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Helping the ultra-poor develop sustainable livelihoods is a global priority, but policymakers, practitioners, and funders are faced with competing ideas about the best way to reduce extreme poverty. Innovations for Poverty Action conducted a randomized evaluation to test the impacts of diverse components and variants of the Village Enterprise microenterprise program, an integrated poverty alleviation intervention that provides poor households with a combination of cash transfers, mentorship, business training, and support with the formation of savings groups, over a one-year period.

Key Findings

  • Village Enterprise’s microenterprise development program led to increased consumption, assets, and income, as well as improvements in nutrition and subjective well-being.
  • Cost-effectiveness appears high: researchers estimate a full cost recovery within three to four years.
  • A cost-equivalent cash transfer appeared to have less promising medium-term impacts on poverty reduction and subjective well-being than the microenterprise program, though estimates are more ambiguous.
  • Adding a light-touch behavior change component to the cash transfer changed the investment patterns of cash transfer recipients and improved subjective well-being somewhat, but cannot be characterized as a substitute for the much more heavy-touch training and mentorship interventions of the microenterprise program.
  • Overall, the results suggest that training and mentorship components of integrated poverty alleviation programs are sensible and cannot simply be removed (or substituted for cash transfers). But as they are complex, more research is needed on the issue of scaling them while maintaining their quality.
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Brief
Date:
May 27, 2020
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Uganda has made substantial advancements in nancial consumer protection policy in recent years but understanding whether and how the nancial sector complies with these new regulations can be a challenge in the absence of systematic monitoring. Setting rules is insufficient to ensure proper market conduct, so supervision of sales visits is needed to ensure that the rules established are upheld in practice. To provide a snapshot of current practices and compliance with existing guidelines on consumer credit information provision at the point of sale, Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) conducted a “mystery shopping” exercise of lending institutions in three districts of Uganda. For this survey, a mystery shopper posed as a regular customer and, unannounced, visited lenders in order to discover information about the loan application process without the credit officer knowing they are being observed, and thus avoiding impacting their normal behavior or practices.

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Report
Date:
May 08, 2020
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Global efforts are underway to improve education quality—to ensure children are not only in school but learning and developing to their full potential. Although many theories exist on the best approaches to improve education quality, policymakers and implementers need evidence on which programs are effective at helping children actually learn while in school. Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) is a research and policy nonprofit that discovers and advances what works to reduce poverty and improve lives. In addition to conducting rigorous research, IPA reviews and consolidates research for policymakers and practitioners. The objective is to distill complex, nuanced, and dynamic research findings into focused and actionable recommendations. This brief summarizes and provides key lessons from multiple meta-analyses and over two-dozen randomized evaluations (both IPA and non-IPA studies) on improving learning outcomes in low-income countries, with a focus on basic education. 

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Type:
Brief
Date:
December 17, 2019
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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.

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Type:
Brief
Date:
October 22, 2019
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Recent research suggests giving cash directly to the poor can have a range of benefits for recipients in the first few years, including increased consumption, assets, and food security, but little evidence exists on the long-term effects of cash transfers, particularly as a way to spur entrepreneurship and increase earnings. To shed light on this question, researchers conducted a randomized evaluation in Uganda of a government self-employment program that provided cash grants of about $400 per person to groups of young adults to start a skilled trade. An IPA research team followed up after two, four, and nine years—providing some of the longest-term rigorous evidence on how start-up cash grants impact measures of poverty.

Key Findings:

»  Four years after grants were distributed, recipients were more likely to be practicing a skilled trade and earning 38 percent more than their peers who hadn’t received grants. The boost in earnings seemed to be driven by recipients’ work in skilled trades.

»  Nine years after the cash grants were disbursed, most of the business and earning gains had dissipated, but grant recipients still had more household assets and were more likely to be practicing a skilled trade.

»  The fade out of business and earnings effects was driven by changes in the comparison group: those who hadn’t received the grants had started working, and earning, a lot more—in fact, they had caught up to the grant recipients in hours worked and income.

»  The grant had some positive impacts on health outcomes, but only for the children of women who had received the grant: children of grant-recipient mothers displayed better physical skills such has walking and talking, relative to male-recipients and to the comparison group.

»  In sum, start-up grants served the purpose of providing better jobs and businesses—but they did not offer sustained gains in earnings as earlier ndings suggested.

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Brief
Date:
September 17, 2019

We evaluate the impact of a large-scale information and mobilization intervention designed to improve health service delivery in rural Uganda by increasing citizens’ ability to monitor and apply bottom-up pressure on underperforming health workers. Modeled closely on the landmark “Power to the People” study (Björkman and Svensson, 2009), the intervention was undertaken in 376 health centers in 16 districts and involved a three-wave panel of more than 14,000 households. We find that while the intervention had a modest positive impact on treatment quality and patient satisfaction, it had no effect on utilization rates or health outcomes (including child mortality). We also find no evidence that the channel through which the intervention affected treatment quality was citizen monitoring. The results hold in a wide set of pre-specified subgroups and also when, via a factorial design, we break down the complex intervention into its two most important components. Our findings cast doubt on the power of information to foster community monitoring or to generate improvements in health outcomes, at least in the short term.

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Working Paper
Date:
March 26, 2019

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