As philanthropy becomes a common source of finance for poverty-fighting programmes, it is natural for donors to want data about their impact on the people they want to help.
Yet measuring the benefits of philanthropy is surprisingly hard. How can we define and measure “income” in a village of subsistence farmers? Can we ask a street kid enrolled in a violence-prevention programme about his illegal activities? How do we know if a change in nutritional outcomes was the result of a social programme and not some other variable, like a change in food prices? How can we measure non-quantitative or non-monetary outcomes, like women’s empowerment or entrepreneurial motivation?
For many years, aid impact studies were based on anecdotal evidence or fragments of data. Over the past decade, searching for a more rigorous approach, development researchers have applied the “gold standard” of medical research: randomised controlled trials. In an RCT, researchers allocate an intervention, such as a microfinance loan, to a randomly selected test group of people and compare their outcomes with a control group. Read More »
It’s well known that mobile phones are changing every day life in the developing world — particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. The spread of cell phones coupled with the ease and efficiency of text messaging helps people save, spend, and investtheir money more wisely. Text messages and mobile apps improve health outcomes by teaching people about nutrition and reminding patients to take their medication. They also further education by helping students learn more effectively through virtual tutoring.
We now have evidence that text messages improve civic engagement in emerging countries by encouraging people to vote. A recent study I conducted in Kenya with Benjamin Marx, an economist at MIT, and Vincent Pons, of Harvard Business School, found that get-out-the-vote text messages increased Election Day turnout by as much as 2 percentage points. This increased participation in democracy comes with a condition, however. If voters perceive that elections aren’t free and fair, they lose trust. Put another way: when voters willingly place their faith in electoral institutions — the very essence of voting — those institutions had better make good on their promises.
Democracy in the developing world is a fragile thing. Corruption and fraud are common features of elections and understandably, voters feel disillusioned and angry. In Kenya’s 2007 election, that anger turned to bloodshed. After Kenya’s election commission ignored evidence of vote rigging that kept the ruling government in power, the country erupted into violence and hundreds of people were killed.
The following year, Kenya’s government worked to rebuild trust. The country adopted political reforms and created a new constitution. It also replaced its old electoral commission with a new one: the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), tasked with creating a new register of voters across the country. Before the 2013 election, the IEBC purchased biometric voter registration kits, based on fingerprint technology, to mitigate identification issues at polling stations.
The West African Ebola outbreak first hit Sierra Leone in May 2014, followed by an explosion of cases in the capital Freetown in the autumn. The epidemic now counts more than 10,500 cases across Sierra Leone, with signs that the spread is slowing.
The early days of the crisis were characterized by a sense of immense fear, anxiety and alarm, regionally and globally. In Sierra Leone, a three-day, countrywide, military-led lockdown in September fed the fear in West Africa and beyond. Many flights originating in unaffected African countries were restricted. African students were prevented from attending some American schools, and there were countless reports of discrimination against Africans across the globe. Pictures of health workers in full protective suits became a ubiquitous symbol of the panic.
Misleading reports, speculation and poor projections from international agencies, government ministries and the media about the Ebola outbreak exacerbated the problem. The fear that was spread by the dramatic reports that accentuated the negative, undermined confidence, made it harder to encourage people to seek care, and misdirected attention away from Sierra Leone’s urban areas, where data suggest the economic effects of Ebola have been concentrated.
Valid, credible and timely data is essential during a global crisis. Without reliable data, efforts to assist affected people and to rebuild damaged communities can be misdirected and inefficient.