We show that extremely poor, war-affected women in northern Uganda have high returns to a package of $150 cash, five days of business skills training, and ongoing supervision. Sixteen months after grants, participants doubled their microenterprise ownership and incomes, mainly from petty trading. We also show these ultrapoor have too little social capital, but that group bonds, informal insurance, and cooperative activities could be induced and had positive returns. When the control group received cash and training 20 months later, we varied supervision, which represented half of the program costs. A year later, supervision increased business survival but not consumption.
Background. By 2009, two decades of war and widespread displacement left the majority of the population of Northern Uganda impoverished. Methods. This study used a cluster-randomized design to test the hypothesis that a poverty alleviation program would improve economic security and reduce symptoms of depression in a sample of mostly young women. Roughly 120 villages in Northern Uganda were invited to participate. Community committees were asked to identify the most vulnerable women (and some men) to participate. The implementing agency screened all proposed participants, and a total of 1800 were enrolled. Following a baseline survey, villages were randomized to a treatment or wait-list control group. Participants in treatment villages received training, start-up capital, and follow-up support. Participants, implementers, and data collectors were not blinded to treatment status. Results. Villages were randomized to the treatment group (60 villages with 896 participants) or the wait-list control group (60 villages with 904 participants) with an allocation ration of 1:1. All clusters participated in the intervention and were included in the analysis. The intent-to-treat analysis included 860 treatment participants and 866 control participants (4.1% attrition). Sixteen months after the program, monthly cash earnings doubled from UGX 22 523 to 51 124, non-household and non-farm businesses doubled, and cash savings roughly quadrupled. There was no measurable effect on a locally derived measure of symptoms of depression. Conclusions. Despite finding large increases in business, income, and savings among the treatment group, we do not find support for an indirect effect of poverty alleviation on symptoms of depression.
Loans and business management training helped men grow their small business profits, but women did not experience any impacts on their businesses as a result of loans, training, or grants.
Experimental tests of microcredit programs have consistently failed to find effects on business and household income. Does the current microfinance model and targeting of clients miss important effects from finance? I present results of a randomized experiment with microenterprise owners in Uganda that sought to expand access to finance for men and women who generally did not qualify for finance under normal circumstances with the goal of inceasing business profits and employment. Participants were offered either capital with repayment (subsidized loans) or without (grants) and were randomly chosen to receive or not receive business skills training in conjunction with the capital. Consistent with existing literature, I find no effect for female enterprises from either form of capital or the training. However, I find large effects for men with access to loans combined with training. There is no effect for men or women from the grants, suggesting repayment requirements can increase the likelihood of productive investment. I also find little evidence that investing capital and training in a few enterprises crowds out other businesses. The results indicate that cash-constrained male-owned enterprises—a sample that is not well targeted by microcredit organizations or researchers—can benefit from subsidized finance, and that this may have larger, positive income and employment growth effects for an economy.
Investing in women is said to be a key to development. In this view, providing education, a cow, or the ingredients for a business will result in great things: increases in income, empowerment, social inclusion, and improved mental health. In this study, IPA researchers studied whether the most vulnerable women could start and sustain small businesses. They evaluated a program by AVSI Uganda, the Women’s INcome Generating Support (WINGS) program. WINGS offered extremely poor people basic business skills training, ongoing mentorship, and cash grants with a purchasing power of $375. The message: the poorest women have high returns to cash, training and supervision. Not only can cash-centered programs help the poorest start and sustain microenterprises, but they do so cost-effectively. Moving ahead, there are ways to improve cost-effectiveness, and programs should note that higher incomes alone may not address women’s social and personal challenges.
Programs promoting financial literacy and savings among children and youth have the potential to effectively promote financial inclusion over participants’ lifetimes. Since 2009, Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) has conducted randomized evaluations of three programs that aim to promote savings and financial education among children and youth and has found promising impacts in all three.