Working with the Kenyan government on development innovation is key to fighting poverty, says Nobel Laureate | Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics

Published by Madisson Heinl on 08/31/2021

On a recent visit, Prof. Michael Kremer (second from right) meets with Kenyan officials, including Dr. Sara Ruto (right), Kenya‘s Chief Administrative Secretary of Education, to discuss common priorities for a research-oriented education policy at Jogoo House in Nairobi. (Photo credit: Becker-Friedman-Institut)

Economist Michael Kremer emphasizes the power of partnerships to find scalable solutions for development challenges

For Prof. Michael Kremer, innovation goes hand in hand with local partnerships that can save lives and improve livelihoods.

As a Nobel Laureate in Development Economist who joined the University of Chicago in 2020, Kremer has already worked on interventions that benefited millions of people through better health, education, and improved water quality.

He recently traveled to Kenya – where he has worked for decades – to meet with government officials and forge some of those partnerships as he works towards launching new initiatives through UChicago’s Development Innovation Lab.

His current work in the country focuses on simple innovations that can bring significant benefits. An example is text messaging with advice for farmers: a recent study published in Science by Kremer, co-authored with Raissa Fabregas of UT Austin and Frank Schilbach of MIT, suggests that this increases the number of farmers who take advice to one Fifth increases and increases. agricultural yields up 4% at a very low cost.

“Since teaching in Kenya before I went to college, the partnerships we have forged here have resulted in so much rewarding work on a range of topics, including deworming and public health. I look forward to working with my colleagues to address new challenges, from vaccination to education, ”said Kremer, University Professor of Economics, College and the Harris School of Public Policy.

In 2019, together with Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo from MIT, Kremer won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics for his work on field experiments to test interventions to reduce global poverty. Today he is the Faculty Director of the Development Innovation Lab (DIL), which he founded last fall to work with partners and use the tools of economics to identify, test, refine and scale development innovations.

Arthur Baker, DIL’s assistant director of research and planning, said working with governments and other practitioners is one of the keys to developing successful solutions.

“By working closely with implementers and governments, researchers can really understand the issues at stake and how solutions might work in practice,” said Baker. “This partnership enables us to generate better solutions that can then be tested and refined.”

During his last trip to Kenya in July, Kremer met with a number of senior officials in the Kenyan government, including Dr. Rashid Aman, the Chief Administrative Secretary of the Kenyan Ministry of Health, and Dr. Sara Ruto, the Department of Education’s Chief Administrative Secretary.

In both high-level meetings, Kremer shared research and discussed future areas of the partnership, noting that Kenya is a torchbearer for evidence-based policy solutions. Government officials shared policy and research priorities in the health and education sectors, and agreed to pursue opportunities of common interest that would build on the identification, testing and scaling of innovative solutions that would make a positive difference in the lives of Kenyans.

The partnerships we have forged here have resulted in so much rewarding work … I look forward to working with my colleagues to address new challenges, from vaccination to education. -Prof. Michael Kremer

Kremer’s previous work in Kenya has included successful efforts to improve student health and educational outcomes by providing medicines that reduce parasitic worm infection (“deworming”) and improving water quality in rural areas through chlorination. Decades later, Kremer and his colleagues followed up on students who were given deworming drugs and found positive effects on their adult incomes.

Now he is exploring new interventions that also have the potential to transform livelihoods – work that, as in his previous studies, relies in large part on partnerships with those on the ground who have knowledge of local problems.

In a recent episode of UChicago’s Big Brains podcast, Kremer said the proliferation of cell phones in developing countries is opening up new opportunities for innovative communication strategies.

“It is possible to provide farmers with information based on their location; tied to a specific point in the agricultural season; or timed around the outbreak of new pests, ”he said. “So we did some tests on the effects of providing information to farmers and we found that it actually affects the behavior of farmers.”

Kremer notes that such solutions are not “magic” solutions to problems, but can give real results: sending SMS is cheap, and when some farmers use the information it contains to their advantage, for example by using lime to restore pH- Balance of the soil – the financial benefit can be ten times greater than the cost of sending the texts.

This work is just one example of Kremer’s unique approach to innovation, which encompasses every change a system can improve – including policy adjustments, communication strategies, and technological advances. With Kenyan partners, Kremer is looking forward to developing and testing new innovations in agriculture, health and education through the DIL.

“The combination of personal commitment on site with the intellectual rigor of research results in very exciting work, both in terms of understanding the global landscape and in terms of practical solutions to people’s problems,” said Kremer.

This story was originally published as a UChicago News article. You can find the original article at news.uchicago.edu.

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