See below for short descriptions of the current researcher-practitioner pairs and the projects they will undertake in the coming years.
Researchers: Robert James Garlick (Duke University), Susannah Katherine Orkin (University of Oxford), and Laurel Elizabeth Wheeler (University of Alberta)
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
Researcher: Arinze Nwokolo (Lagos Business School)
Practitioner: Impact Hub Lagos
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.
Researchers: Ali Cheema (Lahore University of Management Sciences), Asim Khwaja (Harvard Kennedy School), Jacob Shapiro (Princeton University) and Muhammad Farooq Naseer (Lahore University of Management Sciences)
Practitioner: Kaarvan Crafts Foundation
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.
Researcher: Golvine de Rochambeau (Sciences Po)
Practitioner: UN Women 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
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), Norihiko Matsuda (Florida International University)
Practitioner: Startup Dhaka
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
Researchers: Emanuelle Colonelli (University of Chicago) and Thomas Rauter (University of Chicago)
Practitioner: Imuka Access
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.
Researchers: Amira Bouziri (South Mediterranean University), Fabian Scheifele (Technische Universität Berlin), Florian Münch (Technische Universität Berlin), Teo Firpo (Humboldt Universität Berlin)
Practitioner: Deutsche Gesellschaft für internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH (GIZ)
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.
Researchers: Emanuelle Colonelli (University of Chicago) and Tanuja Kate (Villgro Innovations Foundation)
Practitioner: Villgro Innovations Foundation
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.
Researchers: Emanuele Colonnelli (University of Chicago)
Countries: Across Africa
This project will take advantage of a large dataset from VC4Africa containing information on start-ups, investors, and entrepreneur support organisations in Africa. The researchers will build this dataset out further with new survey data on the decision-making processes of entrepreneurs and other stakeholders to serve as the basis for planned field experiments to investigate how entrepreneurs assess investment and support opportunities as well as identify talent.
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.
Researchers: Saurabh Lall (University of Oregon) and Amisha Miller (Boston 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.
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.
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.
Researchers: Shanthi Manian (Washington State University) and Ketki Sheth (University of California)
Practitioner: Entrepreneurship Development Centre
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.