Democratic accountability relies on performance-based voting, in which citizens vote based on candidates’ expected or previous performance. Yet, if citizens do not have this information, they cannot use it to inform their vote choices.

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An advertisement for waste management in Accra, Ghana.

Poor sanitation in the developing world leads to major diseases, increased public health expenditures, and causes childhood diarrhea, a leading cause of mortality in children under five.To explore how market interventions can be designed to address the unique sanitation challenges faced in developing countries, Innovations for Poverty Action is working with researchers to evaluate the impact of an information intervention on access to improved sanitation services in Accra, Ghana.

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Sustainable growth requires the management of scarce natural resources, such as water. Although policymakers have put in place pricing structures meant to discourage wasteful water use, a number of barriers may prevent customers from effectively curbing water wastage. Researchers are working with Innovations for Poverty Action and a water company in Zambia to evaluate whether improved information and incentives can help households manage their water usage.

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Small business growth is crucial for helping the poor improve their livelihoods, but expensive and inflexible financial products restrict business owners’ access to credit and constrain profits. Innovations for Poverty Action is supporting research that examines whether new financial products can help Indian female market vendors pursue borrowing strategies tailored to their business needs, while building up a reserve of savings they can use to finance week-to-week inventory purchases.

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IPA works with researchers in Ghana to evaluate different variations of the Graduation program

The Graduation Approach, a model for holistic livelihoods programs, has been proven to have lasting impacts on poor families’ income, assets, food security, and mental health, but these programs can be expensive to implement.

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Governments often implement a number of policies intended to support small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) to grow and expand. One such government tool is to use tax breaks to reward small and medium-sized firms for investing. While such investment tax credits are widely practiced, there is limited evidence on the effectiveness of these policies in promoting firm investment, employment, or growth.

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A microentrepreneur in Ghana interviews with an IPA surveyor

Of the two billion people living on less than $2 per day, roughly half run a business. Finding effective approaches to enhance the productivity and performance of these businesses is considered key to economic growth in many developing economies.

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A used clothing trader and his stock in Lagos, Nigeria

A large theoretical literature suggests that public information can substitute for formal contract enforcement – businesses concerned about maintaining a good reputation will be more inclined to follow through on commitments. However, little is known about the extent to which reputation helps enforce informal business agreements in practice, or about the channels through which information of this type impacts trade.

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A group of garment workers in Bangladesh

Even though more people have a bank account than ever before, take-up remains low for other financial products and services that could help the poor finance large expenditures or manage risk in their lives.  Innovations for Poverty Action is working with researchers to evaluate the demand for a commitment savings product among garment workers, and evaluating whether employer influence and expected feedback to employers impacts sign-up decisions. 

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For people with seasonal incomes, saving income earned during the high season is important for being able to purchase goods and necessities in the off-season. However, in the absence of formal savings mechanisms, it is especially difficult to postpone purchasing something now in favor of longer-term goals. When people cannot save, they may even choose to work less, feeling that working will not help them reach important goals.

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Secondary school enrollment in Africa is expected to double by 2030, yet high youth unemployment rates suggest that the existing formal education system is not preparing students to improve their livelihoods through work. Working with the Rwandan Education Board, Educate!, and Akazi Kanoze Access, researchers are examining the impact of a program that trains teachers in Rwanda’s revised secondary school entrepreneurship curriculum on student academic, economic, and labor market outcomes.

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Over a billion people worldwide, most of whom live in sub-Saharan Africa, lack electricity, and mainly rely on kerosene lanterns for light. Recently, prices for solar lanterns have been dropping and they may help supply clean, affordable lighting and phone charging to those who are not connected to the electric grid. Yet little rigorous evidence is available on how this new technology is being adopted and used and how it affects people’s lives.

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Many beneficiaries of social welfare programs around the world receive benefits in cash or by check. Can distributing welfare benefits through electronic transfers directly into bank accounts help some of these low-income individuals enter the formal financial sector?

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Can automatic monthly transfers from a checking account into a dedicated savings account help bank clients meet their savings goals? Can monthly SMS reminders to save or short ‘rules of thumb’ based financial training do the same at a lower cost?

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Mobile health technologies have the potential to strengthen health systems by increasing transparency and accountability in those systems. In Uganda, researchers are partnering with UNICEF and the Ministry of Health to develop a mobile health (mHealth) accountability system and to evaluate its effectiveness in improving the delivery of reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health services in Uganda.

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Why do people sometimes make poor financial choices? What drives individuals’ decisions about what to do with their money? IPA is partnering with a private shipping company in Lima, Peru to deliver a financial coaching program that aims to address behavioral biases that could be preventing their employees from making healthy financial choices. Researchers will evaluate the impact of the program on the employees’ financial decisions related to credit, savings, and money management.

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Increasing the adoption rates of female-initiated methods of contraception may help fill an unmet demand for family planning and reduce rates of HIV infection in Sub-Saharan Africa. In Zambia, researchers are measuring how an interpersonal communication intervention impacts knowledge, acceptability, use of condoms and uptake of female condoms in the context of a mass distribution and marketing campaign for the new Maximum Diva Woman’s Condom.

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Peru Bank Photo Credit Dario Rodriguez

Financial products have the potential to help the poor, yet most financial institutions are driven by commercial goals, and their staff may not be incentivized to offer products most suitable to low-income clients. This audit study aims to determine the types of information institutions provide to low-income financial customers in urban Colombia, and identify any differences in institutions’ treatment of customers based on perceived financial knowledge.

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Evidence suggests that facilitating access to formal savings services can increase savings, investment, and income among the poor in developing countries. However, use of these accounts is relatively low, and it is less clear how to increase interest in, and usage of, formal savings services among the poor.

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Seasonal fluctuations in crop prices can have direct impacts on farmers’ earnings and savings. Crop prices are often lowest right after harvest, increasing substantially in the months afterwards, but farmers are not always able to take advantage of these price changes. Researchers evaluated whether well-timed access to credit allows maize farmers to make better use of storage and sell their output at higher prices.

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