Understanding the Impact of Savings Groups: A PhD Student Research Profile

By Brock Mutic, Queen’s Economics Department

A PhD student research profile featuring Frédéric Tremblay, who completed his PhD at Queen’s in 2021 and is currently a postdoc at Queen’s for the NSERC One Society Network. Image provided by USAID.

Frédéric Tremblay’s research on savings groups grew out of work with Limestone Analytics on projects for organizations such as USAID and World Vision. Such organizations want to quantify the impact of their international development programs, but traditional tools for measuring such impact tend to underestimate the benefits of financial inclusion interventions. In his PhD dissertation, Tremblay proposed a new method for modelling the welfare gains from savings groups in developing countries.

Savings groups (SG) are institutions where small groups of people come together to save and take out loans. These simple, member-owned institutions can provide rudimentary financial services to communities who are marginalized or otherwise lack access to such services, often in the developing world. Queen’s Economic Department (QED) postdoc and former PhD student Frédéric Tremblay developed a model of SGs capable of capturing their core features and design elements in his PhD dissertation. His research has policy relevance for NGOs and policymakers hoping to better understand these institutions, and how they can help the most marginalized communities around the globe access basic financial services.

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Childhood Exposure to Mass Incarceration Affects Educational Attainment

By Brock Mutic, Queen’s Economics Department

New research by Queen’s professor Sitian Liu studies the effects that exposure to mass incarceration has on the educational attainment of African Americans in a paper with relevance for policy makers hoping to understand the unintended effects of the criminal justice system in the United States.

In the United States, the educational attainment of black people has historically lagged behind that of white people. Between the 1960s and the mid-1980s, the gap began to close. Since the late-1980s, however, the gap has begun to widen again, with black men experiencing a greater decline in relative educational attainment than black women: 

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Leading Economic Experiments in Latin America

By Brock Mutic, Queen’s Economics Department

QED professor Karen Ye brings her work with the Joint Initiative for Latin American Experimental Economics (JILAEE) to Queen’s, building international connections, and providing research opportunities for students and faculty.

Queen’s Economics Department (QED) Assistant Professor Karen Ye joined Queen’s in 2020 after completing a postdoc at the the Joint Initiative for Latin American Initiative Experimental Economics (JILAEE). Dr. Ye continues to serve as Assistant Director of the institute, an experimental economics research initiative based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, founded in 2018 as a partnership between the University of Chicago—where Dr. Ye received her PhD in 2019—and the Universidad del CEMA (UCEMA) in Buenos Aires. It “use[s] insights from behavioral and experimental economics to reduce inequality and promote economic betterment in Latin America” [1], by “partner[ing] with public and private institutions to produce rigorous research, support[ing] researchers to run their own field experiments in Latin America, and bring[ing] together a network of world-class researchers and innovators” [1].

Testing the Waters

Dr. Ye herself is a behavioural and experimental economist, who combines insights from economics with psychology, sociology, and other disciplines in her research. She conducts experiments in the field to test economic theories. Much of Dr. Ye’s recent research has involved studying how peer effects can affect the human capital investment decisions of young people. “What I’m interested in,” she says, is “how people are affected by their peers and social network when making decisions”. Thus, when UCEMA professor Julio Elias approached Ye and her PhD supervisor at the University of Chicago, John List, with the idea to establish an experimental economics research initiative in Latin America, an area ripe with experimental potential, it was initially a very exciting idea. Before the team at UChicago was prepared to take the plunge into a new world of field work on a different continent however, they wanted to test the waters. Specifically, Dr. Ye and her colleagues wanted to know what kind of demand, if any, existed on the ground for the kind of research they were interested in.

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Improving Girls’ Education in Africa: A PhD Student Research Profile

Through droughts, a global pandemic, and a military coup, Queen’s PhD Student Ardyn Nordstrom has been studying the effects of education interventions on girls’ education in rural Zimbabwe since 2017. In Summer 2022, she finished her PhD studies and begin her new position as an Assistant Professor in Program and Policy Evaluation at Carleton University’s School of Public Policy and Administration.

Article by Brock Mutic Queen’s Economics Department with Chris Cotton

Ardyn Nordstrom, a recent PhD graduate from the Queen’s Economic Department (QED) and a John Deutsch Institute (JDI) fellow, had no idea her research on the effects of educational interventions in rural Zimbabwe would take her to the places it did. In fact, Nordstrom had not expected to be studying educational interventions in rural Zimbabwe at all.

Nordstrom’s undergraduate path, like many others, was formative and ended in a place it did not begin. Nordstrom studied commerce as an undergraduate at Carleton University, a world away from rural Zimbabwe. She became interested in development economics after taking several courses in the subject. The spark had caught fire. Going on several service trips to Guatemala and Mexico and working with people on the ground influenced her future path even more. Nordstrom’s travels inspired her to pursue a career in development and development economics.Read More »

Where Can Funding Make The Biggest Difference? Malawi Priorities Project Ranks Social Sector Investments

This article first appeared on the Limestone Analytics Impact Blog.

By Christopher Cotton, Queen’s Economics Department

Limestone Analytics engaged several researchers from the Queen’s Economics Department to contribute to the Malawi Priorities project, which compared alternative social investments to determine which offer the greatest social and economic benefits per $1 spent. The analysis finds that investments focused on children tend to offer the largest benefits to society per dollar spent. Supporting community dialogues on child marriage results in $114 in benefits for every $1 spent. Investing in technology assisted learning in schools results in $106 worth of benefits to the community.  Other promising investments involve maternal and neonatal health and nutrition, land and market reforms, and providing energy sector technical support. 

Image from the Malawi Priorities Project, 2022

Malawi remains one of the world’s poorest countries. A landlocked country in Sub-Saharan Africa whose economic opportunities depend heavily on its neighbors. A country whose population is largely rural and dependent on agriculture, while facing water shortages and environmental challenges. A large youth population whose rapid growth outstrips growth in school capacity and formal employment opportunities. 

Malawi faces many challenges. Because of this, there are countless opportunities for governments, NGOs, and social sector organizations to undertake investments that may have lasting effects on Malawi and its people. There are many opportunities, but few resources. Which raises the question: which opportunities result in the greatest social benefit and offer the greatest value for money? Which opportunities should be prioritized over others? 

These are the questions asked by the Malawi Priorities project led by the Copenhagen Consensus Center and the National Planning Commission of Malawi, with support of the African Institute for Development Policy and the JBJ Foundation. The Malawi Priorities project worked to identify the most promising social investment opportunities across the country, from those focused on infrastructure and energy to agriculture and environment to public health and education to social inclusion and employment. It then applied rigorous, evidence-based cost-benefit analysis (CBA) of these opportunities for a head-to-head comparison of the society-wide benefits and costs of the alternative opportunities. 

The research team at Limestone Analytics was engaged by the project to lead the assessment of nine separate research questions on behalf of the group. The team, which included Queen’s researchers Huw Lloyd-Ellis, Christopher Cotton, Ardyn Nordstrom, Frederic Tremblay, and Bahman Kashi, worked with Malawi based experts to identify the most promising solutions, and then conducted detailed CBAs for each opportunity. The questions how Malawi can improve outcomes on a range of dimensions, from the primary school education quality, secondary school retention, gender empowerment and inclusion, industrialization, youth employment, public utility reliability, and national resource management. Our team also provided macroeconomic projections for the project and the National Planning Commission the project to map out alternative COVID-19 recovery paths over the next five years.  

CONTINUE READING on the Limestone Impact Blog.