Traditional savings accounts often yield low or negative returns, which may explain why many poor households do not take up these products to boost their savings. Researchers investigated the impact of a new product that allowed Kenyans to invest small amounts of money in a low-risk, high-return infrastructure bonds using their mobile phones.

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A local bank in rural Kenya

The vast majority of the world’s poor save, yet they often do so informally even when research findings suggest that accessing savings accounts at formal institutions can help low-income households increase their savings, investments, and ultimately their income. Could temporary interest rate incentives increase formal account use among the poor?

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Over a billion people worldwide, most of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa, lack electricity, and mainly rely on kerosene lanterns for light. Recently, prices for solar lanterns have been dropping and they may help supply clean, affordable lighting and phone charging to those who are not connected to the electric grid. Yet little rigorous evidence is available on how this new technology is being adopted and used and how it affects people’s lives.

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Many students in Sub-Saharan Africa are not learning to read in their first years of school and literacy rates remain low in the region. Researchers partnered with the Kenyan Ministry of Education to evaluate the impact of two strategies aimed at improving the literacy skills of school children in Kenya: enhanced literacy instruction, through teacher training and text message support, and child-to-child reading groups.

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Seasonal fluctuations in crop prices can have direct impacts on farmers’ earnings and savings. Crop prices are often lowest right after harvest, increasing substantially in the months afterwards, but farmers are not always able to take advantage of these price changes. Researchers evaluated whether well-timed access to credit allows maize farmers to make better use of storage and sell their output at higher prices.

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Health remains a major barrier to economic development in poor rural areas. Access to effective health products, whether preventive or curative, has so far remained limited due in large part to poverty and the absence of financial markets that would enable poor households to invest in health on credit. Given such constraints, poor households should save in anticipation of future health shocks.

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Intestinal worm infections are among the world’s most widespread diseases, with roughly one in four people infected worldwide. Research has shown that when children are treated with deworming medication, worm infections become less prevalent not only for children who received the medication, but for those who live in the same environment as treated children.

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A mobile phone used to receive cash transfers in Kenya

Unconditional cash transfers (UCTs) allow poor households the choice and flexibility of allocating resources to meet the needs they find most pressing. In Rarieda, Kenya, researchers conducted a randomized evaluation to measure the impact of GiveDirectly’s UCT program on poor rural households’ economic and psychological well-being. Results demonstrated that the program had significant welfare-improving impacts, both economically and psychologically, for transfer recipients.

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Researchers distributed vouchers for antimalarial drugs and malaria rapid diagnostic tests, redeemable at four local drug shops in Western Kenya. Taking some subsidy money away from anti-malarial drugs and putting it towards subsidizing and promoting rapid diagnostic testing could improve targeting.

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Regular handwashing with soap is one of the best ways to prevent diarrheal and respiratory disease, which are two of the primary causes of death among children worldwide. In many places in the developing world, however, soap is a luxury and water must be carried long distances, and handwashing with soap is not always practiced at critical times.

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Tax evasion generates significant losses in government revenues and distortions in a country’s economic activities. Evasion is of particular concern in developing countries, where the share of the informal economy is typically larger and the government has limited sources of information. Over the last decade, an increasing number of revenue authorities around the world have started collaborating with academic researchers to rigorously evaluate initiatives aimed at increasing tax revenue.

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Encasing water sources in concrete is an effective way of improving water quality and reducing the burden of diarrhea.

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Despite rapid and sustained growth of Kenyan agriculture exports to Europe, small farmers have largely failed to cash in on this opportunity. Researchers evaluated whether a package of services, designed to help link smallholder farmers to commercial banks, retail farm suppliers, transportation services, and exporters, could help small farmers in Kenya adopt, finance, and market export crops, and thus make more income.

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Many entrepreneurs in developing countries lack access to even the most basic of financial services. Researchers offered market vendors and bicycle taxi drivers in rural Kenya increased access to formal savings accounts: there was no opening fee, though the account offered no interest and users still had to pay substantial withdrawal fees.

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Heavily subsidizing essential health products like insecticide-treated bed nets has the potential to substantially decrease child mortality in sub-Saharan Africa, but there is widespread concern that poor governance and limited accountability among health workers undermines the effectiveness of subsidy programs . Researchers measured the impact of several financial and monitoring incentives on the quality of bed net delivery to pregnant women in Ghana .

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