Convincing lending institutions to provide credit to the poor can be a challenge given that poorer clients often have limited to no credit histories and are therefore deemed high risk. A pilot study in Malawi showed that using fingerprints as unique IDs to track credit histories increased repayment behavior of microfinance borrowers, holding promise as a way to help more poor borrowers access credit. With support from USAID’s Development Impact Ventures, researchers collaborated with lenders and a centralized credit data repository in Malawi to evaluate the impact of this approach prior to its transition to scale. The implementation of the scale-up faced many challenges and researchers saw relatively low adoption of fingerprint identification by local microfinance institutions. These results highlight the challenge of scaling up a complicated technology in a resource-constrained setting, and the broader importance of evaluating interventions beyond the pilot scale before expanding them to reach larger populations.
We study a simple savings scheme that allows workers to defer receipt of part of their wages for three months at zero interest. The scheme significantly increases savings during the deferral period, leading to higher post-disbursement spending on lumpy expenditures. Two years later, after two additional rounds of the savings scheme, we find that treated workers have made permanent improvements to their homes. The popularity of the scheme suggests a lack of good alternative savings options, and analysis of a follow-up experiment shows that demand for the scheme is also due to the scheme’s ability to address self-control issues.
Globally, violence against women is a leading cause of premature death and morbidity for women and almost one-third of women report experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV) or sexual violence by a non-partner at some point in their life. Yet rigorous evidence on scalable and effective ways to reduce IPV is limited, in part because measuring IPV is challenging. Current standards of practice for reducing gender-based violence are also relatively limited in scope, focusing mainly on changing gender norms. Designing and testing new approaches has the potential to yield more effective solutions. IPA’s Intimate Partner Violence Initiative, a partnership with the International Rescue Committee, exists to address these challenges. The initiative designs and tests innovative solutions to IPV, leverages existing research to identify factors that contribute to IPV and works to address methodological and measurement challenges in violence research and related fields. With our academic and implementing partners, IPA has identified a number of effective solutions, including mass media campaigns, coupling women’s economic empowerment with gender dialogue, and teaching secondary school students soft skills. Results from several initiative-supported studies are forthcoming. Further research will be needed to validate results in new contexts and at scale, and to design and evaluate new ideas.
We test whether the provision of multiple labeled savings accounts affects savings decisions and downstream outcomes in a field experiment with 481 entrepreneurs in urban Malawi. Treatment respondents received either one or multiple savings boxes, while a control group received nothing. Multiple accounts increased savings in treatment accounts by about 30%. Savings boxes had sizeable effects on a number of outcomes, including farming decisions, household expenditures, land purchases, credit extended to customers, and interpersonal transfers. However, we find no evidence that multiple accounts had larger downstream effects than single accounts.
Designers and funders of payments for ecosystem services (PES) programs have long worried that payments flow to landholders who would have conserved forests even without the program, undermining the environmental benefits (“additionality”) and cost-effectiveness of PES. If landholders self-select into PES programs based on how much conservation they were going to undertake anyway, then those who were planning to conserve should always enroll. This paper discusses the less-appreciated fact that enrollment is often based on other factors too. The hassle of signing up or financial costs of enrollment (e.g., purchasing seedlings) can affect who participates in a PES program. These enrollment costs reduce overall take-up, and, importantly, they can also influence the composition of landholders who select into the program—and thereby the program’s environmental benefits per enrollee. Enrollment costs can increase a program’s benefits per enrollee if they are systematically higher for (and thus deter enrollment by) landholders who would have conserved anyway. Alternatively, enrollment costs can dampen per-enrollee benefits if their correlation with status-quo conservation is in the opposite direction. We illustrate these points with evidence from two studies of randomized trials of PES programs aimed at increasing forest cover in Uganda and Malawi. We also discuss how in other sectors, such as social welfare, policy designers have purposefully adjusted the costs of program enrollment to influence the composition of participants and improve cost-effectiveness. We propose that these ideas for targeting could be incorporated into the design of PES programs.
We use a field experiment to show referral-based hiring has the potential to disadvantage qualified women, highlighting another potential channel behind gender disparities in the labor market. Through a recruitment drive for a firm in Malawi, we look at men's and women's referral choices under different incentives and constraints. We find that men systematically refer few women, despite being able to refer qualified women when explicitly asked for female candidates. Performance pay also did not alter men's tendencies to refer men. Additionally, women did not refer enough high quality women to offset men's behavior.