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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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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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.

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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.

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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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Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like diabetes, hypertension, and cancer have become increasingly prevalent in low- and middle-income countries in recent years, but health systems in most of these countries have been geared towards treatment of acute rather chronic diseases. In Kenya, researchers are evaluating the impact of Novartis Access, an initiative that offers a basket of NCD medicines at a reduced wholesale price, on the availability and purchase price of medicines.

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Photo Credit: Colpensiones

In Colombia, as in many other countries, workers face many barriers to saving for retirement. The situation is much worse for informal workers, who make up about 65 percent of the total workforce in Colombia.

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Compared to their counterparts in high-income countries, small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in low-and-middle-income countries, are often less productive, grow slower, and hire fewer workers. In Mexico, Innovations for Poverty Action worked with researchers to test if this lagging productivity could owe to lower managerial capacity. They found that providing subsidized managerial consulting to Mexican SMEs boosted their productivity and hiring.

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Most public-sector workers and many private sector employees in developing countries are paid monthly, a schedule that means large lump-sum payments follow periods of relative scarcity. Employees who receive wages following a cash-strapped period may be more likely to buy temptation goods––spending large sums of money in ways they later regret.

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Micro-loans are a promising means of promoting entrepreneurship[1], 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.

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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.

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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.

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FTTT classroom

Although enrollment and access to education has increased across sub-Saharan Africa, student learning remains low. Educators and policymakers want to strengthen teacher training in order to improve student learning, but evidence is lacking about what makes teacher training most effective, especially in early childhood education.

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Inadequate nutrition during the earliest years of life can cause stunting and contribute to long-term developmental consequences that can affect future productivity and well-being. In Zambia, an IPA research team found that providing parents with full-sized growth charts, which included information about nutrition and were placed on the walls inside homes, reduced stunting rates among malnourished children by 22 percentage points.

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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.

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Entrepreneurs in developing countries face a number of constraints that limit their growth and therefore their contribution to employment and long-term economic development.

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Credit: Erik Charlton / Flickr
Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are thought to be an important source of innovation and employment. While there is a lot of research on the barriers to SME growth at the individual firm level, there is little evidence on the role of business networks in firm growth.
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Although Rwanda has one of the highest rates of primary enrollment in sub-Saharan Africa, concerns around education quality persist. Researchers are exploring one route to recruiting and motivating skilled teachers: pay-for-performance contracts in public schools.

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Large debt burdens are a significant threat to financial stability for many households. Innovations for Poverty Action is working with researchers to evaluate whether prize-linked incentives can help borrowers reduce their debt burdens more effectively. A randomly selected group of borrowers on debt repayment plans were offered entry into a program that turns on-time debt repayments into entries in a lottery.

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