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Six Questions with Rohini Pande

David McKenzie's picture

Rohini Pande is Mohammed Kamal Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, where she also co-directs their Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) program. She has described her research as examining the economic costs and benefits of informal and formal institutions in the developing world and the role of public policy in changing these.

1. You have worked on a range of different topics – including rural banking and microfinance, governance, environmental regulation, son preference, and housing – but almost exclusively in one country, India. When you think about your broad research agenda, how to you think about the tradeoffs involved in focusing deeply on one country, vs exploring these topics in different places?

Starting with my PhD work on political reservations in India, I have been fascinated by the why and how of public policy in democracies and, in particular, how the political and social context shapes the choice of policy. I have also found that viewing problems of economic development through a political lens that engages with questions of power creates links across questions and topics that might before have seemed disparate.

Once you adopt this perspective, the advantage of focussing on a single country becomes apparent. Over time, one begins to understand how power structures operate and which policy lessons are generalizable and which remain specific to a location. The Indian economist Jean Drèze, who very much inspired my career choice to become a development economist, told me that he has never been to Africa. “Once I got to India,” he said, “there was more than enough for me to do for a lifetime.” His most recent book – Sense and Solidarity – provides a strong rationale for an action-research agenda that is focussed on a single country.

We need to know more about how to economically empower women

Markus Goldstein's picture

co-authored with Alaka Holla

Everyone always says that great things happen when you give money to women. Children start going to school, everyone gets better health care, and husbands stop drinking as much. And we know from impact evaluations of conditional cash transfers programs that a lot of these things are true (see for example this review of the evidence by colleagues at the World Bank). But, aside from just giving them cash with conditions, how do we get money in the hands of women? Do the programs we use to increase earnings work the same for men and women? And do the same dimensions of well-being respond to these programs for men and women?

The answer is we don’t know much. And we really should know more. If we don’t know what works to address gender inequalities in the economic realm, we can’t do the right intervention (at least on purpose). This makes it impossible to economically empower women in a sustainable, meaningful way. We also don’t know what this earned income means for household welfare. While the evidence from CCTs for example might suggest that women might spend transfers differently, we don’t know whether more farm or firm profits for a woman versus a man means more clothes for the kids and regular doctor visits. We also don’t know much about the spillover effects in non-economic realms generated by interventions in the productive sectors and whether these also differ across men and women. Quasi-experimental evidence from the US for example suggests that decreases in the gender wage-gap reduce violence against women (see this paper by Anna Aizer), but some experimental evidence by Fernald and coauthors  from South Africa suggests that extending credit to poor borrowers decreases depressive symptoms for men but not for women.

Getting organized for progress in agriculture

Markus Goldstein's picture

I recently came across a paper by Kelsey Jack which is a white paper for the J-PAL and CEGA Agricultural Technology Adoption Initiative (ATAI).   This paper systematically explores the barriers to technology adoption that come from market inefficiencies, what we know about these, and what research is going on (under ATAI) to fill these gaps.