Esther Duflo takes economics out of the lab and into the field to discover the causes of poverty and means to eradicate it.

Why you should listen

2009 MacArthur fellow Esther Duflo is pushing the field of development economics by studying specific causal relationships that lead to or perpetuate poverty. She looks at close-to-home issues: household behavior, education, access to finance and health.

At MIT, she's the founder and director of the Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), a research network that evaluates social programs. It's concerned less with wide-ranging policy than with specific questions. Sample: If schoolkids could get their uniforms for free, would attendance go up? What's an effective way to reward mothers for immunizing their babies? Randomized trials offer new insights toward creating global equity and prosperity. Her work may blur the lines between economics and activism, but it's a role Duflo not only considers comfortable but vital.

Her new book is Poor Economics, with Abhijit W. Banerjee. 

Esther Duflo’s TED talk

Esther Duflo on the TED Blog

Social experiments to fight poverty: Esther Duflo on TED.com

May 3, 2010

Alleviating poverty is more guesswork than science, and lack of data on aid’s impact raises questions about how to provide it. But Clark Medal-winner Esther Duflo says it’s possible to know which development efforts help and which hurt — by testing solutions with randomized trials. (Recorded at TED2010, February 2010 in Long Beach, CA. Duration: […]

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Quotes from Esther Duflo

If we don’t know whether [aid is] doing any good, we are not any better than the medieval doctors and their leeches.
Esther Duflo
TED2010 • 598K views May 2010
Persuasive, Inspiring
In technology, we spend so much time experimenting, fine-tuning, getting the absolute cheapest way to do something — so why aren’t we doing that with social policy?
Esther Duflo
TED2010 • 598K views May 2010
Persuasive, Inspiring