Right now, I am sitting in a community in the Northern region in Ghana, an extremely rural one I might add. You can tell that it is rural when the electricity poles stop springing up as you drive further along the dirt road by motorbike. There are more cows on the road than people, and the further along the road you go, the less road there is. The nearest town is 40 kilometers away and the last time I went through it, most of the area was out of water, electricity but not short on hospitality and shouts of “salaminga” or white person.
In Wale Wale, where my guesthouse is located, I have made friends with a lady who cooks rice and at night, we climb on top of her stand, have some “chop” (food) and enjoy good conversation under a brilliant starry sky. I’ve noticed that no matter where you go in the world, women can always relate when you talk about work, food and of course, men.
I am in Ghana working with Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) to implement and monitor the Graduation from Ultra Poor (GUP) project. By the time my internship ends, the GUP team and myself will have surveyed over 4,000 respondents in 241 communities. The GUP project is a randomized control trial (RCT) which aims to lift people from an ultra-poverty status (those below the $1 a day threshold) within 24 months through asset transfers, savings and labor supply. My work consists of a combination of data cleaning and analysis while traveling to rural communities to monitor and implement surveys.
Asset transfers primarily consist of transferring some type of asset like maize production tools or livestock, etc. It seems to me people here always prefer 10 chickens to 4 pigs. However 4 goats always trump all options. The savings intervention of the project evaluates different incentives to save to test what works best. Some families receive 50% matching saving schemes, whereas others get mobile credit or other saving incentives. The labor supply or ‘Bags’ experiments are geared towards understanding the labor elasticity of the Ultra Poor. Here, GUP provides a series of easy and hard to make bags to women, and buys the bags from the women at different prices. We monitor production levels and type of bags made in response to different prices and socioeconomic factors like nutrition and current income.
But counting cows and leading surveys is not all I have done this summer. Traveling to communities leaves a lot of downtime in the afternoon. When I arrived, I began my trip by traveling to my NGO, Exponential Education. Exponential Education is currently run by an operational director and based in Kumasi, and is expanding quickly. After years of writing letters and holding online fund raisers, I decided that I needed to have a sustainable source of funding for our program. Over the past month, I evaluated numerous alternative models and realized that launching a for-profit business venture would be the best way to go.
Using my down-time wisely, my colleague Bilal Bawany and I are planning to launch an SAT tutoring and higher education advising service that will feed profits into the non-profit organization. The business will launch in mid-September, and will hopefully expand with corresponding Exponential Education programs. With the expansion of Exponential Education, we also decided to implement proper monitoring and evaluation techniques to the non-profit. Using all the skills I have learnt from IPA, I am now designing surveys using Blaise, building our monitoring and data reporting system via Stata and will implement surveys and randomize classes by mid-September. More to come soon!