Poor sanitation leads to major diseases, increased public health expenditures, and causes childhood diarrhea, a leading cause of mortality in children under five. In western Rwanda, researchers evaluated the impact of community hygiene clubs on the health and hygiene of households and on children under five in particular. The study found that the community health clubs had no impact on caregiver-reported rates of diarrhea among children under five.

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Globally, bureaucrats are responsible for the day-to-day matters of policy implementation and government service provision. However, we know very little about how bureaucrats’ own interests and biases influence the ultimate distribution of public goods and services. To measure how citizens’ identities and the characteristics of their petitions affect municipal bureaucrats’ bias and efficiency, researchers conducted a national-scale audit of two of Colombia’s largest social service programs.

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Few microenterprises grow and employ more than one worker, and policymakers have struggled to identify what keeps these businesses from growing further. To study these limitations, researchers offered microentrepreneurs capital to incentivize them to hire. Results showed that a wage subsidy did not lead to lasting increases in employment sales or profits.

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Testing Agricultural Technologies

Using improved hybrid seed varieties may generate higher yields for maize farmers in sub-Saharan Africa—where agricultural productivity is low relative to other regions—but many farmers have not adopted these seeds. This project, which was not a randomized evaluation, studied the comparative yields of several seed varieties and farmer purchasing decisions in an effort to understand the performance and adoption of seed varieties in northern Ghana.

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Business training programs aim to instill standardized management practices in participants in hopes that these will help raise business performance. However, decision makers and researchers have struggled to find conclusive evidence on the firm-level impacts of these trainings.

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Credit: World Bank Erick Kaglan

What makes someone a successful entrepreneur? Is it a matter of teaching the right business skills, or instilling a proactive entrepreneurial mindset? If the latter, can these personal qualities be taught? This research in Togo investigated these questions, and found that a training focused on personal initiative skills, such as self-starting, future-oriented, and persistent behavior, was more successful than a traditional business training at increasing sales and profits.

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There is a growing body of evidence on the efficacy of SMS reminders to encourage banking clients to save more. Researchers in the Dominican Republic partnered with savings and credit institution Banco Unión to conduct two randomized evaluations of tailored SMS reminders: The first on their ability to influence remittance recipients’ decisions to open savings accounts, and the second on their ability to influence existing account-holders’ decisions to save.

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Agricultural yields for farmers in sub-Saharan Africa tend to be lower than the rest of the world, and African farmers tend to use fewer productivity-enhancing agricultural technologies like fertilizer. This may be because of poor access to markets for farmers in remote rural areas, leading to higher delivered prices for inputs, lower net prices for output, and therefore, lower profitability of yield-enhancing technologies.

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Access to banking services can help households better manage financial decisions. Yet households may not use the services if they do not trust the institutions, if service quality is poor, or if the services disrupt local financial relationships. Researchers examined the impact of access to banking services for the first time on households in rural Kenya.

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Do low levels of trust limit the spread of ideas and knowledge among small-scale firms in African cities? A new study provides micro-level descriptive evidence on the spatial patterns of economic activity among small business owners in one of the fastest-developing cities in southern Africa: Lusaka, Zambia. Innovations for Poverty Action worked with researchers to collect new survey data to investigate the relation between knowledge sharing, trust, and business agglomeration within the city.

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Scholars going back to Adam Smith and Max Weber have hypothesized that religiosity promotes economic success. In the Philippines, researchers conducted a randomized evaluation to measure the impact of an evangelical Protestant religious values and theology education program on individuals’ economic and subjective wellbeing. Results show that the program increased religiosity and incomes, but decreased self-perception of relative economic wellbeing.

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Helping the ultra-poor develop sustainable livelihoods is a global priority, but policymakers, practitioners, and funders are faced with competing ideas about the best way to reduce extreme poverty.

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In sub-Saharan Africa, young girls drop out of school at higher rates than boys. A large portion of drop outs occur between primary and secondary school, when families in most countries have to start paying fees for their children to continue attending school. In Zambia, researchers designed and evaluated the impact of a training that taught adolescent girls non-cognitive skills to negotiate health and educational decisions with authority figures in their lives.

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Public training sessions on democratic processes and ideals are a popular tool that aims to improve the performance of governments with “bottom-up” accountability via increased political knowledge and public participation. Researchers evaluated an accountability workshop program, which educated citizens on the distribution of extractive industry tax revenues and the formal means of local political participation.

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Millions of people in developing countries work in the informal sector, due in part to significant barriers to registering one’s business and entering the formal sector. In this study, researchers carried out a randomized evaluation in Malawi, within the context of the World Bank Business Environment Strengthening Technical Assistance Project (BESTAP), to measure the impact of formalization on the business performance of micro-, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs).

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Governments and organizations around the world employ media messaging to effect behavioral and attitudinal change. In Uganda, Innovations for Poverty Action worked with researchers to evaluate whether videos encouraging communities to speak out about and counter violence against women (VAW) in the household could change behavior, attitudes and norms related to VAW.

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Rainfall insurance is a potentially cost-effective way to protect farmers in low-income countries from adverse weather events, but its adoption has been low. Marketing rainfall insurance to farmers’ urban relatives, who often help support their rural family members, may increase its use. Researchers partnered with micro-insurance organization Planet Guarantee to study the demand for a rainfall insurance product marketed to urban relatives of farmers in Burkina Faso.

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Democratic elections are seen as a way of improving government accountability, but the means through which elections affect officials’ behavior is poorly understood, particularly in local elections where inter-party competition is rare. Researchers in Burkina Faso staged a community decision-making scenario with real financial stakes to understand how elections effect public embezzlement, social norms and trust in officials.

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Many pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa lack access to high-quality health care. Researchers evaluated whether cash transfers and decision-making nudges could help low-income pregnant women in Nairobi, Kenya deliver where they wanted and in a high-quality facility. They found that cash transfers, conditioned on precommitment to a delivery facility, led to more effective birth planning and increased the likelihood that women delivered at higher-quality facilities.

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Citizens in low-income countries are often unable to hold their government representatives accountable for the effective delivery of social services such as education and healthcare. Increases in mobile phone access present new opportunities for direct communication between citizens and government officials that may help governments respond to citizens’ needs more effectively.

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