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In Sierra Leone, 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 poor in Sierra Leone.
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Brief
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June 08, 2017
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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.
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Brief
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June 08, 2017
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Research on intrahousehold decision making often finds that fathers have more decision-making power than mothers, but mothers put more weight on children’s well-being. One policy response has been to try to shift decision-making power toward mothers, for example by making mothers the recipient of transfers aimed at improving children’s welfare (Lundberg, Pollak, and Wales 1997). However, changing decision making in the family is not always feasible or advisable. In such cases, the divergent preferences and decision making of parents suggest a trade-off when targeting policies to improve children’s well-being. On the one hand, fathers have more power to change household behavior in ways that help children. On the other hand, mothers might have a stronger desire to do so. This trade-off might be especially stark in developing countries where women have especially low bargaining power (Jayachandran 2015). We study this trade-off in the context of classes that teach parents low-cost ways t...
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Published Paper
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June 01, 2017
Previous research suggests that tailoring instruction to each student needs can produce significant learning gains. However, few programs have successfully implemented this approach in practice. In this paper, we present the results of a randomized evaluation of a program that uses an individualized scaffolding approach during regular school hours to teach the basic elements of numbers and shapes to preschoolers using a sample of 107 preschool centers and almost 3,000 children in Peru. The program improves Math outcomes among all children (by 0.10 standard deviations) and has stronger impacts for students in the lower quintiles of the distribution of outcomes and for students with teachers with university degrees. The effect in the areas that were implemented in a more intense way persists even one year after the program ended. Interestingly, we find no evidence of effects that are different across gender, language-spoken at home, and proxies for SES, contrasting with results from prev...
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Working Paper
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June 01, 2017
Background: Community health clubs are multi-session village-level gatherings led by trained facilitators and designed to promote healthy behaviours mainly related to water, sanitation, and hygiene. They have been implemented in several African and Asian countries but have never been evaluated rigorously. We aimed to evaluate the effect of two versions of the community health club model on child health and nutrition outcomes. Methods: We did a cluster-randomised trial in Rusizi district, western Rwanda. We defined villages as clusters. We assessed villages for eligibility then randomly selected 150 for the study using a simple random sampling routine in Stata. We stratified villages by wealth index and by the proportion of children younger than 2 years with caregiverreported diarrhoea within the past 7 days. We randomly allocated these villages to three study groups: no intervention (control; n=50), eight community health club sessions (Lite intervention; n=50), or 20 community health...
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May 01, 2017
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Over the past five years, the SME Program at IPA has grown from an ambitious idea to a thriving, prolific, and influential initiative. It is with great enthusiasm that we share this report highlighting some of our accomplishments—which would not have been possible without the collaboration and support of so many of you. Our work began at the end of 2010, when we sat down with leading practitioners and academics working on entrepreneurship and SME growth in developing countries, and assessed the most pressing knowledge gaps in the sector. At the time, only a handful of impact evaluations had been conducted on SME support programs in developing countries, and there was an urgent need for evidence to help guide decision-making. Following that initial event, IPA launched the SME Program (formerly known as the “SME Initiative”), with the goal of addressing the existing knowledge gaps and generating evidence on the most effective solutions to the constraints SMEs face in developing countries...
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Report
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April 24, 2017
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In Burkina Faso, Côte d'Ivoire, and Mali, 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 below offer promising insights into everyday issues that affect the lives of the Francophone West African poor.
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Brief
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April 24, 2017
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IPA Zambia is pleased to share its first quarter bulletin of 2017. This bulletin highlights our research projects on the impact of teaching girls negotiation skills and the challenges of water provision, including policy dissemination events co-hosted with the International Growth Centre on results from these two studies. This bulletin also features our project on maternal mortality risk and the gender gap in desired fertility.
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April 18, 2017
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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.
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April 03, 2017
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This paper presents an experimental approach to measure competition in agricultural markets, based on the random allocation of subsidies to competing traders. We compare prices of subsidized and unsubsidized crop traders to recover the key market structure parameter in a standard model of imperfect competition. By combining the experimental results with quasi-experimental estimates of the pass-through rate, we also estimate market size, or the effective number of traders competing for farmers’ supply. In the context of the Sierra Leone cocoa industry, our results point to a competitive agricultural trading sector and suggest that the market size is substantially larger than the village. The methodology developed in this paper uses purely individual-level treatment to shed light on market structure. This approach may be useful for the many cases in which market-level randomization is not feasible.
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Working Paper
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April 01, 2017
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An audit study was conducted in Colombia following the protocols in Giné and Mazer (2017). Trained auditors visited multiple financial institutions, seeking credit and savings products. Consistent with Gabaix and Laibson (2006) and similar to Giné and Mazer (2017), the staff only provided information about the cost when asked, disclosing less than a third of the total cost voluntarily. In addition, clients were rarely offered the cheapest product, most likely because staff was incentivized to offer more expensive and thus more profitable products to the institution.
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Working Paper
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March 20, 2017
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Climate change-induced natural disasters affect an estimated 230 million people worldwide. Droughts, flooding, pollution, and other weather events are especially threatening in developing countries, which have limited capacity to cope. Within those countries, the poor and marginalized are the most vulnerable, since climate change makes food more expensive, poses health risks through waterborne disease and extreme weather (particularly in areas with poor infrastructure and sanitation), and limits farmers’ ability to create and maintain sustainable livelihoods. The poor are inadequately equipped to cope with income shocks that accompany extreme weather conditions. A study in India found that while farmers adjusted to weather fluctuations (in this case monsoons) by changing irrigation and crop choices, they only recovered 15% of profits lost. Substantial financial barriers may prevent farmers from adapting effectively to harmful impacts of climate change. For example, farmers may not have...
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Brief
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March 14, 2017
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Approximately 767 million people live on less than $1.90 a day.1 Across the world, the extreme poor generally depend on insecure and fragile livelihoods, and their income is frequently irregular or seasonal, putting them and their families at risk of hunger. Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) works with academics from top research institutions to discover sustainable ways to lift these households out of extreme poverty and to support the scale-up of effective programs. In recent years, IPA has helped propel breakthrough findings—particularly on cash transfers and the “big-push” strategy known as the Graduation approach—into large-scale programs, reaching tens of millions of people. We are now testing variations of the Graduation approach in Ghana, Uganda, and the Sahel to identify what drives the impacts and how to make it more cost-effective. 1 http://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/overview. Accessed November 7, 2016.
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March 10, 2017
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Research shows that when people participate in the financial system, they are better able to manage risk, start or invest in a business, and fund large expenditures like education or a home improvement. Increasing women’s financial inclusion is especially important as women disproportionately experience poverty, stemming from unequal divisions of labor and a lack of control over economic resources. While demand and supply side barriers to women’s financial inclusion remain, this review shows that appropriate financial product design can help overcome some of these barriers. This review is organized by product and presents the existing evidence on the impact of savings, credit, payments, and insurance products on women’s economic empowerment outcomes, as well as the remaining open research questions in each area. The studies included in this review are limited to those designed as randomized control trials (RCTs), widely considered to be the gold standard in impact evaluation methodolog...
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Brief
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March 06, 2017
A common concern with efforts to directly help some small businesses to grow is that their growth comes at the expense of their unassisted competitors. This study tests this possibility using a two-stage randomized experiment in Kenya. The experiment randomizes business training at the market level, and then within markets to selected businesses. Three years after training, the treated businesses are selling more, earn higher profits, and their owners have higher well-being. There is no evidence of negative spillovers on the competing businesses, and the markets as a whole appear to have grown in terms of number of customers and sales volumes. This market growth appears to come from enhanced customer service and new product introduction, generating more customers and more sales from existing customers. As a result, business growth in underdeveloped markets is possible without taking sales away from nontreated businesses.
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Working Paper
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March 01, 2017
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In 2008, 682 secondary school scholarships were awarded by lottery among 2,064 Ghanaian students (aged 17 on average) who were admitted to a specific school and track but could not immediately enroll, in most cases due to lack of funds. We use follow-up data collected until 2016 to document downstream impacts by age 25. For the whole sample, scholarship winners were 26 percentage points (55%) more likely to complete secondary school, obtained 1.26 more years of secondary education, scored an average of 0.15 standard deviations greater on a reading and math test, and adopted more preventative health behavior. Women who received a scholarship had 0.217 fewer children by age 25. Scholarship winners were also 3 percentage points (30%) more likely to have ever enrolled in tertiary education. Despite the fact that they were 2.5 percentage points more likely to be enrolled in school at the time of the last survey, they were 5.5 percentage points (10%) more likely to have positive earnings and...
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Working Paper
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March 01, 2017
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Reminders can increase savings deposits at almost no cost to providers Despite good intentions, people often make less-than-optimal financial choices. In this series, we match insights from our global research in behavioral economics with specific financial product and service opportunities for U.S. providers. Providers can use these evidence-based insights to expand financial inclusion, improve client offerings, and continue to promote financial health. Providing access to savings accounts is an important step in bringing financial services to the poor, but access alone does not guarantee people will save. Many people struggle to develop good savings habits because they put off saving until a future time, or face so many seemingly urgent needs today that it is difficult to save for tomorrow, or they simply forget to save. Reminders that bring savings goals to the “top of mind” are a low-cost way to address these barriers and help clients reach their savings goals. This brief is part o...
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Brief
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February 13, 2017
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How defaults can improve customer savings behavior Despite good intentions, people often make less-than-optimal financial choices. In this series, we match insights from our global research in behavioral economics with specific financial product and service opportunities for U.S. providers. Providers can use these evidence-based insights to expand financial inclusion, improve client offerings, and continue to promote financial health. Automatic (“opt-out”) enrollment is a simple product design modification in which consumers are informed they will be automatically enrolled in a product or service unless they choose to opt out. Setting the default to “opt-out” instead of “opt-in” has been shown to significantly increase uptake of certain savings products and lead to behavior change through automation, for example by increasing participation in retirement and savings plans. It is important that financial services providers use these tools with care, fully and conspicuously inform their c...
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February 13, 2017
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Helping clients stick to their goals and increase their savings balances with commitments Despite good intentions, people often make less-than-optimal financial choices. In this series, we match insights from our global research in behavioral economics with specific financial product and service opportunities for U.S. providers. Providers can use these evidence-based insights to expand financial inclusion, improve client offerings, and continue to promote financial health. Commitment devices are voluntary, binding arrangements that people make to reach specific goals that may otherwise be difficult to achieve. When built into savings products, commitment devices can help address behavioral and social obstacles to saving by providing a mechanism that forces people to save according to their self-set plans. These devices vary in terms of commitment activity, consequence for failing to fulfill the commitment, and control over how savings are spent. “Hard” commitments feature financial pen...
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Brief
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February 13, 2017
Savings-led microfinance programs operate in poor rural communities in developing countries to establish groups that save and then lend out the accumulated savings to each other. Nonprofit organizations train villagers to create and lead these groups. In a clustered randomized evaluation spanning three African countries (Ghana, Malawi, and Uganda), we find that the promotion of these community-based microfinance groups leads to an improvement in household business outcomes and women’s empowerment. However, we do not find evidence of impacts on average consumption or other livelihoods.
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Published Paper
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February 10, 2017

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