News and Announcements

  • SME Initiative Hosts First Annual Conference

    Dec 08/11 | From the newsroom | 

    The SME Initiative hosted its First Annual Conference on Entrepreneurship and SME Development  on November 30, 2011.  Co-hosted by the Inter-American Development Bank’s Multilateral Investment Fund, this event brought together over 130 researchers, practitioners and policymakers focused on entrepreneurship and SMEs in emerging markets.  Presentations on past and ongoing research studies covered a range of topics related to access to managerial human capital, access to finance, and job creation with evidence from a number of countries, including Ghana, India, Mexico, Peru and Sri Lanka.  Practitioner perspectives on each of these topical areas were also presented, to facilitate a dialogue between the worlds of research and policy.  The event concluded with a panel discussion on “Why should we care about the ‘Missing Middle’?”  Presentations from the event are available here.

  • Cautious capitalism

    Dec 07/11 | From the newsroom | The Economist

    IPA Research Affiliate Antoinette Schoar, who has conducted several studies in SMEs, was cited in an Economist article exploring whether the continuing economic recession has changed attitudes toward firm investment and financial decisions.


    Past research has shown that exogenous shocks, such as recessions, can modify firm-level behaviour. This view is at odds with traditional theories which posit that firms base their financing decisions on sound economic analysis. But a firm is not a rational actor. It is shaped by its managers whose beliefs are coloured by past and present events. For instance, managers who lived through the Great Depression were scarred by the collapse in capital markets and preferred to rely on internal financing even when it was cheaper to borrow externally.

    Interestingly, a firm’s aversion to capital markets can persist for decades after a recession. A recent paper by Antoinette Schoar and Luo Zuo, from MIT’s Sloan School of Management, concludes that managers who begin their career during a recession have a conservative management style when compared with their non-recession peers. The authors find that early career experiences are important and can influence firm-level decisions even decades later, when the “recession manager” becomes a CEO. The companies headed by these managers are reluctant to access public markets, have lower capital budgets and pay higher effective tax. If the pattern from previous downturns holds, then we can expect the next generation of business leaders to eschew capital markets in favour of self-sufficiency. Firms will invest less in capital-intensive projects and in research and development (R&D) to tightly control finances.

    Check out the full article here.

  • What pushes us to give

    Dec 06/11 | From the newsroom | Marketplace

    Marketplace's Kai Ryssdal interviewed IPA Founder and President Dean Karlan on why people give.

    Read an excerpt below, or watch and/or read the full interview here.

    Ryssdal: So this is, perhaps, the most basic question of all when we're talking about philanthropy and charity, but why? Why do we give?

    Karlan: You know, first of all, I have something fairly obvious to say, which is people do give for lots of different reasons. So there's some easy low-hanging fruit that do explain a lot of people's giving, which is to be part of something, to be part of a greater cause. And the striking thing about that and the tension that that creates is the question of whether people are giving simply to be part of a cause or because of what that cause actually accomplishes and how effective it is.

  • International Aid league table finds best giving opportunities

    Dec 06/11 | From the newsroom | Civil Society

    Civil Society's Fundraising section printed this article announcing GiveWell's recognition of IPA as a standout organization:

    "Other charities recognised as 'standout organisations' include GiveDirectly which offers a method to send money directly to the poor, and Innovations for Poverty Action, which carries out research on aid primarily in the developing world and advocates its use in decision-making. KIPP HoustonNyaya HealthPrathamand the Small Enterprise Foundation are also recognised as standout organisations this year."

    Full article.

  • Donors Give LESS When More Analytic Say Researchers

    IPA Research Affiliate John List was quoted in an article in Nonprofit Quarterly examining donor behavior.


    John List, an economist at the University of Chicago has tested matching programs for their capacity to encourage people to give more. List found that a matching program did inspire more people to give, but offering a higher matching ratio decidedly did not lead to larger donations. People whose donations would be quadrupled gave the same amount as people whose donations would simply be doubled. “People get utility or satisfaction out of giving to a good cause. And they do not care how much public good is provided,” concluded List.

    One theory about why people are less likely to give if they are more analytical has to do with what is termed here the “drop in the bucket effect,” or the sudden realization that one’s contribution pales in the face of overwhelming need. “If you really did the calculus,” List said, “my 25 dollars to the Sierra Club means nothing on the margins. So if I wanted to be really analytical about it, I’m not going to give.” List asserts that it follows that encouraging donors to give to the most efficient, best organizations might mean that less money actually gets donated.

    Read the full article.

  • Why we give to charity

    John List, an IPA Research Affiliate, has been cited in a Boston Globe article exploring the psychological dynamics involved in people donating.


    Another prominent theory to emerge from the research is that people give because of social pressure. [...] Those aren’t the reasons we like to think of ourselves as donating, but experimental research on charity tends to support the notion that donating and thinking occupy separate realms. Jonathan Baron, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, asked a group of participants which charity they’d rather give to: one that achieved its goals so efficiently that it could spend 20 percent of its money on advertising, or one that required more money to do the same amount of good, and thus spent less on promotion. Though the first charity was technically more efficient, people tended to favor the latter: What mattered to them was seeing more of their own money at work, Baron concluded, rather than the amount of good it did.

    This conclusion is bolstered by the findings of John List, an economist at the University of Chicago, who tested the effectiveness of so-called matching programs, in which a major supporter agrees to match the contributions of individual donors. List expected to find that matching programs enticed people to give, by creating the (correct) impression that their money would go further. But List’s results were curious: While charities that offered a matching program did inspire more people to give than charities that didn’t, he was surprised to find that a higher matching ratio didn’t lead to larger donations. People whose donations would be quadrupled — a huge increase in the power of their gift — didn’t donate any more money than people whose donations would simply be doubled. “People get utility or satisfaction out of giving to a good cause. And they do not care how much public good is provided,” List said.

    Read the full piece, which contains many thought-provoking insights.

  • The big push back

    Dec 03/11 | From the newsroom | Economist

    "Randomised trials could help show whether aid works"

    IPA Research Affiliate David McKenzie is mentioned in this Economist news story on the effectiveness of randomized trials, calling back to the Millennium Villages Project that has stirred up some controversy in the development impact sphere this year. Relevant Excerpt:

    Michael Clemens of the Centre for Global Development, a think-tank, and Gabriel Demombynes of the World Bank says that a randomised trial is needed to disentangle what the millennium programme is doing from what is happening anyway. In such a trial, each village would be paired with a similar one not getting the same help—and the results compared.

    This stirred up a hornets’ nest. In a vitriolic letter to another critic, Mr Sachs calls the idea “that one can randomise villages like one randomises individuals…extraordinarily misguided”. Randomised trials cannot work in villages, he insists, because they are too complex and dynamic. Comparing a millennium village with a randomly chosen one “will add surprisingly little”; the proper comparison is with a region or a country as a whole.

    David McKenzie of the World Bank then took up the cudgels. He pointed out that if the impact of the project were as great as its backers claim, it should be discernible even against a shifting background; that, in practice, randomised trials can be used to evaluate complex, dynamic processes, not just simple, static ones (though they have to be designed properly); and that comparing a favoured village against another after the intervention has started—which is being done—isn’t a randomised trial in the proper sense (properly, one should select pairs of villages, then choose one of the pair randomly as the subject of the programme).

    Full article here.

  • The FP Top 100 Global Thinkers

    Dec 01/11 | From the newsroom | Foreign Policy

    Congratulations to IPA Affiliates Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, who were chosen as #60 of Foreign Policy's Top 100 Global Thinkers. Below find the excerpt from the magazine; or, read it from the original source here.

  • District 170 students learning economics

    Get those economists started early! IPA Research Affiliate John List created headlines in Chicago with a special economics course designed and taught to 8th graders by U Chicago professors:

    Several eighth-grade students in Chicago Heights School District 170 are taking an economics class taught by instructors from the University of Chicago.

    Twenty eighth-graders representing all nine District 170 elementary schools are learning about economics in an 11-session course that will end this month. A second group of 20 District 170 students will take the same course starting in January.

    The economics class is the brainchild of District 170 Supt. Thomas Amadio and University of Chicago economics professor John List.

    “This is probably only one of a handful of middle school social sciences classes in the country that teaches ideas like opportunity cost or supply-and-demand in an experiential way,” List said.

    The students were selected after an application and interview process conducted by Amadio and other District 170 administrators.

    “Economics and technology are the future, and I want to increase my knowledge of both,” said Wilson School eighth-grader Dante Jones, who is one of the students taking the course.

    The class is held in the District 170 Distance Learning Center at Washington-McKinley School in Chicago Heights. Each student is provided a laptop computer, and the DLC is equipped with state-of-the-art technology.

    Original article.

    Update: Check out this video of District 170 students interacting with their instructors, and get more info on the program.

  • Innovations for Poverty Action asks the tough questions

    IPA's New Haven-based Data Coordinator, Matt White, was featured in a video interview with the New Haven Register where he discusses his experience working with IPA's Urban Micro-Insurance Project in Kenya


    Jua Kali is both a place and a type of freelance worker in Nairobi, Kenya, where White devoted a year of his life. It’s where hundreds of poor metalworkers are helping White find out if new economics can solve some age-old problems.

    “People are living in destitute poverty. You’re stepping over streams of sewage, and kids are just running around,” says White, data coordinator for Innovations for Poverty Action, a New Haven-based nonprofit. “Jua Kali is where they work. Always in the background there, you can hear the sound of hammers.”

    White spent parts of 2010 and 2011 in Kenya to test one of the hottest topics in global economics: micro health insurance. This is the idea of providing very cheap health insurance to poor workers who have little or no access to basic health care.

    “Micro health insurance has become increasingly popular,” White, 23, explains. “Money is being spent on it. But does it work? Is it worth investing in?”

    That’s where White’s group enters.

    Innovations for Poverty Action steps in, develops a randomized control study of the situation, conducts the study and determines whether or not an anti-poverty program is having the desired effect. The subjects range from school attendance and agriculture to clean water and mosquito nets.

    IPA has completed more than 80 such studies since 2002 and has more than 300 ongoing projects in dozens of countries, including the U.S.

    “There are things you can’t know by just guessing,” White says. “You can either just go along thinking that something that seems like a good idea is a good idea, or you can do a scientific evaluation.”

    Read the entire article and watch the video here.

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