One reason for low incomes among smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa may be a lack of demand for their crops in the markets that these farmers have access to. In Kenya, Smallholder Horticulture Empowerment and Promotion (SHEP) is a program that trains smallholder farmers to adopt a “market-oriented farming” approach involving shifts to more in-demand crops and adoption of new agricultural practices.
Prior evidence on small grants programs to female-owned businesses has found that women entrepreneurs are less likely to invest this capital into their businesses than men are. The intersection between household and business needs seems to play a role in this.
While workers in larger firms tend to be more productive than those in smaller ones, the underlying reasons for these differences are unclear. In India, researchers are conducting a randomized evaluation among data entry employees, to measure the impact of different work arrangements (office- versus home-based) on worker productivity.
Evidence suggests that approaches based on cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can improve mental health and reduce crime and violence in post-conflict areas. However, delivering CBT programs is a challenge in settings that lack trained staff and therapeutic facilities. Researchers in Sierra Leone are exploring alternate delivery platforms to bring evidence-based mental health interventions to youth facing conflict and adversity in West Africa.
In Latin America, student achievement in science is lower than the global average. A promising method to improve educational quality in rural, low-resource areas is “interactive radio instruction” (IRI), a standardized curriculum of recorded lessons that solicit student participation. Building on the positive results of other IRI programs, researchers in Paraguay are evaluating the learning effects of an IRI curriculum for early childhood science education.
A universal basic income (UBI) is a specific form of unconditional cash transfer: enough to meet basic needs, and delivered to everyone within a community. The idea of a UBI has received global attention for varied reasons – as a way to alleviate extreme poverty, to reduce inequality, or to provide a more robust safety net to workers in rapidly changing labor markets – but little rigorous evidence exists on the impacts of a long-term commitment to providing one.
Teacher experience is a key factor in student learning, but many schools in the United States experience high rates of teacher turnover—especially schools serving low-income communities. One reason that retention may be low in these schools is that student loan debt is a significant burden for teachers. As a result, federal loan forgiveness programs may be an effective way of retaining teachers, but many teachers do not take advantage of these programs.
In countries like India, female labor force participation is low despite rapid economic growth. In partnership with the government of Madhya Pradesh, researchers offered women individual bank accounts to evaluate the impact of increasing women’s financial control on labor market participation and earnings. Linking earnings from a government workfare program to women’s bank accounts led to increased employment both within the program and in the private sector.
In Malawi, local tax compliance levels are low and the collection process is sometimes corrupt. At the same time, people are reluctant to pay taxes until they see material benefits from their taxes, contributing to a vicious cycle of non-payment and poor government service delivery.
In Burkina Faso, as in many sub-Saharan countries, farmers struggle with low crop yields. Most established techniques to increase agricultural productivity rely on the use of technologies like fertilizer, but these inputs are expensive and inaccessible to many farmers in the region.
While many low-income Americans have costly debt, they typically spend only a small proportion of their tax rebates to repay those debts. In partnership with Baltimore CASH, researchers are introducing postcards that encourage low-income tax filers to use their tax rebates to pay off debt, and varying the timing of postcard delivery, to evaluate the impact of these nudges on debt repayment.
Throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, early literacy remains very low, and existing interventions have not proven to be cost-effective.1 Children from rural areas are particularly at risk for below-average literacy skills due to a lack of age-appropriate literary resources, low rates of caregiver literacy, and low levels of teacher support.
Pensions are seen as an important tool for reducing poverty among a growing elderly population worldwide. Researchers are working with Innovations for Poverty Action and Paraguay’s Ministry of Finance to conduct a randomized evaluation of a national non-contributory pension program for low-income seniors. Researchers will measure the impacts of national pensions on senior citizens’ economic wellbeing and quality of life.
Commitment savings accounts—which reward users for reaching savings goals and penalize them for withdrawing early—have the potential to help people reach their savings goals, but concern over having enough cash on hand to cover emergencies may discourage some from using them. Changing the design of commitment savings accounts to pay incentive bonuses up front rather than at the end of a defined period may encourage more people to take advantage of them.
While evidence suggests that microloans are not effective in reducing poverty, providing microenterprises with larger loans may be more effective in helping them grow, reducing poverty, and increasing business opportunities for microfinance lenders.
Credit reports may help low-income borrowers better understand their credit histories and allow them to make better borrowing decisions. However, even when credit report tools are freely available, borrowers rarely check their scores. Awareness campaigns may make credit reports more salient to consumers and in turn increase the use of credit reports in financial decision-making.
Micro-loans are a promising means of promoting entrepreneurship, but conventional loan products are often unsuited to the needs of small businesses in developing countries. Offering microenterprise borrowers the ability to postpone loan payments when needed may encourage long-term investments in business expansion and help owners cope with financial hardship.
In parts of southern Africa, environmental pressure on the land from over-grazing has contributed to land and water shortages and made communities more vulnerable to drought. In Namibia, researchers are measuring the impact of a community-based natural resource management program on livestock assets, income, social cohesion and land quality.
As road congestion and urban sprawl worsen in ever-expanding African cities, many governments are investing in public transit infrastructure. But transit systems are often expensive and difficult to construct. Bus rapid transit (BRT)—or dedicated lanes for buses that run along existing roads—are a relatively low-cost public transit option, but there is little rigorous evidence on their efficacy in reducing congestion or improving socio-economic outcomes.
Governments must pay their employees for states to function, but frequent delays and leakage of salary payments can undermine government effectiveness. In partnership with the Ministry of Education of Afghanistan, researchers are conducting a randomized evaluation to study whether mobile salary payments (MSPs) improve learning by increasing teacher attendance and morale.