Tag Archives: development

Gender and Agriculture with IPA-Z*

It’s been a little over five weeks since I moved to Lusaka to start my internship with Innovations for Poverty Action’s Zambia Office (IPA-Z), and those five weeks have been fantastic. I’ve seen hippos and crocs, crossed one of the world’s seven wonders off my list, and become conditioned to respond to ‘mzungu’ as if it were my god-given name. All that has been awesome, but the focus of this post is going to be my work at IPA.

First, a (very) short introduction to IPA. IPA is a non-profit research organization that evaluates the effectiveness of different development interventions, using randomized control trials as their primary tool. They then work with partner and government organizations to scale up interventions that have proven successful.

The IPA-Z Office

The IPA-Z Office

This is the Zambia office. It’s in a house about 20 minutes (busride/walk combo) from my apartment, and has a staff of about 10 full-timers. The entire office has been in constant chaos since baseline surveying began in late May for their Girls Negotiation project. In short, the project takes eight-grade girls and involves them in an after-school program that teaches them negotiation skills through the same methods used in the Harvard business school curriculum. The idea is to see if this kind of program significantly improves the girls’ abilities to negotiate for their futures, both in terms of continued education and personal health.

Surveyors Catherine and Martha handing out permissions slips for the Girls Negotiation Project

Surveyors Catherine and Martha handing out permissions slips for the Girls Negotiation Project

The office has a few other ongoing projects, including an Agroforestry project, a community health project, and my (solo) project, titled ambiguously “Gender and Agriculture”.

“Gender and Ag”—as it’s affectionately called—has been through a lot. It’s a project that, having not panned out in its original form, has been gutted and reworked over the course of the last year. It’s now an exploratory project, with the deliverable being a database of data pertaining to agricultural and cultural (especially gender-related) practices throughout Zambia, and a final report. Last week I finished with the data collection, and after it is sufficiently .do-ed, I’ll write a report showing all the fantastically interesting correlations with maps and graphs and other wonderful visuals.

Despite working tirelessly, I’ve had plenty of time to get out of the office. Over a recent four day weekend I had the opportunity to see Victoria Falls, go on safari in Chobe National Park, and discuss development challenges with the Prime Minister Stanley of Mukuni Village. For those interested, the major challenges he mentioned were poor road quality (impacting on both education and healthcare access) and water availability—the village only has four taps, which currently provide water to its 8,000 inhabitants.

*All views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of IPA as an organization.

Top: me at Victoria Falls; Bottom Left: Elephants at Chobe National Park; Bottom Right: Mukuni Village

Top: me at Victoria Falls; Bottom Left: Elephants at Chobe National Park; Bottom Right: Mukuni Village

Inclusive Growth and the Environment

Last time I touched base, I was just getting settled at the IPC. Now that I am little bit beyond the half way point, I was hoping to cover my summer work in better detail.

Since the start of my internship in June, I have had the opportunity to work with other interns from around the world. I would like to introduce a good friend and colleague and briefly touch on her work at the center as a way to jump into a discussion on inclusive growth.

Meet Daniela, a Masters student of Economics at the Free University of Berlin, who focuses her research on Macroeconomics and Development. At the center, she works in the Inclusive Growth Unit developing a growth index to evaluate global economic performance in terms of inclusiveness. As I briefly mentioned in the last blog post, inclusive growth is regarded as a development path that leads to more equitable outcomes resulting from development and benefit sharing in the growth process itself. Daniela has been tasked with designing an appropriate employment indicator to account for ways in which job creation can reduce poverty and inequality. Additionally, she focuses on wage-led growth as one possible strategy to achieve inclusive growth.

Much like Daniela, I have spent the majority of my summer working on an inclusive growth project. The two projects can be distinguished, however, on methodological and substantive grounds. Taking a slightly different methodological tact, the inclusive growth project that I am working on uses a statistical technique known as Grade of Membership (GOM) analysis. This statistical model effectively has been used in areas such as public health, psychology, artificial intelligence, and public transportation planning in Tokyo’s metro system. Unlike other classification models, a GOM analysis allows units to be characterized by their grade of association (i.e. membership) to some defined physical object like a train station or categorical type/profile, such as environmental sustainability or inclusive growth. It’s applications in disparate areas such as inclusive growth and artificial intelligence may seem odd at first. But as the project director explained to me, when a robot reaches for an object, it gauges the distance as it approaches the object through grades of association. Simply put, the robot knows it is getting closer, because the statistical model allows for a more nuanced measurement of distance (the same logic holds for the metro in Tokyo as it approaches a station).
Fortunately, my summer research has nothing to do with robots. My part of this project attempts to understand how macroeconomic performance and institutional capacity relate to dimensions of environmental performance and sustainability for countries around the world. The development of two GOM models help accomplish this analysis. The first model considers inclusive growth with numerous indicators across three areas: macroeconomics, social protection and institutional capacity. The second model uses a Grade of Membership analysis based off environmental performance and sustainability indicators found in the 2011 Human Development Index report published by the UNDP and the Yale’s Environmental Performance Index.
After we obtain a country’s grade of membership, it is then matched, according to its score, to three environmental sustainability profiles. With this set up, one potentially can observe countries with high grades of membership across numerous environmental profiles. Rather than belonging to one environmental profile (known as a pure type), the GOM illustrates a more nuanced, and realistic, representation of environmental performance and sustainability for each country in the model. From this information, one can work backwards in the database to highlight both what plagues a country’s environmental performance as well as areas that perform adequately.
So far working with environmental sustainability/performance and inclusive growth has been a pleasant change of pace. We are just beginning to analyze the results from the two models and will soon turn to the write up. I hope to preview some of the results in the next blog and sprinkle in some stories about traveling in the region.
Ate mais!

Hello to Washington (and geo-coding!)

This summer, five other LBJ interns and I will be working at Development Gateway (DG) in Washington, DC.  This work is under a partnership between the Strauss Center at UT and AidData, and involves geo-coding into one database African development projects from various international donors.  The work during this leg will involve coding for projects in Malawi.

Aid has traditionally been given out piecemeal, with each donor funding separate projects where and how they see fit.  Now, this partnership is mapping out that aid, locating each project by its geographic coordinates.  By geo-referencing each development project and putting the results together in a single source, this work will promote coordination, cooperation, and just simple information sharing between donors.  But more than that, it could allow aid to be targeted at the places that need it the most – whether the poorest or the most vulnerable to climate change.  I certainly hope that it will lead to more targeted aid giving, as well as more effective aid spending.

I’m particularly interested in the large energy and water infrastructure projects that have been put into place in Malawi and the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa.  Over the course of the summer, I hope to learn more about how these types of projects can bring even larger-scale change for some of the people that need it most.

As for Washington – I’ve never been to the capitol before now, but from my few days here it looks like there won’t be much problem filling any spare time.  In fact, it seems that DC is as full of sights to see as it is of Starbucks – apparently no small feat!

Does microcredit work for the poor?

photo of disbursement

DHF's program partner Multicredit keeps track of every new loan disbursement by taking a photo of the actual handover of the money. This helps promote transparency.

Does microcredit work for the poor?


During my summer internship with DiscoverHope Fund (DHF) in Peru, I have learned a lot about what makes the difference between a microcredit model that works for the poor and one that doesn’t.

First, the mission of the microfinance institution matters. Whether it is for-profit or non-profit, the ultimate objective of the organization must be to help the poor. For example, at DHF, the mission is to “provide an opportunity for women in poverty to create their own prosperity through microcredit, entrepreneurship and training.”

teaching bookkeeping

The village bank promoter teaches the leadership board of a village bank how to keep track of their loan repayments.

Furthermore, the methods the organization employs to meet its goals must match its mission. For example, setting interest rates requires striking a delicate balance between achieving financial sustainability for the loaning institution and keeping interest rates low enough so as not to burden the poor. Our program partner Multicredit offers a monthly interest rate of 2.25%, which is much higher than rates you would find in the U.S., yet much lower than rates in Peru and easily manageable for our loan recipients to repay.

A new loan recipient examines her personalized booklet from Multicredit which she will use to kee track of her loan repayments.

A new loan recipient examines her personalized booklet from Multicredit which she will use to kee track of her loan repayments.

Second, you need an effective screening process for potential loan recipients. At DHF, we make sure women have a clear business plan for how they will use their loan before giving them money. We also try to give women the amount of women they need to expand their business, not the amount they want. For example, during the screening process for one of our new village banks, we interviewed a candidate who couldn’t even calculate her business costs. She told us she sold blankets for $10, but then a moment later told us she spent $12 buying yarn. Giving a loan to a woman who doesn’t understand her own business would be a disservice and an added burden for the poor.

Third, transparency is crucial. Our program partner Multicredit gives us detailed reports of all their monthly activities, and has effective bookkeeping methods for tracking loan disbursement and repayment. We meet on a regular basis to keep lines of communication open. Multicredit even teaches the women how to keep track of their loan repayment themselves with personalized booklets.

Finally, microloans should be complemented with training and other support. This is what DHF calls the “microcredit plus” model. Not only do we provide women with loans, but we also encourage them to have savings accounts, we provide them with business assessment services, and we coordinate classes like sewing,

DHF's newest village bank, Las Azucenas, celebrates their loan disbursement.

DHF's newest village bank, Las Azucenas, celebrates their loan disbursement.

knitting, cooking, and computer literacy that will expand their marketable skills.

This is by no means an in-depth analysis of the subject (if you’re interested, you can find plenty of articles online that analyze whether microcredit really helps the poor). This is just a reflection on some of the features of DHF’s approach to microcredit that I think make it an effective model for truly serving the poor.

Who wants to develop?

The president, secretary and treasurer of one of the village banks as they collect the final quota to repay their group loan

The president, secretary and treasurer of one of the village banks as they collect the final quota to repay their group loan

This past week two of our village banks completed their first loan cycle (a five-month loan cycle in which they repay about $140 per person with 2.25% monthly interest). After each cycle, the women decide whether they want to continue being a part of a village bank and whether they want to proceed to the next loan cycle, when they can receive a larger loan.

If the women want to continue, we evaluate them individually and as a bank to see if they qualify to move on to the next cycle. We not only evaluate them based on whether they have repaid their loan (we have had 100% repayment so far, so that is not an issue), but also whether they are fully participating in the mission of our project. They need to comply with monthly savings quotas (the women themselves decide how much they should save each month); they need to demonstrate their commitment to our business assessment program by completing homework assignments (practical tasks like naming their business and improving their customer service); and they need to participate in our community classes to show they are interested in furthering their personal development.

It’s hard to decide how much we should expect from each woman. After all, they are balancing a lot of responsibilities like running their own small business and caring for their families.

Is it fair to keep working with women who have a perfect repayment rate, but do not demonstrate interest in the other aspects of our mission? Our low interest rate (2.25% monthly) is very appealing; much lower than the interest rate they could get on individual loans here. But our funding is limited, and we want to target our loans at women who don’t have access to conventional credit; who have small businesses and are committed to expanding them; and who are interested in their personal development.

This is a tough decision, as we have to decide in the coming weeks whether one of our banks – who seem to be working with us just to take advantage of our low interest rates, and have rejected the opportunities for development we have given them – deserves to continue. While it would be difficult to let a group of women go, it would also open up space for new women to create a village bank… hopefully ones who are truly interested in challenging themselves to develop as women, businesspeople, mothers, and individuals.