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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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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Little research has explored the potential for mobile technology, and mobile money specifically, to improve the lives of the poor. In Kenya, where a widely-used mobile–based money transfer service, M-PESA, has dramatically reduced the cost of sending money across large distances, researchers evaluated the impact of the service on households’ ability to weather negative income shocks, such as illness or agricultural losses.
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There are an estimated 411 million mobile money accounts worldwide, allowing even the poor in remote areas to send and receive money at low cost. How access to this financial tool affects long-term financial well-being, however, is not well understood. In Kenya, IPA worked with researchers to track the economic progress of households as the M-PESA mobile money service expanded over six years.

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A sugar cane farm in Kenya

Farming is risky: a drought, bad harvest, or dip in crop prices can leave small farmers in developing countries without much-needed income. Attempts to mitigate these risks with agricultural insurance have typically been unsuccessful because farmers have chosen not to buy insurance. Researchers partnered with a large sugar cane company to see if delaying the premium payment until after the harvest would increase farmers’ demand for insurance.

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Traditional savings accounts often yield low or negative returns, which may explain why many poor households do not take up these products to boost their savings. Researchers investigated the impact of a new product that allowed Kenyans to invest small amounts of money in a low-risk, high-return infrastructure bonds using their mobile phones.

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A local bank in rural Kenya

The vast majority of the world’s poor save, yet they often do so informally even when research findings suggest that accessing savings accounts at formal institutions can help low-income households increase their savings, investments, and ultimately their income. Could temporary interest rate incentives increase formal account use among the poor?

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Many students in Sub-Saharan Africa are not learning to read in their first years of school and literacy rates remain low in the region. Researchers partnered with the Kenyan Ministry of Education to evaluate the impact of two strategies aimed at improving the literacy skills of school children in Kenya: enhanced literacy instruction, through teacher training and text message support, and child-to-child reading groups.

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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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Health remains a major barrier to economic development in poor rural areas. Access to effective health products, whether preventive or curative, has so far remained limited due in large part to poverty and the absence of financial markets that would enable poor households to invest in health on credit. Given such constraints, poor households should save in anticipation of future health shocks.

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Intestinal worm infections are among the world’s most widespread diseases, with roughly one in four people infected worldwide. Research has shown that when children are treated with deworming medication, worm infections become less prevalent not only for children who received the medication, but for those who live in the same environment as treated children.

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A mobile phone used to receive cash transfers in Kenya

Unconditional cash transfers (UCTs) allow poor households the choice and flexibility of allocating resources to meet the needs they find most pressing. In Rarieda, Kenya, researchers conducted a randomized evaluation to measure the impact of GiveDirectly’s UCT program on poor rural households’ economic and psychological well-being. Results demonstrated that the program had significant welfare-improving impacts, both economically and psychologically, for transfer recipients.

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Researchers distributed vouchers for antimalarial drugs and malaria rapid diagnostic tests, redeemable at four local drug shops in Western Kenya. Taking some subsidy money away from anti-malarial drugs and putting it towards subsidizing and promoting rapid diagnostic testing could improve targeting.

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Regular handwashing with soap is one of the best ways to prevent diarrheal and respiratory disease, which are two of the primary causes of death among children worldwide. In many places in the developing world, however, soap is a luxury and water must be carried long distances, and handwashing with soap is not always practiced at critical times.

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Tax evasion generates significant losses in government revenues and distortions in a country’s economic activities. Evasion is of particular concern in developing countries, where the share of the informal economy is typically larger and the government has limited sources of information. Over the last decade, an increasing number of revenue authorities around the world have started collaborating with academic researchers to rigorously evaluate initiatives aimed at increasing tax revenue.

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