In 2008, Uganda granted hundreds of small groups $400/person to help members start individual skilled trades. Four years on, an experimental evaluation found grants raised earnings by 38% (Blattman, Fiala, Martinez 2014). We return after 9 years to find these start-up grants acted more as a kick-start than a lift out of poverty. Grantees' investment leveled off; controls eventually increased their incomes through business and casual labor; and so both groups converged in employment, earnings, and consumption. Grants had lasting impacts on assets, skilled work, and possibly child health, but had little effect on mortality, fertility, health or education.
While young adults in many contexts struggle to develop a positive identity or skills such as self-control, those who grow up in low-income or violent settings may have more at stake and receive less support. Cognitive behavioral therapy, an intervention traditionally used to treat mental health disorders like depression, is a promising option for policymakers seeking low-cost solutions to crime and violence.
In Liberia, we have continued our global tradition of rigorous, applicable research by building foundational research capacity and conducting evaluations in areas of pressing national concern. Examples of our work described in this brief offer promising insights into everyday issues that affect the lives of the Liberian poor.
We show that a number of noncognitive skills and preferences, including patience and identity, are malleable in adults, and that investments in them reduce crime and violence. We recruited criminally engaged men and randomized one-half to eight weeks of cognitive behavioral therapy designed to foster self-regulation, patience, and a noncriminal identity and lifestyle. We also randomized $200 grants. Cash alone and therapy alone initially reduced crime and violence, but effects dissipated over time. When cash followed therapy, crime and violence decreased dramatically for at least a year. We hypothesize that cash reinforced therapy's impacts by prolonging learning-by doing, lifestyle changes, and self-investment.
In the coming decades, most of the poor will live in fragile states, yet rigorous evidence on how to build peace and stability is still limited. What helps communities heal and prosper after a crisis? How can peace and stability be maintained after war? IPA works with academics from top research institutions to generate evidence on how to facilitate peace and mitigate the negative social and economic impacts of conflicts and crises. We evaluate programs that aim to strengthen state capacities, prevent or reduce violence, or alleviate the fallout from crises ranging from health to natural to human-made. IPA works in fragile states and countries that have recently experienced conflict, violence, or disaster. IPA also collaborates with decision-makers to ensure that this evidence is both useful and implemented at scale.
Most wars today are civil wars, which divide countries along economic, ethnic or political lines. In many cases, these cleavages happen within communities, pitting one neighbor against another. The prevalence of civil wars has therefore spurred efforts to re-build social cohesion and promote social capital as a part of post-conflict recovery.
Truth and reconciliation processes are a common approach used across the world to promote this type of societal healing. These processes bring war victims face-to-face with perpetrators in forums where victims describe war atrocities, and perpetrators confess to war crimes without facing punishment. Proponents of reconciliation processes claim that they are highly effective – not only in rebuilding social ties among individuals and promoting societal healing, but also in providing psychological relief and aiding individual healing. Yet, there is little rigorous evidence of whether, and how, reconciliation processes help communities heal from conflict.
To shed light on this topic, researchers from New York University, Georgetown University and the World Bank partnered with Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) to evaluate the impact of a community-level reconciliation program in Sierra Leone.
The results suggest that talking about war atrocities can prove psychologically traumatic by invoking war memories and re-opening old war wounds. The researchers conclude that reconciliation programs should to be re-designed in ways that minimize their psychological costs, while retaining their societal benefit.
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.
We estimate the impact of Kenya’s post-election crisis on individual risk preferences. The crisis interrupted a longitudinal survey of more than five thousand Kenyan youth, creating plausibly exogenous variation in exposure to civil conflict by the time of the survey. We measure individual risk preferences using hypothetical lottery choice questions which we validate by showing that they predict migration and entrepreneurship in the cross-section. Our results indicate that the post-election violence sharply increased individual risk aversion. Immediately after the crisis, the fraction of subjects displaying extreme risk aversion increased by more than 80 percent. Findings remain robust when we use an IV estimation strategy that exploits random assignment of respondents to waves of surveying. Our results suggest that the crisis also impacted trust, social capital, and beliefs about the economy, though it did not have any detectable negative impacts on job prospects or wages.
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.
Currently very few conflict-affected countries have met a single Millennium Development Goal. The need for effective peacebuilding programmes is acute, as development indicators are dramatically low and poverty levels are dramatically high in these conflict-affected areas. This scoping paper by Annette N Brown, Faith McCollister, Drew B Cameron, and Jennifer Ludwig reviews the supply of and demand for evidence from impact evaluations and systematic reviews on peacebuilding interventions.
The analysis focused on three inputs, which were presented according to a common framework of intervention and outcome categories developed by key stakeholders working in the area of peacebuilding. The first two inputs, a review of current and recent programming across 25 intervention categories and the results of a stakeholder survey, provide information on the demand for more and better evidence. The third input is a 3ie evidence gap map, which illustrates the evidence base of impact evaluations and thus the supply of evidence on intervention effectiveness.
The scoping paper reveals several areas where the demand for evidence is high and the supply is low. There are other areas where some evidence exists, but a high demand for evidence suggests the need for further research or for meta-analysis to synthesise the existing research.
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.
States and aid agencies use employment programs to rehabilitate high-risk men in the belief that peaceful work opportunities will deter them from crime and violence. Rigorous evidence is rare. We experimentally evaluate a program of agricultural training, capital inputs, and counseling for Liberian ex-fighters who were illegally mining or occupying rubber plantations. 14 months after the program ended, men who accepted the program offer increased their farm employment and profits, and shifted work hours away from illicit activities. Men also reduced interest in mercenary work in a nearby war. Finally, some men did not receive their capital inputs but expected a future cash transfer instead, and they reduced illicit and mercenary activities most of all. The evidence suggests that illicit and mercenary labor supply responds to small changes in returns to peaceful work, especially future and ongoing incentives. But the impacts of training alone, without capital, appear to be low.
Behavioral therapy with cash grants led to significant fall in crime, drug use, and violence among high-risk urban men.
We study a government program in Uganda designed to help the poor and unemployed become self-employed artisans, increase incomes, and thus promote social stability. Young adults in Uganda’s conflict-affected north were invited to form groups and submit grant proposals for vocational training and business start-up. Funding was randomly assigned among screened and eligible groups. Treatment groups received unsupervised grants of $382 per member. Grant recipients invest some in skills training but most in tools and materials. After four years, half practice a skilled trade. Relative to the control group, the program increases business assets by 57%, work hours by 17%, and earnings by 38%. Many also formalize their enterprises and hire labor. We see no effect, however, on social cohesion, antisocial behavior, or protest. Effects are similar by gender but are qualitatively different for women because they begin poorer (meaning the impact is larger relative to their starting point) and because women’s work and earnings stagnate without the program but take off with it. The patterns we observe are consistent with credit constraints.
Dispute resolution institutions facilitate agreements and preserve the peace whenever property rights are imperfect. In weak states, strengthening formal institutions can take decades, and so state and aid interventions also try to shape informal practices and norms governing disputes. Their goal is to improve bargaining and commitment, thus limiting disputes and violence. Mass education campaigns that promote alternative dispute resolution (ADR) are common examples of these interventions. We studied the short-term impacts of one such campaign in Liberia, where property disputes are endemic. Residents of 86 of 246 towns randomly received training in ADR practices and norms; this training reached 15% of adults. One year later, treated towns had higher resolution of land disputes and lower violence. Impacts spilled over to untrained residents. We also saw unintended consequences: more extrajudicial punishment and (weakly) more nonviolent disagreements. Results imply that mass education can change high-stakes behaviors, and improving informal bargaining and enforcement behavior can promote order in weak states.