving blood? Did I miss it? That sounds very creepy.

    In spite of a natural recoiling from something like this, I think it’s important to sift through it and see if there’s anything useful. For example, kids between certain ages shouldn’t be left with a choice about whether or not to go to school, there simply isn’t any legitimate reason for them not to go – which is why I’m strongly in favour of cash transfers relating to school aged children being absolutely dependent on school attendance. School feeding schemes, free schooling as currently provided for children in the grant system and schools being compelled to run secondhand uniform exchanges, and schemes to provide stationery and books, etc. remove any almost other imperative. Child headed households need to receive absolutely unconditional support in order to get all kids into school and give them a chance later to make choices otherwise denied to them.

    Giving blood for cash? Um, no.

  7. Sanja Sanja 19 June 2009

    Kit, the blood donation project can be found on the Broccoli website, and is called Broccoli for Blood. It may not be for cash, however, blood for food vouchers where hungry people are concerned is arguably worse.

    As far as CCT’s are concerned, studies have shown that no correlation between improved outcomes and the conditionality can be identified. Research in South Africa has shown that despite pervasive myths about the unconditional Child Support Grant, poor caregivers spend the CSG primarily on food, education-related costs, and basic services. So much for the idea that poor people are incapable of using cash to take care of themselves or their children.

    I do not share your view that school feeding and no-fee policies necessarily reduce schooling costs. These policies suffer from poor implementation and subsidization – again verified by research. Until such time as they work successfully, regular unconditional cash transfers based on ongoing eligibility, like those administered by our own social assistance system, continue to be absolute life lines.

    A once-off food or clothing voucher in exchange for a pint of blood and biometric data makes no sustainable impact on poverty and hunger. Resources should be aimed at sustainable solutions that make a difference for more than one day. More pertinently, to equate food, clothing and building materials (human rights!) with consumer benefits like voyager miles is repugnant. To accept blood from a vulnerable person for testing or storing, for food vouchers, is outrageous.

    Broccoli must urgently rethink its projects.

  8. Kit Kit 19 June 2009

    Sanja – thanks. I should have had a better look… Here’s the direct link for anyone else who’s interested.

    $5 (R40, give or take) for a pint of blood – I think ‘outrageous’ might adequately describe this idea. There is a reason why blood services run on a no-fee basis and it’s imperative that they do so. I cannot understand the logic of using a poor community as a blood farm, I’m sure the ethical line is crossed way before that. Does R40 even buy sufficient iron-rich foods (since we’re talking communities already at risk of suboptimal nutrition such as iron deficiency) to replace that pint of blood?

    I still reserve the right to be cautiously optimistic about conditionality in relation to certain cash transfers although I have seen the research on expenses of grant recipients. My particular concern is education and the perceived choice between school and food – this simply should never be a choice. Both are absolutely essential. Mismanagement and inefficiencies are within the school system as a whole lead to money being thrown around without commensurate gains in outcomes – however, keeping kids in school is one thing that needs to be addressed concurrently with other pressing issues.

    But I take your points on board and, having now checked out the whole Broccoli website, can honestly say that these are not the people I’d advocate having anything to do with CCTs generally.

  9. Lyndall Beddy Lyndall Beddy 27 June 2009


    Thanks for the analysis.

    I was so revolted I could not read more.

  10. Andries Andries 28 June 2009

    I share some of Sanja’s reservations and Lyndall’s feelings.

    I have written up some of my own reflections on this here:

    (I see someone else has already posted my blog link above – I don’t know who that was! Anyway – responses are welcome…)

  11. zaman zaman 30 June 2009

    Instead of looking at it as mining blood from the poor, you could just look at it as paying people to do community work.

    Sure, the blood-mining thing is pushing the boundaries, but look at the wetlands project for instance. It incentivises people to improve their own community.

    We (the upper classes) get a lot of incentives to quit smoking, or go green, for the good of all. And I don’t feel patronized in any way.

    After a careful rethinking of their projects, I think Broccoli can make a meaningful contribution.

  12. MaZ MaZ 7 July 2009

    @kit,@sanja,@lyndall thanks for the feedback. Part of putting an idea out is listening to what others may think.

    The blood idea seems to have struck a negative chord, and perhaps was not the best project, but we learn as we go along. The notion of Pavlovian responses is in all of us – when you see a speeding camera, do you accelerate? The fact is, I am tired of not being able to help those on the side of the road suffering, and this is my response.
    Some projects will work, others won’t but at least it will feed somebody.

Leave a Reply