LIRNEasia Economist at MIT’s Poverty Action Lab

Posted on May 5, 2006  /  0 Comments

LIRNEasia is sending its Lead Economist Harsha de Silva to participate on a MIT scholarship to the first ever executive course offered by the Poverty Action Lab this summer. The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab, a unit within MIT’s Department of Economics, serves as a focal point for development and poverty research based on “randomized trials”.

According to Harsha, this program can significantly contribute to WDR & LIRNEasia’s ongoing and future research projects on ICTs. For example, “In the Teleuse on Shoestring project it is difficult to measure how much the poor actually benefitted from having access to the phone. There are a number of variables like cultural background, access to other infrastructure services, level of education etc which make it difficult for us to pinpoint how much access to telephone had in improving the quality of life of the poor in India and Sri Lanka,” said Harsha. In his view, by using randomized technique it may be possible to isolate the impact of access to ICTs on improved income of the poor, when the next round of surveys will be conducted in at least four South and Southeast Asian countries later in 2006.

The objective of the course is to improve the effectiveness of poverty programs by providing policy makers with clear scientific results that help shape successful policies to combat poverty. The course will help participants design rigorous evaluation methods for assessing social impacts of development initiatives incorporating randomization into the project design. Harsha is keenly awaiting the opportunity to learn and share views on moving beyond correlation in ICT and economic development to understanding causation between the two using randomized trials. This knowledge will help LIRNEasia‘s catalytic role in changing policies, laws and regulations that keep ICTs away from the reach of the poor in emerging Asia.

The Poverty Action Lab has 20 completed and ongoing projects worldwide where it has applied randomized evaluations to quantify the impact of different poverty alleviation strategies. Recent evaluations include: the Balsakhi Program, assessing the effectiveness of remedial education in India; HIV/AIDS Prevention Education in Primary Schools, evaluating HIV education policies in Kenya; Group Versus Individual Liability, an evaluation of a micro-lending NGO in the Philippines.

For more information on the Poverty Action Lab, made famous by 2005 TIME magazine’s person of the year Bono (Yes, as in U2; along with Bill and Melinda Gates) see

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