Esther Duflo is a French-American economist born in Paris on 25 October 1972. She is the Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Esther Duflo became the youngest and second woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics for work on an experimental approach to alleviate global poverty. Here are some of the great lessons that Africa learns from this great economist.
The Best Way to Solve a Problem is to Experiment on it
Esther Duflo says that to fight a problem, you have to approach it step-by-step. Do not try to bring in your conceptions, instead, try and bring in a scientific mindset. Experiment on it and you are bound to have a perfect solution.
Improvement in Education Systems
From randomized field experiments carried out by Esther and her colleagues, Africans learn that matching teaching to the children’s learning level rather than age improves results. The tests showed that poor learning among school children in Western Kenya was not as a result of scarcity of textbooks or even hunger. Improvements can be made by implementing remedial and introducing computer-assisted learning programs in schools. This will address the needs of weaker students effectively. A similar experiment was carried out in India, and the results were positive.
Another experiment carried out by Duflo and Michael Kremer in Kenya shows that reducing the size of classes taught by permanently employed teachers does not improve learning. However, putting teachers on short-term contracts and renewing them only if the teachers achieve good results brought positive results. The school quality should also be improved to get more children to school.
Adoption of Modern Technology in Agriculture
The leading question in this area was why do smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa often fail to adopt advanced technologies such as fertilizers? This is despite the fact that they are simple to use, and the benefits are outstanding.
The field experiments carried out by Esther and her colleagues focused mainly on western Kenya. They found out that the farmers were affected by present bias. They viewed the short term as more critical than the long term. Present-biased farmers put off the decision to buy fertilizer at a discount until just before a deadline. It happens that they end up not purchasing the fertilizer because they prefer small amounts of savings in the future to a more substantial amount of income.
Field experiments by Esther showed that farmers purchased more fertilizer if offered to them at a small limited-time discount early in the growing season than at a more significant discount without a time limit. Temporary fertilizer subsidies are more effective compared to permanent subsidies. African farmers should embrace this great lesson that will take agriculture to the next level.
Accessibility to Credit Through Microcredit Program
Esther Duflo carried out a project in Morocco to evaluate the impact of a microcredit program. She concentrated on the rural areas of Morocco, where access to formal credit is deficient. Putting money in the hands of low-income families has the potential to increase investments in health and education.
Microcredit offers increased sales, household consumption, and profits across rural villages. The increase shows that these programs should be extended in most rural areas of Africa, and this will improve people’s living standards.
Improvement in Health and Medicine
Africa should learn from other countries. Duflo carried out a field experiment in India on how the introduction of mobile clinics boosted the rates of child-vaccination. In African countries, health-worker absenteeism and -poor services at stationary health centers have discouraged the use of vaccines by poor families.
The introduction of mobile clinics in India to provide vaccines increased vaccination rates by more than six times. African countries should learn from this move to improve health in low-income families.
Esther is an Inspiration to women
Esther hopes that winning the prize will send a message to other women. Women should go out there and make a difference in the world. Economics is also about changing the world into a better place. Esther calls upon other women to rise in the field of Economics to improve the standard of living in the world.
Esther Duflo has positively contributed both directly and indirectly in national and international policymaking. Her experimental approaches in problem-solving inspire both the private and public organizations to evaluate their anti-poverty programs effectively.
Vincent is an experienced journalist from Kenya as well as a statistician. He has a degree in Applied Statistics with computing from the University of Eldoret.