The paper examines the extent to which emerging social transfer programs in developing countries can improve the productive capacity of households in poverty and contribute to micro-level growth. It introduces a basic framework linking transfers to growth mediating processes and productive capacity outcomes. This is then used to organize and assess relevant findings from program evaluation studies. The paper concludes that social transfer programs can have positive effects on the productive capacity of poor and poorest groups; but further research is needed to identify and measure the size and significance of these effects. © 2011 Elsevier Ltd.