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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-lis...
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Published Paper
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March 30, 2016
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Can innovation among micro-entrepreneurs in South Africa teach global corporations a lesson? Rajesh Chandy, Stephen Anderson-Macdonald and Bilal Zia reckon so. Mass poverty is a huge world problem, typically addressed through multibillion aid programmes. But a grassroots research project in South Africa’s impoverished townships suggests another, sustainable solution. It isn’t the first study into the impact of skills training on microentrepreneurs in developing countries. But prior initiatives have tended to show that any benefits are small or short-lived. This project is remarkable because it is the first to demonstrate the opposite. “You can solve many of the problems of poverty and growth in the world by doing better business,” says LBS’s Rajesh Chandy, one of the three academics who devised the project. “Microentrepreneurs represent the most common type of business in the world. Yet we tend to ignore them – even though they are hiding in plain sight. If we can help them transform t...
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Brief
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March 30, 2016
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Weather index insurance protects farmers against losses from extreme weather and facilitates investment in their farms, but randomized evaluations in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa have shown low demand for these products at market prices, suggesting the need for alternative approaches.  Key Findings: Without substantial subsidies, take-up of insurance was low. Large discounts increased take-up substantially, and interventions designed to increase financial literacy or reduce basis risk also had positive effects. However, at market prices, take-up was in the range of 6–18 percent, which cannot sustain unsubsidized markets. Insured farmers were more likely to plant riskier but higher-yielding crops. In the three studies that measured changes in farmer behavior, farmers who felt protected against weather risks shifted production toward crops that were more sensitive to weather but more profitable on average. While self-sustaining markets for weather index insurance have not emerged, f...
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March 24, 2016
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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.
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Brief
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March 21, 2016
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Labor-intensive public works programs are important social protection tools in low- income settings, intended to supplement the income of poor households and improve public infrastructure. In this evaluation of the Malawi Social Action Fund, an at- scale, government-operated program, across- and within-village randomization is used to estimate effects on food security and use of fertilizer. There is no evidence that the program improves food security, and suggestive evidence of negative spillovers to untreated households. These disappointing results hold even under modifications to the design of the program to offer work during the lean rather than harvest season or increase the frequency of payments. 
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Working Paper
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March 09, 2016
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Low school attendance, absent or overwhelmed teachers, and underperforming schools are on-going impediments to educational attainment for the poor around the world. While many more children are in school than a decade ago, there are still 58 million children out of school, and even when these kids are in school and complete a few years of education, they are often still unable to read, write, and do basic math. The Education Program Area at Innovations for Poverty Action rigorously evaluates programs that aim to improve education outcomes and school attendance. In partnership with academic leaders in the field, our work has produced evidence on how to keep kids in school, such as through school-based deworming or sharing information on the benefits of schooling, and on how to make sure kids learn while there, such as in our teacher community assistant initiative in Ghana and through incentives, such as merit scholarships for students.
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Brief
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March 04, 2016
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With the support of the Citi Foundation, the Financial Capability Initiative at IPA incubates, develops, and rigorously evaluates products and programs that improve the ability of the poor to make informed financial decisions and adopt healthy financial behaviors. The Initiative conducts tests and evaluations of innovative, product linked financial education interventions and financial products that aim to improve financial capability.
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March 04, 2016
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I use a field experiment in rural Kenya to study how temporary incentives to save impact long-run economic outcomes. Study participants who were randomly selected to receive large temporary interest rates on an individual bank account had signifi- cantly more income and assets 2.5 years after the interest rates expired. These changes are much larger than the short-run impacts on experimental bank account use and almost entirely driven by increased rates of entrepreneurship. Temporary interest rates directed to joint bank accounts had no detectable long-run impacts on entrepreneurship or income, but increased investment in household public goods and led to greater spousal consensus over financial matters. The short-run effects of modest unconditional cash payments were similar to those of the interest rates, but the cash payments had no apparent long-run impact on economic outcomes.
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Working Paper
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March 01, 2016
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Firms in the developing world exhibit much flatter life-cycle dynamics compared to firms in developed countries. This paper examines the role of demand constraints in limiting the growth of small and medium firms in Brazil. We test whether firms that win government procurement contracts grow more compared to firms that compete for these contracts but do not win. We assemble a comprehensive data set combining matched employer-employee data for the universe of formal firms in Brazil with the universe of federal government procurement contracts. Exploiting a quasi-experimental design, we find that winning at least one contract in a given quarter increases firm growth by 2.2 percentage points over that quarter, with 93% of the new hires coming from either unemployment or the informal sector. These effects also persist well beyond the length of the contracts. Part of this persistence comes from firms participating and wining more future auctions, as well as penetrating other markets.
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Working Paper
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February 01, 2016
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We investigate the impacts of subsidies for technology adoption, and how savings constraints affect subsidy impacts. In a theoretical model in which risk-averse households face liquidity constraints as well as incomplete insurance, alleviating savings constraints could promote persistence of technology adoption over time (dynamic enhancement), or could instead reduce technology investment by encouraging savings accumulation (dynamic substitution). We implemented a field experiment in rural Mozambique, randomly assigning households one-time subsidies for adopting modern agricultural technology (chiefly fertilizer). Entire localities were later randomly assigned programs facilitating formal savings. In localities with no savings program, subsidy recipients raise their fertilizer use in the subsidized season and for two subsequent unsubsidized seasons. By contrast, in savings-program localities, subsidy impacts on fertilizer use do not persist: households shift resources away from fertili...
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Working Paper
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January 29, 2016
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The pricing and advertising of tied add-ons and overages have come under increasing scrutiny. Working with a large Turkish bank to test SMS direct marketing promotions to 108,000 existing holders of “free” checking accounts, we find that promoting a large discount on the 60% APR charged for overdrafts reduces overdraft usage. In contrast, messages mentioning overdraft availability without mentioning price increase usage. Neither change persists long after messages stop, suggesting that induced overdrafting is not habit-forming. We discuss implications for interventions to promote transparency in pricing and advertising, and for models of shrouded equilibria, limited attention, and salience.
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Working Paper
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January 20, 2016
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This paper tests whether uncertainty about future rainfall affects farmers’ decision-making through cognitive load. Behavioral theories predict that rainfall risk could impose a psychological tax on farmers, leading to material consequences at all times and across all states of nature, even within decisions unrelated to consumption smoothing, and even when negative rainfall shocks do not materialize down the line. Using a novel technology to run lab experiments in the field, we combine recent rainfall shocks and survey experiments to test the effects of rainfall risk on farmers’ cognition, and find that it decreases farmers’ attention, memory and impulse control, and increases their susceptibility to a variety of behavioral biases. In theory, insurance could mitigate those effects by alleviating the material consequences of rainfall risk. To test this hypothesis, we randomly assign offers of an index insurance product, and find that it does not affect farmers’ cognitive load. These res...
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Working Paper
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January 19, 2016
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We provide evidence from field experiments with three different banks, that reminder messages increase commitment attainment for clients who recently opened commitment savings accounts. Messages that mention both savings goals and financial incentives are particularly effective, while other content variations such as gain versus loss framing do not have significantly different effects. Nor do we find evidence that receiving additional late reminders has an additive effect. These empirical results do not map neatly into existing models, so we provide a simple model where limited attention to exceptional expenses can generate under-saving that is in turn mitigated by reminders.
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Published Paper
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January 19, 2016
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Administrative data refers to data collected for the administration of programs. It should be systematically collected, stored and used for program operation and management decisions. While administrative data is designed to track a program’s implementation—primarily the project’s activities and expenses—it can also include indicators on program outcomes. Examples of administrative data include educational records, client information from financial institutions, and hospital records of patient visits and health outcomes. Other examples include information held by government agencies, such as tax filings and Medicare claims. The CART principle of responsibility tells us that organizations should find the right balance between collecting enough data necessary to obtain credible, actionable information about a program, and the costs of doing so. Administrative data, due to its low cost and accuracy, can be an important part of a data collection strategy, useful for both monitoring and eva...
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Goldilocks Toolkit
Date:
January 10, 2016
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Sensing technologies are ubiquitous in most developed markets, where they are used for industrial process monitoring, product tracking, and information services. More recently, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have begun leveraging sensors for supply chain management, remote monitoring, and consumer product testing. This report describes how sensors work, and how they can be harnessed for data collection in low-resource settings.
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Goldilocks Toolkit
Date:
January 05, 2016
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At the Goldilocks Initiative, we argue that organizations should be doing two things: monitoring what they do and evaluating the impact of what they do. And we’ve argued that the impact part of the equation is often prioritized over the monitoring part. As a result, we are often evaluating the impact of programs before we know whether they are well implemented. Consider what happens if we boil down the recipe for organizational impact to a simple formula: A x B = Impact In this formula, “A” means doing what you said you would do and doing it efficiently, and “B” means choosing good ideas that actually work. If only life were that simple. Although not everything sorts quite so cleanly, the terms monitoring and evaluation roughly align with this formula. Think of monitoring as “A” and evaluation as “B.” Much academic work focuses on “B,” evaluating the social impact of programs, particularly the work of development economists running randomized evaluations. But organizations should nev...
Type:
Goldilocks Toolkit
Date:
January 05, 2016
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For many organizations, a central goal of monitoring and evaluation is to prove that programs are making a difference—that they have an impact. Not only is it important to know if programs work, but providing hard proof can attract much-needed funding and may also improve an organization’s reputation. The reality, though, is that not everyone can and should measure impact: sometimes it’s not possible to muster up a sample size that would be large enough to conduct a good study, or there simply isn’t anything to randomize. When programs are structured such that impact measurement is possible, it’s still important to approach evaluation carefully. Impact measurement that aligns with the CART Principles must be well-designed, implemented well, and timed appropriately. If the evaluation design or fieldwork are sub-par, results will be biased (meaning wrong), which can lead organizations and policymakers to start or continue programs that have little or no impact, or to miss opportunities t...
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Goldilocks Toolkit
Date:
January 05, 2016
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The struggle to find the right-fit in monitoring and evaluation (M&E) resembles the predicament Goldilocks faces in the fable “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” In the fable, a young girl named Goldilocks finds herself lost in the forest and takes refuge in an empty house. Inside, Goldilocks finds a large number of options: comfy chairs, bowls of porridge, and beds. She tries each, but finds that most do not suit her: the porridge is too hot or too cold, the bed too hard or soft – she struggles to find options that are “just right.” Like Goldilocks, organizations have to navigate many choices and challenges to build data collection systems that suit their needs and capabilities. How do you develop data systems that fit “just right”? Over the last decade and a half, nonprofits and social enterprises have faced increasing pressure to prove that their programs are making a positive impact on the world. This focus on impact is positive: learning whether we are making a difference enhanc...
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Goldilocks Toolkit
Date:
January 05, 2016
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Acumen: Defining Impact in Impact Investment Acumen raises charitable donations to invest in enterprises that help solve some of the world’s toughest social problems. As a non-profit impact investor, the organization invests with ‘patient capital’ meaning it invests in seemingly risky markets that may require working over a longer time horizon to develop viable businesses producing goods and services that benefit the poor. Through these investments, Acumen aims to maximize social return while also turning a profit, which also supports the sustainability of the enterprises in the long run. Among supporters of impact investment, this is known as a “third way” for international development assistance, occupying a space in between traditional philanthropy and for-profit private enterprise. Acumen has been a leader in pushing for a more concrete definition of social impact in impact investing. The organization prioritizes two things in its own approach to monitoring and evaluating its inves...
Type:
Goldilocks Toolkit
Date:
January 05, 2016
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Women for Women International: Monitoring and Evaluation in Conflict and Post-Conflict Settings Women survivors of war and conflict are disproportionately affected by acts of violence, displacement, poverty, and loss of property and relatives. Conflict disrupts familial and community networks, compelling women to assume greater responsibility for generating household income and supporting their dependents and community. Women for Women International (WfWI) works in countries affected by conflict and war and addresses these issues by supporting women to earn and save money, improve health and well-being, influence decisions in their home and community, and connect to networks for support. This case study examines WfWI’s collection and use of data in conflict and post-conflict settings to monitor and measure the results of their work. Despite the challenging setting, WfWI has developed a data collection system that produces high quality data and is in the process of making important chan...
Type:
Goldilocks Toolkit
Date:
January 05, 2016

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