In this podcast / video / blog, I interview Claire Walsh from J-PAL. You can see our Video Here.

Claire Walsh is a Senior Policy Manager at J-PAL Global at MIT. Claire leads J-PAL’s Government Partnership Initiative, a global fund to support governments in harnessing data and evidence to drive innovation and improve public policy. Claire also leads J-PAL’s Environment & Energy team and works on J-PAL’s Gender sector, focusing on approaches to measuring women’s empowerment. She previously served as interim Deputy Director of J-PAL Southeast Asian Jakarta. Claire holds an MA from The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University where she specialized in development economics and international business relations and a BA in anthropology from Vassar College. Prior to joining J-PAL in 2012, she worked for NGOs working to improve the quality of education and employment opportunities for youth in East Africa.

Here is a summary of some of the topics we cover:

What is the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL)?
The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) was started in 2003 at MIT.  It’s a global research center working to reduce poverty by ensuring that policy is informed by scientific evidence. It is a network of 171 affiliated professors at universities around the world who conduct randomized impact evaluations to answer critical questions in the fight against poverty.

At J-PAL, they believe that investing in rigorous research is essential to finding solutions to the world’s greatest challenges. Working with implementing partners, J-PAL’s affiliated professors conduct randomized impact evaluations to test and improve the effectiveness of social programs.

Could you describe randomized impact evaluations? Process? Time frame? Is it a new way to evaluate non-profits?

This is a good method for evaluating the effectiveness of programs. Randomized Control Tests (RCTs) have been used for a long time to evaluate medicine and for the last 20 years has been used for evaluating programs.

Researchers find similar communities and randomly select participants.  They change one variable (such as access to a program) and look for changes in how people are doing.  Programs, on average, last about 2 years.  There are some studies that last 5-7 years, especially for education programs.

Who are the associates?

They are all full time professors at predominant universities who use randomized impact evaluations.

What types of projects do you work on to reduce poverty?

J-PAL poverty considers poverty a very multi-dimensional issue. It’s not just about lack of resources and income. It’s about inequality, job creation, environmental quality, healthcare, education, …

Where do you conduct your studies?

In 80 countries.  JPAL has regional offices in: North America, Latin America (Chile), Europe (France), Africa (South Africa), and Asia (India and Indonesia).

What are some examples of measures to fight poverty? What are the most effective?

Teaching at the Right Level: Across many developing countries, there have been dramatic increases in school enrollment, but many children in school are not learning. Supplementary remedial education programs that teach children according to their actual learning levels, including Pratham’s Teaching at the Right Level approach, are one of the most consistently effective and cost-effective ways to improve learning.

The Graduation Approach: Ten percent of the world’s population still lives on less than US$1.90 per day. Studies across several countries show that a program developed by BRAC called the Graduation Approach, which provides ultra-poor households with a productive asset, training, regular coaching, access to savings, and consumption support has led to large and lasting impacts on their standard of living.

Some other programs being studied include: providing access to solar in India, providing management training for factory workers in Bangladesh,  easier ways to send remittances home.

Read more about which programs have worked, which have not, and why on J-PAL’s Policy Insights page. Each Policy Insight summarizes lessons from all the randomized evaluations on over 20 topics, including several that may be of interest to impact investors like microcreditrainfall insurance, and reducing the cost of lending to low-income borrowers.

If you do not see policy insight on the topic you’re interested in, you can find summaries of each of the 900+ evaluations by J-PAL affiliated researchers here. Search by keyword or filter by country or sector. Topics include agricultureeducationenergy and environmentfinancial inclusiongenderhealthlabor, and more.

What have you found about the impact of micro-credit?

Micro-credit works in some ways and doesn’t in others. In general, it helped people’s freedom of choice in access to financial services (manage with cash flow, consume what they want).  Across 7 countries, the studies did not see increases in incomes or women’s empowerment. It is a useful financial tool but not a tool for poverty reduction.

There has been some research on how to make microcredit products more impactful by changing their design. In India, a study found that changing the design of credit products to have more flexible repayment options, like a 2-month grace period before people have to start repaying, increased the impact of a credit product on business revenues and income. For the full story on microcredit, see our Policy Insight:

How is J-PAL Funded

Combination of support from private foundations, bi-lateral aid agencies and private individuals.


Claire Walsh –

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