Esther Duflo became the second-ever woman and youngest Nobel Economic Sciences Laureate in history on October 14 when she claimed the award alongside Michael Kremer and Abhijit Banerjee for their role in examining the causes of poverty and eyeing solutions based on in-depth research.
The trios experimentation into the tackling of poverty has contributed heavily to the global poverty problem. Using practical experiments into the causes of poverty, Duflo and co were able to inform policies, enabling positive change.
When presenting the prize, The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences cited the result of one of their studies which paved the way for over 5 million Indian children to benefit from remedial tutelage in schools. The chairman of the economic sciences prize committee, Peter Fredriksson, responded to reporters saying that the experimental approach has “reshaped development economics, had a clear impact on policy and improved our ability to fight global poverty”
“We need to understand the obstacles faced by the poorest and try to think about how we can help them move on” – Esther Duflo
In a 2010 Ted Talk that has been viewed over 1 million times, Duflo spoke about how the randomised trials her and her team took on has impacted on poverty. Below is an excerpt from that talk.
“You can put social innovation to the same rigorous, scientific tests that we use for drugs. And in this way, you can take the guesswork out of policy-making by knowing what works, what doesn’t work and why. And I’ll give you some examples with those three questions.
“As you have to come back, and you are so busy and you have so many other things to do, you will always tend to postpone and postpone, and eventually it gets too late. Well, if that’s the problem, then that’s much easier. Because A, we can make it easy, and B, we can maybe give people a reason to act today, rather than wait till tomorrow
“You make it easy and give a reason to act now by adding a kilo of lentils for each immunisation. Now, a kilo of lentils is tiny. It’s never going to convince anybody to do something that they don’t want to do. On the other hand, if your problem is you tend to postpone, then it might give you a reason to act today rather than later.
“So what do we find? Well, beforehand, everything is the same. That’s the beauty of randomisation. Afterwards, the camp — just having the camp — increases immunisation from six percent to 17 percent. That’s full immunisation. That’s not bad, that’s a good improvement. Add the lentils and you reach to 38 percent.
“Now, you might say, “Well, but it’s not sustainable. We cannot keep giving lentils to people.” Well, it turns out it’s wrong economics, because it is cheaper to give lentils than not to give them. Since you have to pay for the nurse anyway, the cost per immunisation ends up being cheaper if you give incentives than if you don’t.”
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