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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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.
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Brief
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February 02, 2017
A4
In the Philippines, we have continued our global tradition of rigorous, applicable research by building foundational research capacity and conducting evaluations in areas of pressing national concern. Two completed evaluations offer promising insights into everyday issues that affect the lives of the Filipino poor.
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Brief
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February 01, 2017
English
Financial education is widely used by governments, financial service providers, and non-governmental organizations as a tool to help people navigate the financial system and make better financial choices. Financial education programs are built on the assumption that education will lead to knowledge, and that knowledge will lead to better choices and improved financial health. Recent evidence suggests that assumption is flawed, but also shows promise for some new, alternative approaches to financial education. A robust body of evidence shows that on average conventional approaches to financial education have not been successful in either imparting lasting knowledge or in changing people’s financial behavior. While these findings may seem discouraging at first glance, the conventional approach to financial education is not the only approach, and several new methods have been rigorously tested in recent years and yielded positive results. This brief explores the emerging evidence on these...
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Brief
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January 27, 2017
English
Distributing subsidized health products through existing health infrastructure could substantially and cost-effectively improve health in sub-Saharan Africa. There is, however, widespread concern that poor governance – in particular, limited health worker accountability – seriously undermines the effectiveness of subsidy programs. We audit targeted bednet distribution programs to quantify the extent of agency problems. We find that around 80% of the eligible receive the subsidy as intended, and up to 15% of subsidies are leaked to ineligible people. Supplementing the program with simple financial or monitoring incentives for health workers does not improve performance further and is thus not cost-effective in this context.
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Working Paper
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January 16, 2017
A Ugandan government program allowed groups of young people to submit proposals to start skilled enterprises. Among 535 eligible proposals, the government randomly selected 265 to receive grants of nearly $400 per person. Blattman et al. (2014) showed that, after four years, the program raised employment by 17% and earnings 38%. This paper shows that, rather than rewarding the government in elections, beneficiaries increased opposition party membership, campaigning, and voting. Higher incomes are associated with opposition support, and we hypothesize that financial independence frees the poor to express political preferences publicly, being less reliant on patronage and other political transfers.
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Working Paper
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January 01, 2017
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Three hundred million of the world’s rural poor suffer from seasonal income insecurity, which often occurs between planting and harvest when the demand for agricultural labor falls and the price of food rises. Those who undergo a lean season typically miss meals for a two- to three-month period. This is especially problematic for pregnant women and young children since poor nutrition for even a short time can limit long-term cognitive and physical development. Seasonal hunger and deprivation is perhaps the biggest challenge to the reduction of global poverty that has remained largely under the radar. Members of some families in poor rural areas migrate to urban areas for work to cope with seasonal deprivation. In Bangladesh, however, researchers observed that many vulnerable households, who could potentially reap large benefits from temporary migration, didn’t send anyone away to work, thereby risking hunger. Why weren’t more people migrating? Would these households improve food securi...
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Brief
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December 29, 2016
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A clustered randomized trial in Bangladesh examines alternative strategies to reduce child marriage and teenage childbearing and increase girls’ education. Communities were randomized into three treatment and one control group in a 2:1:1:2 ratio. From 2008, girls in treatment communities received either i) a six-month empowerment program, ii) a financial incentive to delay marriage, or iii) empowerment plus incentive. Data from 19,060 girls 4.5 years after program completion show that girls eligible for the incentive for at least two years were 22% (-9.9ppts, p<0.01) less likely to be married under 18, 14% (-5.2ppts, p<0.01) less likely to have given birth under 20, and 21% (5.6ppts, p<0.05) more likely to be in school at age 22. Unlike other incentive programs that are conditional on girls staying in school, an incentive conditional on marriage alone has the potential to benefit out-of-school girls. We find insignificantly different effects for girls in and out of school at b...
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Working Paper
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December 28, 2016
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Objectives. To evaluate whether text-messaging programs can improve reproductive health among adolescent girls in low- and middle-income countries. Methods. We conducted a cluster–randomized controlled trial among 756 female students aged 14 to 24 years in Accra, Ghana, in 2014. We randomized 38 schools to unidirectional intervention (n = 12), interactive intervention (n = 12), and control (n = 14). The unidirectional intervention sent participants text messages with reproductive health information. The interactive intervention engaged adolescents in text-messaging reproductive health quizzes. The primary study outcome was reproductive health knowledge at 3 and 15 months. Additional outcomes included self-reported pregnancy and sexual behavior. Analysis was by intent-to-treat. Results. From baseline to 3 months, the unidirectional intervention increased knowledge by 11 percentage points (95% confidence interval [CI] = 7, 15) and the interactive intervention by 24 percentage points (95%...
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Published Paper
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December 20, 2016
English
IPA Zambia is pleased to share with you its final bulletin of the year: "2016 in Review." This bulletin highlights ten of IPA Zambia's research projects, including updates from projects included in the previous bulletin as well as new contributions. We hope you enjoy this look at the high-quality evidence we've generated this past year, and we look forward to continuing this work with you in the year ahead.
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Brief
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December 13, 2016
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Targeted interventions that sustainably improve the lives of the poor will be a critical component in eliminating extreme poverty by 2030. The poorest households tend to be physically and socially isolated and face disadvantages across multiple dimensions, which makes moving out of extreme poverty challenging and costly. This paper compares the cost-effectiveness of three strands of anti-poverty social protection interventions by reviewing 30 livelihood development programs, 11 lump-sum unconditional cash transfers, and seven graduation programs. All the selected graduation initiatives focused on the extreme poor, while the livelihood development and cash transfer programs targeted a broader set of beneficiaries. Impacts on annual household consumption (or on income when consumption data were not available) per dollar spent were used to benchmark cost-effectiveness across programs. Among all 48 programs reviewed, lump-sum cash transfers were found to have the highest benefit-cost ratio...
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Report
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December 13, 2016
The gains from insurance arise from the transfer of income across states. Yet, by requiring that the premium be paid upfront, standard insurance products also transfer income across time. We show that this intertemporal transfer can help explain low insurance demand, especially among the poor, and in a randomized control trial in Kenya we test a crop insurance product which removes it. The product is interlinked with a contract farming scheme: as with other inputs, the buyer of the crop offers the insurance and deducts the premium from farmer revenues at harvest time. The take-up rate is 72%, compared to 5% for the standard upfront contract, and take-up is highest among poorer farmers. Additional experiments and outcomes indicate that liquidity constraints, present bias and counterparty risk are important constraints on the demand for standard insurance. Finally, evidence from a natural experiment in the United States, exploiting a change in the timing of the premium payment for Federa...
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Working Paper
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December 01, 2016
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Public expenditures on non-contributory pensions are equivalent to at least 1 percent of GDP in several countries in Latin America and is expected to increase. We explore the effect of non- contributory pensions on the well-being of the beneficiary population by studying the Pension 65 program in Peru, which uses a poverty eligibility threshold. We find that the program reduced the average score of beneficiaries on the Geriatric Depression Scale by nine percent and reduced the proportion of older adults doing paid work by four percentage points. Moreover, households with a beneficiary increased their level of consumption by 40 percent. All these effects are consistent with the findings of Galiani, Gertler and Bando (2016) in their study on a non-contributory pension scheme in Mexico. Thus, we conclude that the effects of non-contributory pensions on well-being in rural Mexico can be largely generalized to Peru.
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Working Paper
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December 01, 2016
A field experiment in Sri Lanka provided wage subsidies to randomly chosen microenterprises to test whether hiring additional labor benefits such firms, and whether a short-term subsidy can have a lasting impact on firm employment. Using 12 rounds of surveys to track dynamics four years after treatment, we find that firms increased employment during the subsidy period. Treated firms were more likely to survive, but there was no lasting impact on employment, and no effect on profitability or sales either during or after the subsidy period. There is some heterogeneity in effects; the subsidies have more durable effect on manufacturers.
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Working Paper
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December 01, 2016
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Potential Energy: Monitoring Cookstoves Use Through Environmental Sensors Around the world, 3 billion people cook with biomass, causing over four million annual premature deaths, and generating 30% of global black carbon emissions. In addition to the acute health and environmental effects of biomass cooking, there are economic effects, as women across the developing world spend considerable time and money acquiring fuel. For a family in Sub-Saharan Africa, it can cost between 10-30% of total household income to purchase fuel for cooking fires.  Potential Energy (PE) is a not-for-profit organization with a mission of making cooking safe, and affordable, for women and their families. PE’s core product is the Berkeley-Darfur Stove (BDS), a high-efficiency wood-burning cookstove. As compared to preparing meals over an open fire, the BDS was designed to save users 50% on fuel while reducing cooking time and exposure to smoke. To date, PE’s primary focus has been the distribution of the BDS...
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Goldilocks Toolkit
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November 28, 2016
English
The welfare impact of expanding access to bank accounts depends on whether accounts crowd out pre-existing financial relationships, or whether private gains from accounts are shared within social networks. In this experiment, we provided free bank accounts to a random subset of 885 households. Across households, we document positive spillovers: treatment households become less reliant on grown children and siblings living outside their village, and become more supportive of neighbors and friends within their village. Within households, we randomized which spouse was offered an account and find no evidence of negative spillovers.
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Working Paper
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November 10, 2016
English
We experimentally test the impact of expanding access to basic bank accounts in Uganda, Malawi, and Chile. Over two years, 17 percent, 10 percent, and 3 percent of treatment individuals made five or more deposits, respectively. Average monthly deposits for them were at the 79th, 91st, and 96th percentiles of baseline savings. Survey data show no clearly discernible intention–to–treat effects on savings or any downstream outcomes. This suggests that policies merely focused on expanding access to basic accounts are unlikely to improve welfare noticeably since impacts, even if present, are likely small and diverse.
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Working Paper
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October 31, 2016
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Antipoverty programs in developing countries are often difficult to implement; in particular, many governments lack the capacity to deliver payments securely to targeted beneficiaries. We evaluate the impact of biometrically authenticated payments infrastructure (“Smartcards”) on beneficiaries of employment (NREGS) and pension (SSP) programs in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, using a large-scale experiment that randomized the rollout of Smartcards over 157 subdistricts and 19 million people. We find that, while incompletely implemented, the new system delivered a faster, more predictable, and less corrupt NREGS payments process without adversely affecting program access. For each of these outcomes, treatment group distributions first-order stochastically dominated those of the control group. The investment was cost-effective, as time savings to NREGS beneficiaries alone were equal to the cost of the intervention, and there was also a significant reduction in the “leakage” of funds...
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Published Paper
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October 31, 2016
This paper evaluates a policy intervention designed to attract good political candidates – competent and honest ones – to public service. Inspired by the idea that schooling can act as a screening mechanism, and that non-monetary status awards can be a cost-effective tool to incentivize individuals, we evaluate whether a leadership training workshop with performancebased awards can screen and incentivize good people to serve in public office. In the context of a randomized field experiment among aspirants for the village youth councils in the Philippines, we find that this policy intervention is effective in terms of attracting individuals with abovemedian measures of public service motivation, intellectual ability, integrity, and aspiration.
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Working Paper
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October 26, 2016

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