Randomized Control Testing
“It can often seem like the problems of global poverty are intractable, but over the course of my lifetime and career, the fraction of the world’s people living in poverty has dropped dramatically.” – Dr. Michael Kremer

In October 2019, Michael Kremer of Harvard and Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee of MIT won the Nobel Prize in Economics for their extensive, randomized control testing-based research in tackling global poverty. At 46 years old, Duflo is the youngest economics laureate ever and only the second woman to receive the prize over its 50-year history.

Incorporating Scientific Studies

The trio set out to establish a more scientific approach to studying the effects of investment projects in the developing world. One of the ways they discovered that they could accomplish this is through randomized control testing. Commonly used in the medical field and made legitimate in the social sciences by the trio, this type of testing involves randomly selecting communities as beneficiaries of experimental projects. Randomly selecting the beneficiaries removes selection bias, providing more accurate and legitimate results.

Randomized Control Testing in India and Kenya

Duflo and Banerjee used randomized control testing experiments in schools in India in an effort to improve the quality of education. The authors discovered that simply getting students to school was not sufficient in improving test scores. Previous research also noted that additional resources, even additional teachers, had minimal impact on students’ performance.

The laureates discovered instead that providing support for an interventionist to work with students behind on their educational skills and making computer-assisted learning available so that all students could have additional math practice improved their scores. In the first year, the average test scores increased by 0.14 standard deviations and in the second year, they increased by 0.28 standard deviations. In the second year, the children initially in the bottom third improved by over 0.4 standard deviations. Those sent for remedial education with the interventionist saw 0.6 standard deviations increase and the computer-assisted learning improved math scores by 0.35 standard deviations in the first year and 0.47 in the second year for all students equally. These results provide clear and definite numbers on the success of the program and show that those who experienced the most benefits were the students in the greatest need of assistance.

Kremer completed a similar study in Kenya. Again, the research found that additional resources did little to improve the learning abilities of the weaker students and that much of the school policies and practices were helpful to the advancement of the already high achieving students. Another of Kremer’s studies in Kenya further showed the impact small interventions can have on student retention. His research found that by bringing deworming medication directly into the classroom, school absenteeism rates decreased by 25 percent, leading to higher secondary school attendance, higher wages and a higher standard of living.

Impact vs. Performance Evaluations

The key to Kremer, Duflo and Banerjee’s success was not the result of pumping out positive statistics. Their success, and reason for winning the Nobel Prize, came from the rigorous scientific approach they took with their studies by using randomized control testing that led to not only positive results but also to meaningful impact where they were working and beyond. For instance, after the success in Kenya with the deworming, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) agreed to finance Kenyan scientists to travel to India to help expand the program. Soon, 150 million children were receiving treatments of deworming medication each year.

This example shows the lasting impact of the work of the laureates. When the fields of economics and politics use more rigorous and randomized studies, it becomes clearer what programs work and which do not, creating greater efficiency and enabling successful projects to expand. The work of the three professors has already led to the leaders of USAID to question the utility of performance evaluations over impact evaluations. In other words, the agency has started to see a shift from success defined as the generated output of the programs to success as the net gain or impact as a direct result of the programs.

Altogether, the work of Kremer, Duflo and Banerjee has raised the bar for economic and social research in the future. Their work has set new expectations that will force researchers to create more detailed and accurate studies that will continue to guide policy.

– Scott Boyce
Photo: Flickr

The Nobel Prize and Anti-Poverty Efforts
The Nobel Prize is an international award that many people recognize and shares its name with Alfred Nobel, innovator and inventor of dynamite, among other things. Somewhat ironically, the Peace Prize given in his name holds the most prestige of nearly any accolade an individual can receive in his or her lifetime, but only constitutes one of the fields in which the committee can award a Nobel Prize. The others, physics, chemistry, medicine, literature and economic sciences, celebrate specific advancements or landmarks in their respective disciplines. The Nobel Prize and anti-poverty efforts have more in common than one might think. The Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences emerged in 1968, making it the newest of the prizes, but nonetheless important. The 2019 edition went to a trio of Boston, Massachusetts-based economists, two from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one from Harvard University, two highly acclaimed and respected academic institutions with cutting edge research capabilities in multiple fields. Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer deservingly received the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences for their experimental approach in alleviating global poverty, closely tying the 2019 Nobel Prize and anti-poverty efforts. 

Groundbreaking Statistics

Banerjee, Duflo and Kremer form past and present leadership of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), a global research center with the goal of reducing poverty by advocating policy formation on the basis of scientific evidence. Beginning in 2003, J-PAL works with governments and non-government organizations to identify and carry out interventions where its data analysis deems them most effective. Using randomized control trials (RCTs) similar to ones used in medical fields as the core of its evaluation, its methods have become widely accepted by the global economic policy community. Over the course of the last 20 years, J-PAL linked 986 randomized evaluations across its affiliates in 83 countries to understand if interventions work or not and allow the numerous social sector organizations who use them to adjust policies and practices accordingly. These interventions focus on a wide variety of issues, such as education deficiency and child health. Its studies can have a profound impact, as over five million Indian children received tutoring as a result of one of the studies, the foundation of its Nobel Prize and anti-poverty efforts.

Economic Masterminds

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences attributes its efforts as integral to the evolution of development economics into a flourishing field. The academy, which annually awards each prize, notably made Duflo the youngest economic laureate in its history and only the second woman to receive the prize, making 2020’s Nobel Prize and anti-poverty efforts that much more significant. Just as a landmark, the committee deemed J-PAL’s focus on real-world solutions with economic applications extraordinary, whereas previous awards in the field of Economic Sciences boasted theoretical achievements. Rather than focusing on improving the developing world as a whole through economic theory or answers to macroeconomic questions, J-PAL addresses need at a localized level and introduces practical solutions to tangible problems. Beyond the tutoring in India example, J-PAL tested how eradicating parasitic worms affected school attendance among children, the placement of additional teachers in a classroom or monitoring teachers’ attendance with cameras, how access to bank or microfinance loans can improve living standards and even how voting behavior varies depending on specific appeals made by candidates in an election campaign.

J-PAL vs the World

However, despite objective advancements based on RCTs, people should not view them as unmitigated successes, argues Sanjay Reddy of Foreign Policy Magazine. He notes that these Randomized Control Trials promised to assess whether people benefitted from a change in circumstances simply because they had the motivation or better positioning to fare better from it. In reality, he says, one cannot tell whether these projects or initiatives worked because people took advantage of them or because they just work, though the link between these recipients of the 2019 Nobel Prize and anti-poverty efforts is undeniable.

Reddy’s analysis may seem like splitting hairs, especially against the background of the broader perspective J-PAL’s studies bring. Karla Hoff of the Brookings Institute praises the Nobel Prize and anti-poverty efforts that J-PAL has undertaken for a fundamental shift in the culture of development economics and economic as a whole. In addition to directly helping people most in need, the nonprofit challenged deep assumptions about individuals and the decisions they make, questioning the essence of economic development. It altered many things about the field, including the ways, places and kinds of people economists work with.

Alex Myers
Photo: Flickr

United Nations

The United Nations is an international organization that was founded in 1945. At the end of the Second World War, many countries came together to focus on global peace, climate change, humanitarian emergencies and country development. The organization has become a forum for countries to negotiate and solve problems together in a regulated environment. Below are 10 cool facts about the United Nations.

10 Cool Facts About the United Nations

    1. The U.N. Has Almost 200 Member States
      There are currently 196 member states in the United Nations. These individual states are all recognized by the United Nations as members of the international organization. There are only four countries that are non-members of the U.N. They are Kosovo, Palestine, Taiwan and Vatican City. These countries have received invitations to join the U.N., but have yet to accept.
    2. Branches and Programs of the U.N. Received the Nobel Peace Prize 11 Times
      Over the last 70 years, the United Nations has been given 11 Nobel Peace prizes awarded to various agencies, specialized programs and initiatives. This prize was inspired by the last will of Alfred Nobel in 1895. Upon his death, he left most of his fortune to those who made advancements for the betterment of humanity in the areas of physics, chemistry, physiology, medicine, literature and peace.
    3. The United Nations Was Proposed in 1942
      United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt coined the term the “United Nations” on January 1, 1942. Representatives of 26 nations came together at that time in order to fight the Axis Powers during World War II. However, the U.N. did not officially create a charter until 1945. The organization was officially formed in October 1945 when 51 member states ratified its charter. This day is now celebrated as United Nations Day.
    4. The U.N. Has Six Official Languages
      In 1946, the U.N. established six official languages for its meetings and distributed documentation. The languages are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish. During meetings delegates and representatives must utilize one of these languages or provide a written interpretation in one of them. Each language is recognized on a specific day of the year to celebrate cultural diversity and multilingualism.
    5. The U.N. Has Its Own News Site
      In order to keep the world updated on pertinent international issues and achievements, the United Nations has a news site. The site separates stories by world regions, topics and timeliness. The site is available in the official languages of the U.N. and has both a written and audio option.
    6. It Prioritizes Specific Global Issues
      Conflict resolution and peacekeeping are the main efforts of the United Nations, but the organization has many other branches of foreign assistance. Through specialized programs, the U.N. also addresses global issues such as decolonization, climate change, ending world poverty, children’s rights and international law. The website also outlines fast facts to engage readers about various topics.
    7. The U.N. Hosts International Court Hearings
      The main body of the United Nations judicial system is the International Court of Justice. It is composed of 15 judges who each serve nine-year terms and are elected by the U.N. General Assembly and Security Council. This court provides legal advising and settles disputes between member states. It also regulates global commons, such as environmental conservation, international waters, outer space and global trade, and ensures that human rights violations are prosecuted.
    8. The U.N. Has 36 Specialized Agencies, Programs and Partnerships
      There are 36 agencies and programs known as the “U.N. Family.” The programs are funded through voluntary contributions and are considered independent international organizations. The agencies and programs specialize on different issues. For example, UNICEF is the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund and focuses on ensuring the proper treatment of children worldwide and the protection of children’s rights.
    9. The Official Emblem Hasn’t Changed Since 1946
      The United Nations flag and symbol are blue and white. The design team created the logo in 1945, and it was officially adopted by the organization in 1946. The emblem is “a map of the world representing an azimuthal equidistant projection centered on the North Pole, inscribed in a wreath consisting of crossed conventionalized branches of the olive tree, in gold on a field of smoke-blue with all water areas in white,” according to the original description.
    10. The U.N. Has the First Recorded Definition of Human Rights
      In 1948, the United Nations General Assembly drafted the first Universal Definition of Human Rights (General Assembly resolution 217 A). It was drafted by representatives from different legal and cultural backgrounds to make it more comprehensive. It sets out fundamental human rights that should be protected; condemning slavery, torture, imprisonment without trial and prejudice. It has been translated into more than 500 languages.

The United Nations has worked for decades to protect human rights around the world. These 10 cool facts about the United Nations shed some light on the history of the organization as well as some of its policies.

Emily Triolet
Photo: Flickr

Malala Visited Pakistan

The story of Malala Yousafzai’s survival is widely known around the globe. Recently, Malala visited Pakistan for the first time since 2012 when she was shot in the head by the Taliban.

Returning to Pakistan

In 2018, Malala returned to Pakistan and, under security protection, visited her home in the northwest town of Mingora. Back in 2012, Mingora was controlled by the Taliban under the rule of Mullah Fazlullah. At the age of 15, Malala was already vocal about female education, something that wasn’t supported under Taliban rule.

The Attack and Recovery

One day, Malala was traveling on a school bus with other students when it was stopped by men who were part of the Taliban. They boarded the bus, asking for Malala by name. When her friends turned to look at her, the trigger was pulled and she was shot in the head. 

Malala was rushed to the hospital, where her recovery was difficult. Within the first 72 hours of being shot, her brain swelled and she got an infection. She was transported to England to receive rehabilitative care at the Queen Elizabeth Medical Center, which specialized in emergency and rehabilitative care. Malala survived her attack after various surgeries but was left with some facial paralysis and deafness in her left ear.  

Continuing the Fight for Education

After recuperating, Malala continued her fight for the education of girls. She became the youngest Nobel laureate in 2014 when she received the Nobel Peace Prize for her “struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.” 

Malala has a foundation in her name, which is set up to support groups in Pakistan, Nigeria, Jordan, Syria and Kenya that support education. Apple has also partnered with Malala and the Malala Fund to help girls get an education.

According to 9 to 5 Mac, Apple will help the Malala Fund reach its goal of providing secondary education to more than 100,000 girls who would otherwise be unable to attend school.

Since the murder attempt in 2012, Malala has become the biggest advocate for girls education in Pakistan. She has become a beacon of hope. After Malala’s last visit to Pakistan, she hopes to return to live there after she finishes her studies in England.

– Valeria Flores

Photo: Flickr

facts about MLK
As the single most influential individual associated with the Civil Rights Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. lived life under a spotlight. His legacy continues to be praised to this day for his courage, passion for justice and his devotion to civil equality. An advocate for nonviolence, Martin Luther King Jr. brought masses together in his time to fight against oppression with words and peaceful demonstration rather than brutality, violence and war.

His birthday, now a national holiday, celebrates and teaches many of the major highlights in his life, and resulted in a nation well-versed in his incredible life, justice goals and untimely, his martyred death.

For a man so inspiring, every day words that he spoke became inspirations to the public. Speeches and statements he gave lit a flame in the hearts of people who craved social justice and equality. In honor of Black History Month, here are 10 interesting facts about MLK, one of the most profound and inspiring American heroes:

    1. Originally, Martin was not his first name—it was actually Michael. His father, Martin Luther King Sr.’s, name was also originally Michael but after a trip to Germany, he changed both Michaels to Martin in homage to the historic German, Martin Luther.
    2. He and his wife, Coretta Scott, had four children named Yolanda Denise, Martin, Dexter and Bernice Albertine.
    3. He graduated with a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology in 1955.
    4. He was arrested on Jan. 26, 1956, for driving 30 mph in a 25 mph zone.
    5. Just four days later on Jan. 30, his house was bombed.
    6. In 1957, it is estimated that MLK traveled more than 780,000 miles and made 208 speeches.
    7. MLK had a lifelong admiration for Gandhi and visited India in 1959—crediting Gandhi’s passive resistance techniques for his civil rights successes.
    8. The first national celebration of MLK’s birthday was not until 1986.
    9. It is estimated that more than 700 streets in the U.S. are named after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
    10. At 35, King was the youngest man to have won the Nobel Peace Prize. All of his monetary winnings from the award were put toward furthering the issue of civil rights and towards civil rights movements.

– Eastin Shipman

Sources: Nobel Prize, The Seattle Times
Photo: Biography