Roots and Remedies: Persistent poverty and violence amongst urban street youth in Liberia

Policy Issue:

Poor and underemployed youth can be found at the hearts of riots, revolutions, civil wars, and petty and organized crime. In post-conflict countries, where state capacity is weak, frustrations are many, and jobs are few, policymakers are particularly concerned about these youth’s potential to destabilize society. Liberia, which recently suffered through 14 years of civil conflict, has named “youth disempowerment” as one of two major threats to durable and lasting peace. Liberia’s 2009 Youth Fragility Assessment sums it up this way: “the youth… simply wish for… the prospect of some day earning an income, even a modest one. For many, this is the impossible dream... the challenge is to make it possible, soon and for everyone.” The stakes are extremely high. The World Bank writes: “while much of the world has made rapid progress in reducing poverty in the past 60 years, areas characterized by repeated cycles of political and criminal violence are being left far behind….," and calculates a civil conflict costs the average developing country roughly 30 years of GDP growth. A quarter of the world’s population (1.5 billion people) live in places plagued by recurring and endemic violence.

How can governments and NGOs raise employment and reduce the risk of violence among these poor and risky populations? Aid programs increasingly focus on helping youth through markets, especially through microenterprise development. The logic of this assistance, however, rests on the existence of market failures among the poorest of the poor: imperfect credit markets, or production discontinuities such as minimum start-up costs or low returns to small investments. Cash grants or credit are needed to achieve minimum scale. Street youth with no assets and weak social networks may be particularly vulnerable to this trap. But so far there has been little research proving the existence of market failures or the ability of aid to help.

Meanwhile, both psychologists and economists have begun to explore the extent to which behavioral skills – such as impulse control, time preferences for immediate vs. delayed gratification, risk aversion, conscientiousness, setting and keeping long range goals, and being deliberate in choices – contribute to poverty. In a war zone, being highly present-focused might indeed be the optimal survival strategy. During peacetime, however, the absence of such preferences could in theory constitute a second source of persistent poverty: a behavioral poverty trap, leading to low savings rates, wastage of any windfalls, and high-risk behavior including involvement in drugs, crimes, and violence. Importantly, core principles underlying much economic and psychological theory assume that such preferences are fixed in young adulthood, leading anti-poverty projects to take a paternalistic approach. Again, little research has critically examined these assumptions.

Counter to conventional wisdom, preliminary investigation suggests that a behavioral transformation program, akin to cognitive behavioral therapy, can be successful. This finding, if true, would be groundbreaking, challenging conventional economic and psychological models of behavior, which posit that preferences and behaviors are stable and difficult to change, especially among adults.

Context of the Evaluation:

The study is designed to disentangle how cash and capital constraints versus dysfunctional preferences and behaviors contribute to the poverty and violence of the young men and women living on Monrovia’s streets, and to create an inexpensive and scalable program that will reduce poverty, violence, and social instability among unstable youth in Liberia and beyond.

On the preferences and behaviors side, the questions are (a) What role do cognitive and behavioral traits play in persistent poverty and violence?; (b) Are these cognitive and behavioral traits malleable in adulthood, and is sustained cognitive behavior change possible?; and (c) Will changing them reduce poverty and violence? On the market failures side, the questions are (a) What role does the lack capital and credit play in persistent poverty and violence?; (b) Will unconditional cash transfers relieve this constraint and reduce poverty and violence?; and (c) Do capital constraints and cognitive and behavioral deficiencies interact, and must both constraints be relieved to reduce poverty and violence in sustained way?

Description of the Intervention:

This “Sustainable Transformation for Youth in Liberia” (STYL) program is an experimental program, being jointly run by the research team and two NGO partners: CHF International and NEPI. As of mid-2012, STYL will have enrolled approximately 1,000 youth. Youth are recruited from urban areas where large numbers of underemployed youth congregate, and are targeted for the program on the basis of exhibiting the following characteristics: persistently poor; homeless; lack of self-discipline; angry, hostile, depressed; idle and not busy with productive pursuits; involved in organized or petty crime, and/or conflict with the law; and getting drunk and/or high regularly.

The STYL study is currently experimentally evaluating two interventions, each on its own as well as in concert with the other.

A behavioral Transformation Program (TP), akin to cognitive behavioral therapy (similar to Alcoholics Anonymous) and life-skills programs. The TP has the aims of bolstering the cognitive and social skills necessary for entrepreneurial self-help, raising youth’s aspirations, and equipping the youth to reach them. The TP involves half-day sessions 3-times a week, for 8 weeks, held in groups of 20 led by 2 counselors. The curriculum includes modules on anger management, impulse control, future orientation and planning skills, and self-esteem.

An unconditional cash grant program, in which youth are given a large $200 one-time cash grant disbursement. How the grant is spent is entirely up to the recipient, though a grant orientation session provides some basic training on financial management and business planning.

Individual youth are randomly assigned to either receive the TP; the cash grant; the TP and then the cash grant; or neither.

The plan is to conduct both short-term and long-term endline surveys to capture treatment effects, through surveys and behavioral games. If the basic interventions are shown to be effective, the research team hopes to further improve program design through iterative tweaking and testing, including varying cash grant size and TP length and intensity, and trying additional potentially complementary interventions, in order to help policymakers achieve goals most cost-effectively.

Results and Policy Lessons:

Forthcominng

 

Media coverage of this project:

Chris Blattman Talks with NPR's Planet Money team here.

Chris Blattman and Paul Niehaus in Foreign Affairs here.

Jason Margolis interviews ex-combatants and researchers Tricia Gonwa and Chris Blattman.

Ex-combatant Reintegration in Liberia

For post-conflict societies, the challenges of reintegrating ex-combatants and war-affected youth are likely to far outlast and outsize the formal demobilization, disarmament and reintegration (DDR) of ex-combatants. These programs, conducted in war’s immediate aftermath, form an important part of a policymaker’s post-conflict toolkit. While ex-combatants receive special policy attention, poor and underemployed men are also widely considered a threat to political stability.

Find a more in-depth policy report here. 

Context of the Evaluation:

In Liberia, where the bulk of the population is young, poor, and underemployed, many rural youth continue to make their living through unlawful activities, including unlicensed mining, rubber tapping, or logging. Many of them are ex-combatants, and some remain in loose armed group structures, doing the bidding of their wartime commanders. While the security situation has steadily improved since 2003, the government, the UN, and NGOs fear that these youth are a possible source of instability, particularly in hotspot regions where mining, rubber tapping, or logging and the allure of “fast money” attract young men from around the country. These youth may also be recruited into regional conflicts as mercenaries. Agriculture is and will continue to be a major source of employment and income for rural Liberians. The international NGO Landmine Action (LMA, now known as Action on Armed Violence) runs an innovative and intensive agricultural training program, targeting ex-combatants and other high-risk youth in rural hotspots.

Description of the Intervention:

The LMA program is broader and more intensive than most ex-combatant reintegration programs, and is designed to rectify some of the main failings of prior demobilization programs: it is oriented towards agriculture (the largest source of employment in Liberia); it provides both human and physical capital; and it integrates economic with psychosocial assistance. It also targets youth at natural resource hotspots that presented the most immediate security concerns.

LMA took youth selected for the program to residential agricultural training campuses, where they received 3-4 months of coursework and practical training in agriculture, basic literacy and numeracy training, psychosocial counseling; along with meals, clothing, basic medical care, and personal items. After the training, counselors facilitated graduates' re-entry with access to land in any community of their choice.  Graduates received a package of agricultural tools and supplies, valued at approximately US$200. The program's total cost is approximately $1,250 per youth, excluding the cost of constructing the campuses. The program was designed to give youth a sustainable and legal alternative to illegal resource extraction, ease their reintegration into society, reduce the risk of re-recruitment into crime and insurrection in the future, and to improve security in hotspot communities.

LMA recruited twice as many youth as it had space for in its programs, and researchers randomly assigned half of the youth to treatment (receiving the program), and half to a comparison group (not receiving the program). By comparing these two groups 18 months after the program, researchers can see the effect of the intervention on agricultural livelihoods, shifts from illicit to legal employment, poverty, social integration, aggression, and potential for future instability.  Despite massive migration, 93% of the youth were found at the time of the endline survey. The qualitative study included observation and a series of interviews with 50 of the youth.

Results and Policy Lessons:

Engagement in agriculture: More than a year after completion of the program, program participants are at least a quarter more likely than the control group to be engaged in agriculture, and 37% more likely to have sold crops. Interest in and positive attitudes toward farming are also significantly higher among program participants. 

Illicit activities:The program had little impact on rates of participation in illicit activities like mining, but those who participated in the program do spend fewer hours engaged in illicit activities, as agricultural hours seem to substitute somewhat for hours spent in illicit activities.

Income, expenditures, and wealth:  There was a sizable increase in average wealth from the program, especially in household durable assets, but no change in current income (last week and last month), savings or spending for the average program participant. Overall, the evidence suggests that cash cropping provides periodic windfalls from sales, and that these are mainly invested in durable assets (and not necessarily in agricultural inputs or equipment).  Qualitative observations also suggest that access to markets may have been an important constraint on success.

Social engagement, citizenship, and stability:  There were small but positive improvements across most measures of social engagement, citizenship, and stability. While not all of the estimated impacts are large enough to be statistically significant, they nevertheless suggest a small but broad-based reduction in alienation and some gains in stability. The evidence on aggression and crime, however, does not point to a significant reduction in illegal or aggressive behaviors among program participants.

Interest and mobilization into the election violence in Cote d’Ivoire:Conflict broke out in Cote d’Ivoire shortly before the launch of the program evaluation.  Self reported rates of interest in the violence and mobilization were fairly low among the sample population, but they were especially low among program participants – they tended to report a third less interest in or links to recruiters and recruitment activities. Given the difficulty of shifting such behaviors, these impacts of the program are regarded as extremely promising.

For a policy memo with detailed results, as well as recommendations for reintegration, livelihoods, and poverty alleviation programs in Liberia, please see here.

Reconciliation, Conflict and Development: A Field Experiment in Sierra Leone

Reconciliation programs aim to help communities heal after war, but we know little about how effective these programs are and which approaches best serve post-conflict communities. In this study in Sierra Leone, researchers measure the impact of a community-based reconciliation program designed to address social divisions that remain following the 11-year civil war. Researchers will analyze how the program impacts individuals’ attitudes toward violence, the incidence of disputes and crimes in the community, and the mechanisms used to resolve disputes.

Policy Issuce:

Civil war has disrupted the lives of millions of people living in post-conflict countries in sub-Saharan Africa.  Communities are left with physical destruction to village infrastructure and social divisions amongst combatants and victims. How do community members, once in conflict with neighbors, move forward with the traumatic memories of war?  Every year, development dollars are allocated to transitional justice programming in these war-torn countries, yet the effects of this programming have not been addressed in development economics literature.

Context of the Evaluation:

Sierra Leone’s eleven-year civil war ended in 2002, affecting the entire country.  Despite the passage of almost a decade since the end of the war, many parts of the country have not fully recovered from the conflict.  Physical damage to public goods, such as buildings and water pipes, remains.  Many former combatants, who were children during the war, have not returned to their villages—possibly fearing they will not be accepted.

Fambul Tok International has developed a community-based reconciliation initiative to help communities rebuild. Fambul Tok’s programming provides an alternative to commonly accepted transitional justice mechanisms, such as retributive war crimes courts or truth and reconciliation commissions, both of which have had a presence in post-conflict Sierra Leone. Few community reintegration and reconciliation models, like that of Fambul Tok, have been rigorously evaluated, and evidence on best practices are lacking.

Description of the Intervention:

Fambul Tok’s approach to reconciliation engages community leaders to organize a forgiveness bonfire and cleansing ceremony in the village. At the ceremony, victims, perpetrators and witnesses all have the opportunity to publicly describe their experiences.  Perpetrators are given the opportunity to ask for forgiveness and victims the opportunity to forgive.  After the ceremony, the community is brought together through activities such as communal farming and designating a peace tree for dispute resolution. These ongoing activities are designed to promote social interconnectedness and build social capital.

One hundred sixty randomly selected villages will receive this intervention.  Twelve individuals in each of these villages, as well as in another 160 comparison villages that do not receive the program, will receive a baseline survey collecting data on socioeconomic status, trust, psychosocial well-being, social networks, and specific war-time experiences. An additional village-level survey will be administered in each village to a group of community leaders to garner information on the village’s war experiences and active community projects like communal farms and schools. A follow-up survey will be administered to the full sample one year later.

To understand how reconciliation affects conflict, researchers will analyze how the program impacts individuals’ attitudes toward violence, the incidence of disputes and crimes in the community, and the mechanisms used to resolve disputes. An assessment of whether reconciliation serves as a base for economic development will be conducted through analysis of how the program affects economic activity. The study will further measure whether individuals within treatment communities are more willing to work together or contribute resources for communal ends.

In addition to seeing if reconciliation improves social and economic outcomes, we hope to identify the mechanism through which it affects behavior.  We plan to identify the mechanism through the use of behavioral games, which will be conducted in a subset of the communities.  Behavioral games are complementary to respondent interviews, insofar as they measure differences in observed rather than reported behavior.  The behavioral experiments are designed to disentangle four different components of intra-group behavior: in-group altruism, out-group altruism, reputation and trust. By overlaying four different types of experiments, we can test for different mechanisms through which a change in perceptions and beliefs leads to changed behavior. 

Results and Policy Lessons

Results forthcoming. 

Peace Education in Rural Liberia

For new democracies and societies emerging from conflict, encouraging tolerance and dialogue, strengthening non-violent conflict resolution systems, and increasing understanding of human rights are key priorities. Governments and NGOs commonly try to change the political culture, civic values, and practices of conflict resolution at the local level through widespread dialogue, education, and information campaigns.  But do these dialogue and education programs actually work as intended? Do they change norms and behaviors, and if so, how? How are new patterns of conflict resolution formed?  And how do they contribute to national reconciliation? How do new state structures integrate with pre-existing local bodies to jointly support security goals and human rights, especially where traditional structures are in conflict with the later? In short, what programs are most useful in helping post-conflict countries achieve lasting peace?

Find a more in-depth policy report here.

Context of the Evaluation:

More than five years after the end of Liberia’s fourteen year civil war, underlying tensions between tribes, over land, and between youth and elders continue to pose threats to a fragile peace. The UN’s Peacebuilding Commission and the Government of Liberia are working together to promote non-violent dispute resolution and inter-group reconciliation, but how best to do this is unknown. This study was jointly designed by the UN, the government, and the research team to assess whether civic education and conflict resolution programs can contribute to this broader peacebuilding agenda.

Description of the Intervention and Evaluation:

Target communities for the program were identified within Liberia’s three most conflict-prone counties: Grand Geddeh, Lofa, and Nimba. The researchers randomly assigned half to receive the program as the “treatment” group, and half to not receive the program as a “control” group. The program took place in 67 villages and town quarters. The program mobilized and trained community members in order to achieve three main goals: (1) educate people on their rights and to respect the rights of others; (2) encourage community collective action towards shared goals; and (3) foster non-violent dialogue and conflict resolution. The program is notable for its intensity and reach: in each community, roughly 10% of adults participated in an eight-day long interactive workshop held over the course of several weeks. Workshops had between 20 to 30 participants, both men and women, were led by a professional facilitator, and were conducted in local dialects. Multiple workshops were held in most communities to reach the 10% coverage target.

Pre-program baseline data was collected in 2009, and the endline took place between 1 and 22 months after the program. Data came from more than 5,000 individuals with three main surveys. In each community, the team interviewed: 20 randomly-selected “community members”, 4 “community leaders”, and 3 people identified by local chiefs as potential trainees, including a “troublesome” person. The study measures the impact of attending the program on potential trainees, random community members, and community leaders, and the impact on the community of having the program take place in their community. An in-depth qualitative study in 14  of the communities was conducted alongside the randomized evaluation to determine the mechanisms of impact. The study focuses on four major outcome classes: community and political participation; attitudes to rights; civic knowledge, attitudes and beliefs; and the prevalence and resolution of conflict.

Results and Policy Lessons:

Community and political participationCommunity participation was measured through contributions to public goods and community projects, membership in groups (from farming to sports), membership in a peace group, and leadership in groups.  Across all measures, the only treatment effect was on membership in peace groups. On political participation, the only statistically significant treatment effect was seen on an index measuring whether potential trainees feel free to speak their minds to “big people” in the community and whether they feel community members have the right to speak out to elders: Those trained are 4% more likely to feel empowered to speak freely. This effect is concentrated among the “troublesome” individuals, who see a larger increase of about 8%.

Attitudes on human rights: Across multiple measures, nearly all the treatment effects are positive, indicating that respondents in trained communities generally report more progressive beliefs. For community members, however, these impacts are fairly close to zero. The impacts on trainees and leaders are modest in size – often in the range of 1 to 10% —and seldom statistically significant at conventional levels.

Civic attitudes and knowledge: The civic education component provided information on citizenship, civic rights and responsibilities and Liberia’s political structure. At endline, amongst potential trainees in the control group, only about 12% correctly understood the statutory requirements for citizenship. This understanding nearly doubled among treated trainees. Little change was seen in political knowledge, and the program also appears to have little to no impact on perceptions of equity in community governance as well as on perceptions towards the national government.

Prevalence and Resolution of Conflict: The most striking program impacts were on conflict and its resolution. In treatment communities (i.e. those that received the program), the evaluation found sizeable increases in non-violent inter-personal and inter-group disputes; suggestive evidence of a decrease in violent disputes; increasing levels of land conflict since the program, though also suggestions of lower rates of violence, and increased rates of dispute resolution and of satisfaction with those resolutions in trained communities. At the community level, leaders reported a 93% increase in conflicts (typically disputes and disagreements) between youth and elders in treated communities.  Treatment communities were also twice as likely to have a peaceful strike or protest, and three times as likely to have a witch killing (though the latter result is not statistically significant).

Violent strikes, protests, and inter-group violence are 59% less likely in treatment communities, however, though this result is not statistically significant (partly because the events are rare, making it difficult to estimate their prevalence precisely with such a small sample of communities).

In addition to the policy report detailing the impact evaluation results, the team has produced a second policy report analyzing patterns of conflict.

Northern Uganda Social Action Fund – Youth Opportunities Program

Youth unemployment is a persistent problem in the developing world, particularly in post-conflict settings, posing both economic and security issues. In growing, stable economies such as Uganda, what holds back youth from reaching their potential?  One theory suggests that youth unemployment is due primarily to the lack of sufficient capital to support entrepreneurship. If this is true, cash transfers or cheap credit could lead to a burst of self-employment. Evidence from other areas, such as studies on microcredit, suggests that alleviating these constraints with loans has little effect on earnings. In Northern Uganda, which is returning to peace after twenty years of war, the government’s Youth Opportunities Program offered cash transfers to groups of youth to increase employment and reduce conflict. Follow-up surveys two and four years later found a shift from agricultural work towards skilled trades and strong increases in income. Women in particular benefited from the cash transfers, with incomes of those in the program 84% higher than women who were not. There were no differences, however, in social outcomes such as community participation, aggression, and social cohesion.

See the full paper herea policy note for the World Bank here, and Chris Blattman’s blog discussion here.

Policy Question:
In developing countries, high unemployment - particularly among youth - is a pressing concern. Jobs, particularly higher-skilled labor and productive small enterprise, provide incomes and reduce poverty. For governments, transitioning from an economy based on small-scale agriculture to one based on entrepreneurship and production is critical for long-term growth. Employment is also seen as important for building social stability and political engagement in communities uprooted by long-term conflict.
 
One form of intervention offers cash in the hopes that youth will invest it in the training and assets to learn a trade or form a business. In the development community, anxiety persists over whether this is an effective approach: will youth with little or no financial or business training be able to direct the money towards successful long-term entrepreneurship?  Previous research also raises questions about the ability of women in particular to invest aid into increasing lifetime earnings, given occupational constraints and pressure to share windfalls.1
 
Uganda’s largest employment program sought to test if an intervention as simple as giving cash could help accomplish the country’s long-term economic and social goals for its youth.
 
Context of the Evaluation:
Twenty years of insurgency, instability and conflict led to high rates of poverty and unemployment in northern Uganda, but by 2005 a measure of peace and stability had returned to the region. The centerpiece of the post-conflict recovery plan was a decentralized development program, the Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF). In 2006, to stimulate employment growth through self-employment, the government launched a new NUSAF component: the Youth Opportunities Program (YOP), which provided cash transfers to groups of young adults with the goal of encouraging trade-based self-employment. 
 
Description of the Intervention:
The YOP intervention had two official aims: to raise youth incomes and employment and to improve community reconciliation and reduce conflict. The program, targeted at youth from ages 16 to 35, required young adults from the same town or village to organize into groups and submit a proposal for a cash transfer to pay for: (i) fees at a local technical or vocational training institute of their choosing, and (ii) tools and materials for practicing a craft.
 
The average applicant group had 22 members. Group cash transfers averaged nearly UGX 12.8 million (US$7,108), and varied by both group size and group request. The average transfer size per member was UGX 673,026 (US$374) – more than 20 times the average monthly income of the youth at the time of the baseline survey.
 
Due to vast oversubscription, the 535 eligible groups were selected at random, using a lottery, to either receive the YOP program or be part of the comparison group. A baseline survey was conducted with 2601 individuals in 2008, and 87 percent were successfully followed and interviewed in the endline surveys two and four years later.
 
Results and Policy Lessons:
Overall, the program seemed to have strong economic effects. Four years later, beneficiaries of the YOP program had 41% higher income and were 65% more likely to practice a skilled trade, such as carpentry, metalworking, tailoring, or hairstyling. Hours worked were 17% higher, nearly entirely accounted for by these new professions – while most still farmed part-time, hours spent in agriculture were not different. They were also 40% more likely to keep records, register their business, and pay taxes.
 
Within the sample, gains were highest for those who had the highest initial credit constraints, those with fewest initial assets and access to loans. The effects were particularly strong for women. Women who received the cash grants four years later had 84% higher incomes than women who did not, while men were earning 31% more than their counterparts in the comparison group. This gender difference may reflect particular capital constraints faced by women.
 
While employment programs including this one are often implemented by governments with the aim of reducing social instability or promoting cohesion, the data show no evidence for impacts in these domains. After four years there were no measurable differences in cohesion, aggression, or community and political participation between participants in the YOP program and those in the comparison group.
 
Overall, the data show that the poor used the money effectively; investing in training and tools needed to start businesses and experienced a significant growth in income, even after four years. Even though impacts in social domains were negligible, the economic outcomes show the potential of alleviating capital constraints for spurring economic growth among the poor. 
 
Read the full paper here.
 
A midterm policy report here and policy note by the World Bank here were based on the initial 2-year follow up data.
 
[1] Fafchamps, M., McKenzie, D., Quinn, S., Woodruff, C., 2011. When is capital enough to get female microenterprises growing? Evidence from a randomized experiment in Ghana. Unpublished working paper.

Enterprises for Ultra-poor Women After War: The WINGS Program in Northern Uganda

What’s holding back impoverished women? Can small grants programs help the most vulnerable women develop sustainable livelihoods? Do employment and poverty relief empower them and improve their lives? This evaluation assessed the impact of a program that gave cash grants and basic business skills training to the poorest and most excluded women in post-war northern Uganda. The program led to dramatic increases in business and reductions in poverty. Despite these economic gains, however, there was little change in social integration, physical or mental health, or empowerment.

Find a policy note with more detail here and a full in-depth policy report here (PDFs)
 
Policy Issue:
According to one view, women have the ability to run businesses and make profits, but they are held back by too few assets, too little access to loans, too few skills, and a host of social barriers. What happens, then, when these economic barriers are removed? This study evaluates a program that gives cash, business skills training, and ongoing advising to some of the poorest women in the world, in northern Uganda, to understand its effect on new business development and poverty.
 
Another view holds that for women, with economic success comes empowerment - more independence, more decision-making power in the household, and the freedom to leave abusive relationships. This study also tests whether an entrepreneurship program that reduces poverty also empowers the women in other aspects of life.
 
Evaluation Context:
The study takes place in northern Uganda, which is emerging from twenty years of conflict and displacement. Young women and girls in particular suffered economically and educationally from the war. The women who participated in this study were displaced from their homes and lands for years, and are returning and rebuilding a life. Thus this study can inform strategies for post-war reconstruction for women and for the society in general.
 
In 2007, the NGO AVSI Uganda and two of the IPA Investigators surveyed more than 600 young females aged 14 to 35 affected by the conflict in northern Uganda, including more than 200 women formerly abducted by an armed group. The evidence from the survey, along with program experience among NGOs in northern Uganda, suggests that the development of new economic opportunities and building social capital will be crucial ingredients in reducing poverty and improving the health, education and psychosocial well-being of youth, especially young women. 
AVSI and the investigators worked together to design a program that would relieve the most serious economic constraints on women: The Women’s Income Generating Support (WINGS) program.
 
Description of the Intervention:
AVSI identified the 15 poorest and most vulnerable women in 120 villages that they wanted to support - 1800 in all. To each, they delivered WINGS’ three core components:
1.       Four days of business skills training (BST)
2.       An individual start-up grant of roughly $150
3.       Regular follow-up by trained community workers
Additional optional components of the program include group formation, training, and self-support; and spousal inclusion, training, and support. Based on records provided by AVSI, the total cost of the intervention is estimated at approximately $688 per person.
 
Evaluation Design:
The evaluation combined a randomized design with qualitative data collection. AVSI could help no more than 900 people in 60 villages at first - serving 900 already required them to triple their usual capacity. Thus AVSI and IPA held public lotteries with village leaders. 60 villages were selected to participate immediately, while the remaining 60 participated 18 months later. This design allowed for assessing 18-month impacts by comparing women in participating villages to those just about to receive the program.
 
Results:
Economically, the program was transformative. For example:
 
Cash Earnings: Earnings nearly doubled. For the average WINGS beneficiary, monthly cash income increased by UGX 16,211 to 32,692 UGX, a 98% increase over controls. In absolute terms, an increase of UGX 16,211 does not seem large (about $6.50 a month at market exchange rates). However, relative to the average income in the control group, UGX 16,481 ($6.60), it is huge. 
 
Consumption, Assets, and Savings: Participants in the WINGS program had a 33% increase in household spending, a value of UGX 11,741 ($4.72). There is also an increase in wealth, and the results imply that WINGS clients substantially increase their durable assets. Savings for program beneficiaries tripled on average, going from UGX 40,740 ($16.36) to UGX 169,862 ($68.22). 
 
These economic gains, however, were not matched by gains in health or empowerment. In fact, there was almost no effect on non-economic measures. For instance:
 
Physical and mental health: There was no significant difference in psychological distress. Women in both the program and comparison groups reported a reduction in psychological distress over time, which is not surprising because the overall quality of life in northern Uganda improved after war and displacement. Women in the WINGS group did not improve more or faster, however. If anything, they were sick about a half a day more in the previous month. 
 
Child investments: Woman are often targeted by anti-poverty programs because they are believed to be more likely than men to use the profits to benefit the household, especially children’s education and health. Women in the program spent slightly more on children’s health and education, but there was no corresponding improvement in children’s health status or school enrollment, at least after 18 months.
 
Empowerment: The conventional wisdom also assumes that lending to women will enhance their status in the household. Data from this study, however, showed no evidence of resulting empowerment for women in household decision-making, independence, gender attitudes, or rates of intimate partner violence. This pattern has been seen before, and is often referred to as the “impact-paradox.” 
 
Overall, the WINGS program impacted women’s economic standing significantly, but the data show that translating these gains into improvements in psychological health, physical health, or empowerment is more complex.
 
For more, you can read a first person account of the project on the Freakonomics Blog.

Impact of Voter Knowledge Initiatives in Sierra Leone

This study looks at the impact of developing and disseminating material on political candidates. In a context with low literacy levels and limited media penetration innovative approaches and different forms of media are shared with voters and evaluated to better understand the impact on voter knowledge and candidate selection.

 
Policy Issue:

Transparent and accountable government institutions are thought to be more effective at delivering important social services such as education and healthcare. However, there is little consensus over how best to enhance these aspects of governance, particularly in places where conflict has recently caused breakdown in democratic institutions. Evidence from Brazil and India suggests that increased information about politician performance can result in lower vote shares for low-performing or corrupt representatives. There is also evidence that town hall meetings, where representatives meet directly with constituents, can increase voter knowledge, turnout and support for participating candidates. While many interventions have tested the efficacy of these strategies at increasing basic voter knowledge and access to candidates, little work has been done where democratic institutions are nascent and where public information is limited. In such settings reliable information on candidates may be limited or non-existent, and thus requires significant effort to collect, compile and then convey such information to voters in a comprehensible manner. Debates may provide a feasible alternative which could work in many settings.

 

Context of the Evaluation:

Sierra Leone’s 2012 elections were hailed by international observers as generally peaceful, free, and fair.  In previous elections voting patterns in Sierra Leone have been overwhelmingly based on pre-existing party affiliations.  However, during the 2008 elections, people in Sierra Leone were more likely to vote against traditional party and ethnic affiliations in places where they had more information about candidates (for example, in local elections).  Many election-related social programs focus on logistics and informing people about the importance of voting, but as Sierra Leoneans become more familiar with the democratic process there is also room to help people learn more about the different candidates among whom they will be choosing. The 2012 election presented an opportunity to test new electoral programs that could increase transparency, voter knowledge of candidates, and voter engagement.

 
Description of the Intervention:

In the run-up to the November 2012 elections in Sierra Leone, implementing partner Search for Common Ground filmed debates between rival candidates for membership in parliament (MP). From a total of 264 polling centers, 112 were randomly assigned to receive community screenings of these debates, 40 received interventions that provided information to individual voters, and another 112 served as a comparison group. 

Firstly, debates were shown at almost 200 community screenings in polling centers across Sierra Leone, where they were seen by an estimated 19,000 people. Surveys of voters before and after they watched these debates measured how their perception of candidates, their knowledge of candidate positions, and their voting intentions were altered. 

In the 40 polling centers assigned to receive individually delivered information, individuals were allocated one of the following groups

  1. Debate: Individuals were shown the exact same debate screened in polling centers on a personal handheld device.

  2. Getting to Know You: Individuals were shown a “getting to know you” video of the same two candidates speaking informally about their hobbies and interests.

  3. Radio Report: Individuals listened to a recording of an independent moderator or journalist summarizing the main policy positions articulated by the two candidates during the debates.

  4. Thin Slice Evaluations: Individuals participated in a “lab” experiment where they were exposed to pairs of isolated images, voice recordings, and names of candidates from other constituencies across the country and asked to rate them along a variety of metrics, such as who they thought would be a better leader.

  5. Comparison Group: Individuals were surveyed, but not shown any media.

Evaluating and comparing these groups will allow researchers to disentangle the effects of different kinds of information, such as policy positions, personal characteristics, or persuasive speeches, on voter behavior.

On election day and the days following researchers administered a short exit survey to both comparison and treatment voters, assessing their knowledge about candidates, previous voting behavior, choices in the local and national election, and how they made their electoral choices. During 2013, researchers are conducting several follow-up activities, including further research on the use of video clips to disseminate electoral information, and interventions targeted at MPs to remind them of their electoral commitments.  

 
Results and Policy Lessons:

Project ongoing, results forthcoming

Reduction of Gender-Based Violence Against Women in Cote d’Ivoire

By adding a component of gender discussion to Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) and including males in the proposed intervention, this study assesses the potential for improving the physical, social and economic outcomes for women in Côte d’Ivoire. Does including men in gender discussions in the context of financial decision-making help to reduce gender-based violence and increase economic outcomes for women?

Policy Issue:

Gender-based violence toward women and girls represents a violation of human rights and organizations like the International Rescue Committee (IRC) are actively engaging in rigorous research to determine the most effective ways to reduce this abuse.  Evidence from South Africa suggests that combining gender dialogue components to economic interventions can reduce partner violence.[1] Another program tying discussions of household dynamics to regular microfinance groups in Burundi also yielded promising findings[2]. While many programs that aim to reduce women’s exposure to gender-based violence focus solely on women, few interventions incorporate males to change their attitudes toward gender and their roles in the perpetuation of violence. This study addresses the potential to reduce gender-based violence within the post-conflict context by supplementing economic programs with a gender-training component for men and women.

Context of the Evaluation:

Côte d’Ivoire has experienced two civil wars in the past decade, most recently in November 2010 after a disputed presidential election. As of May 2011, the country has returned to a period of peace and internally displaced peoples (IDPs) are slowly returning to their homes. A recent report from Oxfam, Care and the Danish Refugee Council highlighted the potential humanitarian crisis IDPs represent in Cote d’Ivoire—over 450,000 Ivoirians remain displaced inside Côte d’Ivoire and abroad. About 58% of returnees and 82% of displaced Ivoirians report complete loss of revenue streams, and these populations remain highly susceptible to attacks, harassment and intimidation.

As part of its mission to respond to humanitarian crises and help post-crisis communities rebuild, the IRC uses Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) to increase savings opportunities and capital accumulation for self-selected groups of men and women. VSLA groups are composed of 15-30 community members who decide to contribute to a collective savings fund that members can borrow from, with the loan interest allowing the fund to grow over time. VSLA groups agree collectively on a payout date, when all members will receive a share of the common fund plus interest. The IRC provides initial training and resources such as a lockbox and notebooks, meaning that administrative costs are low and decision-making is driven entirely by the VSLA itself.

Description of the Intervention:

This study assesses the impact of a socio-economic program and discussion group on the incidence of physical and sexual violence and women’s individual agency. A randomized evaluation will be conducted in 24 villages across Côte d’Ivoire, reaching 48 newly-established VSLA groups. Village groups will be randomly assigned to either a treatment arm (gender dialogue program in addition to the VSLA program) or a comparison arm (VSLA program only).  Women will be surveyed before and after the program is completed, while men will be invited to participate in in-depth qualitative interviews. Additional midline quantitative and qualitative data collection activities were added to capture changes in household well-being as a result of the post-election instability in late 2010 and early 2011.

Gender dialogues will be facilitated through the IRC’s current structure for VSLA groups.  In addition to regular VSLA activities, groups assigned to the gender dialogue treatment will encourage men and women to discuss the processes by which economic decisions are made within the household and their current systems of control over household resources. By challenging gender norms within the dialogue groups in the context of savings and spending decisions, women’s position in the household may be strengthened over time.

Results:

Results forthcoming.


[1] (Proynk et al, 2006)

[2] (Iyengar and Ferrari 2011)

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