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Grant recipients

The fund has supported 19 full-fledged research projects to date in 13 countries across sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, and Latin America. See below for short descriptions of current and past researcher-practitioner pairs.

Optimising labour sourcing for technology workers in small businesses

Researchers: Ignacio Rodriguez Hurtado (Duke University), Robert James Garlick (Duke University), Susannah Katherine Orkin (University of Oxford), and Laurel Elizabeth Wheeler (University of Alberta) 

Practitioner: Shortlist

Countries: Kenya, India

This project aims to find evidence on what will help firms source and retain high-quality workers. In partnership with Shortlist, an innovative hiring platform for firms, mainly in high-growth, technology-related sectors, the project will use existing and new data on the market to identify constraints to sourcing high-quality and well-matched workers. The project will implement randomised controlled trials which explore incentives for workers to acquire high-demand skills; incentives for workers to improve referral networks; and improving firm-worker matches by changing the matching algorithms to use information better. This research will influence practices on labour screening and sourcing and

The impact of psychotherapy on business performance of female-led firms

Researcher: Arinze Nwokolo (Lagos Business School)

Practitioner: Impact Hub Lagos

Countries: Nigeria

The research measures the impact of psychotherapy on the performance of female-led Nigerian firms by exposing subjects to a virtual reality cognitive behaviour therapy using a randomised controlled trial in partnership with Impact Hub Lagos. The results will help them address concerns regarding the effectiveness of non-cognitive skills training within their venture development programs and inform what can play a key role in mitigating the mental health effects of business and economic shocks.

Digital market linkages: Going global with home-based work

Researchers: Muhammad Farooq Naseer (Lahore University of Management Sciences), Ali Cheema (Lahore University of Management Sciences), Asim Khwaja (Harvard University), Jacob Shapiro (Princeton University)

Practitioner: Kaarvan Crafts Foundation

Countries: Pakistan

Kaarvan Crafts has pioneered a skills training and women economic empowerment programme in Pakistan. This project explores how female entrepreneurs can overcome weak local demand in the presence of mobility constraints by using randomised controlled trials to measure the impact of skills training and market linkage programmes and inform how to integrate at-scale effective market linkage interventions.

Unequal access to big contracts: Evidence from the AGPO Programme in Kenya

Researcher: Golvine de Rochambeau (Sciences Po)

Practitioner: UN Women Kenya

Country: Kenya

Public procurements make up for roughly 12% of worldwide GDP and more in low-income countries. Evidence shows that small business growth is catalysed by demand shocks generated through public procurement.

The Government of Kenya’s Access to Government Procurement Opportunities Program (AGPO) targets 30% of its procurement budget and simplifies application requirements for youth, women, and people with disabilities. UN Women, with support from the Government of Kenya, has introduced a practical handbook and implemented training sessions with businesses who subsequently reported success in securing procurement contracts. The researcher will conduct a randomised controlled trial to causally identify the effect of these interventions on community-level outcomes such as employment opportunities; education and health investments; and gender equity beliefs.

Among other uses, the research findings will be useful for understanding the community-level impact of improved access to procurement opportunities for under-privileged businesses.

Measuring and transferring retail productivity: Evidence from a structural model and a mentorship intervention in Zambia

Researchers: Heather Huntington (Duke University), Ajay Shenoy (University of California- Santa Cruz), Brenda Samaniego de la Parra (University of California- Santa Cruz)

Practitioner: Prospero Zambia

Country: Zambia

The retail sector is the biggest source of jobs across the developing world, accounting for a larger share of urban employment in most developing countries than manufacturing. Despite that, effective tools to measure retail productivity are lacking. Standard methods to measure productivity have been designed for the manufacturing sector, making them deficient for the study of retail. There is a lack of academic work that specifically focuses on retailers although they represent a disproportionate share of firm level interventions in developing countries.

To fill this evidence gap, this project implements a novel methodology to estimate productivity in the retail sector of developing countries. In collaboration with Prospero Zambia, the researchers will collect high-frequency data to construct a panel of 2,500 small and growing retailers selling food and conveniences. Using a structural model, they will provide new estimates of productivity across various relevant margins for retail shops including customer acquisition, efficient use of inputs, and inventory management. These measures will be used to guide a mentorship intervention that will reveal which margins of productivity are most easily transferrable across entrepreneurs through mentoring.

Other than potentially improving matches, this study will inform policymakers about which aspects of productivity can be taught and should be targeted by interventions.

Can light-touch accelerator programmes foster business performance? Evidence from ICT enterprises in Bangladesh

Researchers: Abu Shonchoy (Florida International University), Israt Jahan (Texas Tech University), Namrata Kala (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Gaurav Chplunkar (University of Virginia)

Practitioner: Startup Dhaka

Country: Bangladesh

The ICT sector in Bangladesh is rapidly growing, creating high-skilled jobs for youth as well as diversifying the export base. However, so far there is limited evidence on the impact of business incubation and accelerator programmes on firm survival and growth. To fill this evidence gap, this research examines the impact of a light-touch business accelerator support programme in Bangladesh which consists of: mentoring, online training courses, and networking with investors and peer firms for ICT firms. By partnering with Startup Dhaka, the researchers will conduct a randomised controlled trial to understand the impact of the light-touch business acceleration support programme on SMEs growth in terms of size, scope, productivity, and creativity.

The research findings will be useful to design large scale randomised controlled trials in the future, which will aid rigorous impact evaluation and support unbundling different components of design optimisation

Corporate transparency and investment readiness

Researchers: Emanuelle Colonelli (University of Chicago) and Thomas Rauter (University of Chicago)

Practitioner: Imuka Access

Country: Uganda

Corporate transparency (the extent to which a firm’s actions are observable by outsiders) is thought to be a key success factor for SGBs around the world. A lack of corporate transparency prevents SGBs from accessing finance needed for growth. This project aims to (1) measure corporate transparency on a large scale and (2) examine the short- and long-term causal effects of increased corporate transparency through intensive training on access to finance and firm growth. This study is not only of interest to policymakers and economists, but also a key issue in practice for banks, private equity firms, and other capital providers that want to invest in SGBs but are reluctant to do so because of a lack of corporate transparency.

Inclusive international trade: Assisting female-led firms

Researchers: Amira Bouziri (South Mediterranean University), Fabian Scheifele (Technische Universität Berlin), Florian Münch (Technische Universität Berlin)

Practitioner: Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ)

Country: Tunisia

While many lower- and middle-income countries aim to grow and diversify their exports, enabling small and medium sized firms to export and enter global value chains remains a key challenge. This is particularly true for female-led firms, which only compose 5-10% of all firms in the MENA region and overall less than 20% in other parts of the Global South. So far, there is little evidence what measures can improve the integration of female-led firms into global value chains. This project aims to fill this evidence gap by rigorously assessing the impact of export consortia on the export performance of female-led SMEs in Tunisia through a randomized controlled trial. This experiment is part of the second phase of the German Development Cooperation project “Export Promotion to new, Sub-Saharan Markets (PEMA II)”, which is implemented by the German Development Agency GIZ together with the Tunisian export promotion agency CEPEX. The idea is that forming consortia is another way of reducing the fixed cost of exporting by pooling resources, sharing risk and potentially even selling products together under the same brand. Furthermore, closely collaborating with other firms broadens your business network, which is considered a key success factor in the trade literature.

Measuring and managing impact: A field experiment

Researchers: Emanuele Colonnelli (University of Chicago), Natalia Rigol (Harvard University), Ben Roth (Harvard University)

Practitioner: Villgro Innovations Foundation

Country: India

Investors and firms face uncertainty over how to measure and manage impact, an uncertainty that introduces severe challenges when trying to evaluate the growth of firms in low-income countries across both financial and impact metrics. This project aims to be a large-scale causal examination of impact management and measurement (IMM) practices in Low Income Countries (LICs). The project will take advantage of a rich dataset on the workforce, financials, and business details of revenue-generating SGBs. It will further collect data on the IMM and other management practices to estimate its causal effect on various firm-level outcomes. The study will contribute to the literature on business training and management practices by developing and testing a unique training programme, focused on measuring and managing the firms’ non-financial impact on their stakeholders.

What do high-growth entrepreneurs in Africa want?

Researchers: Emanuele Colonnelli (University of Chicago)

Practitioner: VC4Africa, International Finance Corporation (IFC)

Countries: Across Africa

This project will help build a database and experimental methodology to investigate how entrepreneurs assess investment and support opportunities. This project will take advantage of multiple datasets from a number of different sources and a new data collection effort on start-ups, investors, and entrepreneur support organisations in Africa. The researchers will build this dataset out further with new experimental survey data on the decision-making processes of entrepreneurs and other stakeholders.

Targeting consulting services to high-growth entrepreneurs 

Researchers: Golvine De Rochambeau (Sciences Po) and Vittorio Bassi (University of Southern California)

Practitioners: African Entrepreneur Collective, Transformational Business Network and Ongoza

Countries: Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda

This pilot project will examine entrepreneur selection and matching for training programs as well as the ultimate impact of matching strategies on entrepreneur outcomes. Specifically, the researchers will evaluate the effectiveness of various marketing strategies in selecting entrepreneurs that have high potential for growth and improving the effectiveness of the training delivered as a result.

Accelerating investment into women-led start-ups

Researchers: Saurabh Lall (University of Glasgow) and Amisha Miller (New York University)

Practitioner: Village Capital

Countries: Kenya, India

This research will examine whether two interventions affect investor behaviour regarding women-led firms: the use of revenue sharing investment models and mindset training around gender bias. The initial stage will establish a basis for understanding the potential mechanisms through which investment structures and mindset training could affect investor activity, with an anticipated follow up through field experiments using Village Capital’s accelerator and investment vehicle.

Hiring frictions and growth among small firms: Evidence from an internet platform-based experiment

Researchers: A. Nilesh Fernando (University of Notre Dame), Niharika Singh (Harvard University), and Gabriel Z. Tourek (Massachusetts Institute of Technology and J-PAL)

Practitioner: Quikr India Pvt Ltd.

Countries: India

This project uses randomisation of access to an online job portal for firms seeking entry-level workers in Bangalore, India to test whether frictions in the labour recruitment process constrain the growth and productivity of small and growing firms. Specifically, the experiment will test whether online portals can do screening and background verifications to improve recruitment pools and ultimately reduce hiring constraints for firms.

Gender discrimination in access to capital: Experimental evidence from Ethiopian SBGs

Researchers: Shanthi Manian (Washington State University) and Ketki Sheth (University of California)

Practitioner: Entrepreneurship Development Centre

Countries: Ethiopia

Gender discrimination against entrepreneurs may drive gender gaps in access to capital and subsequently reduce the performance of female-owned businesses. This raises concerns about gender equity, but also growth: by misallocating capital, discrimination can reduce the returns to capital and thereby reduce productivity and economic growth. Using a randomized experiment, the researchers aim to identify whether financial providers discriminate against female entrepreneurs when evaluating their business’ productivity. The research design will also identify the efficiency implications of discrimination (i.e. implications on return to capital and productivity), and the underlying mechanism driving discrimination.

Impulso Chileno impact evaluation

Researchers: Claudia Martinez (Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile) and Christopher Woodruff (University of Oxford)

Practitioner: Fundacion Luksic

Countries: Chile

In partnership with Fundación Luksic and J-PAL LAC, this project is conducting an impact evaluation of Impulso Chileno, a program aimed at accelerating the growth of high-potential Chilean firms. The program provides business training, one-on-one mentoring, and a monetary endowment to firms selected through an annual contest. Since its launch in 2018, the program has experienced steady growth: the number of winners expanded from 60 in 2018 to 250 in 2023, in its fifth edition. The study will assess the impact of monetary support, business training, and mentoring on business growth indicators, including sales, profits, and employment with a specific focus on gender differences, using endline surveys and tax records for evaluation. By utilizing a Randomized Controlled Trial design, the study is expected to assess the program's effectiveness in supporting entrepreneurial ventures and promoting gender equality in entrepreneurship.

Matching digital service export jobs in Kenya

Researchers: Ignacio Rodriguez Hurtado (Duke University), Laura Wheeler (University of Alberta), Susannah Katherine Orkin (University of Oxford), Robert Garlick (Duke University), Caroline Kariuki (Strathmore University)

Practitioner: Shortlist

Countries: Kenya

Many wealthier countries face long-term labour shortages while many poorer countries face high levels of unemployment. In collaboration with a large Kenyan recruitment agency, this project is conducting an impact evaluation focused on digital service exports, which consist of workers in poorer countries working remotely for firms in wealthier countries. Digital service exports offer a possible route to higher output, higher productivity, and higher-quality employment. The aim of the project is to examine how optimized hiring strategies can increase both productivity and profitability in the sector, while also causally identifying the benefits of digital service export jobs to workers employment, earnings, skill development, and job ladders. The project employs a randomized control trial to randomise which applicants are included on shortlists sent to digital export firms, generating random variation in the probability of hiring. It also uses the random variation in types of workers hired to build a predictive model of worker productivity, incorporating detailed baseline skill assessments.

Data-driven learning and firm performance: Experimental evidence from SMEs in Kenya

Researchers: Anik Ashraf (Ludwig Maximilians Universitat Munchen), Elizabeth Lyons (University of California - San Diego)

Practitioner: Technoserve Kenya

Countries: Kenya

Many entrepreneurs in developing countries under-invest in collecting and learning from information such as sales and inventory records. In this project, a field experiment with small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Kenya is carried out to understand if SMEs in developing countries are limited in what they learn from their business records and, therefore, under-invest in keeping records. The experiment tests the effectiveness of a smartphone-based app designed to simplify inventory and sales management. The app allows users to record detailed sales transactions and place orders directly with suppliers. Select participants will receive advanced features such as analytical sales summaries and industry benchmarking. Using multiple rounds of surveys as well as back-end app data, the study will track whether the intervention (i) increases record keeping, (ii) leads to better learning and changes in business strategies, and (iii) results in improved business performance.

Enabling entrepreneurs: An impact evaluation of a training and mentoring programme in Uganda

Researchers: Emmanuel Nshakira Rukundo (University of Bonn), Matthias Rieger (Institute of Social Studies (The Hague), Bisrat Haile Gebrekidan (University of Bonn), Sarah Schroeder (Aarhus University)

Practitioner: Apata Insights

Countries: Uganda

In the post-COVID-19 landscape, Uganda's economic growth hinges on the success of small and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs). Supporting SMEs to grown and gain scale is therefore central to both government and the private sector. However, SMEs face to main types of bottlenecks: strategy bottlenecks – i.e. the soft skills associated with business management, decision making and leadership- as well as operational bottlenecks – i.e. the execution of better business processes and practices that enable growth. Interventions aiming at supporting SMEs often provide some kind of business training or generic mentoring with limited regard to the types of skills entrepreneurs lack. This study intends to randomise firms into a standard training, a standard training coupled with targeted strategy mentoring or operations mentoring for highly skilled and growth-oriented entrepreneurs in Uganda, thereby contributing to emerging evidence in improving SME growth, productivity and profitability.

The impact of early-stage resource acquisition: a randomised field experiment in Morocco

Researchers: Ouafaa Hmaddi (City University of New York)


Countries: Morocco

This project tests the process underlying the assumption that resource acquisition influences venture performance and its strategic orientation, and analyses which mechanism (financial capital, entrepreneurial capital, or both) is more important. A trade-off could exist in accessing these resources and these various trade-offs are explicitly considered in the research design in order to identify the “active ingredient” in the process of early stage resource acquisition.