For Dean Karlan, our founder, Innovations for Poverty Action started close to home – literally. In the early days, IPA was run out of Dean’s living room.

Dean Karlan in Latin America during the early years.

Dean didn't know it at the time, but IPA was born out of his travels throughout Latin America before grad school. He and a friend worked for a US based microcredit company in their Latin America offices, where they built an accounting software system from scratch. While the system ultimately became discarded there was a silver lining: those experiences traveling and talking with the microcredit company employees and fellow aid workers about how they made decisions spurred him to undertake his PhD in economics. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Early Years of IPA

What began as an idea pitched by Dean to his graduate advisors Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Sendhil Mullainathan at MIT in 2002, ended up becoming a non-profit organization dedicated to bridging the gap between academia and development policy in practice.  
IPA was first known as Development Innovations and started in New Jersey. Dean’s graduate advisors agreed to join him on the board of the new organization. In 2003, Banerjee, Duflo, and Mullainathan started MIT’s Poverty Action Lab (now the Abdul Lateef Jameel Poverty Action Lab, or J-PAL), a center at MIT and a network of like-minded researchers from around the world. From the beginning the two organizations were set up to work closely together, and continue to promote a shared vision to this day. Development Innovations officially changed to Innovations for Poverty Action in order to show the closely-linked vision of the two organizations. 

Rapid Growth of RCT’s and IPA

IPA soon moved to New Haven and grew quickly. In the first ten years we partnered with over 200 academics and implementing organizations, and completed over 125 studies spanning the sectors of agriculture, education, finance, governance, health, and water & sanitation. We also garnered attention in the mainstream media, with mentions in The New York Times, Wired Magazine, The Economist and The Guardian.

IPA now has a headquarters in New Haven, CT, as well as other US offices in New York and Washington D.C. Thankfully, for Dean’s family, we are too big to fit in the living room any more!  We are working in 18 countries with approximately 1,000 colleagues around the globe. We have now partnered with over 400 researchers from leading academic institutions and over 400 implementing partners. We have completed 275 studies and have hundreds more on going.

IPA is the largest implementer of randomized evaluations in the international development field, combining rigorous evaluation design with high quality research implementation. IPA’s growth and successes have come about as others working to combat poverty have both embraced evidence to inform program and policy design and broadly accepted randomized evaluations as the gold standard.

The Future of IPA

IPA staff_2010
IPA staff in Kenya in 2010.

IPA will continue to build on what we have achieved and leverage what makes us unique to address the next challenges of fighting poverty. There is much more to learn about what works best to help the poor, and we need to ensure that what we learn gets translated into action.

Over the next five years, we will dedicate ourselves to discovering and promoting effective solutions to global poverty problems by creating more high-quality evidence that answers questions of immediate importance to decision-makers at the front lines of development. We will also promote the design and use of better evidence-based programs and policies, leading to improved opportunities for the poor.