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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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.

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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.

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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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A surveyor working with a study participant.

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.

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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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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.

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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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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 than 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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