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20 Nov 2019

Nobel Laureates Partnered with Seva Mandir

Seva Mandir is delighted to congratulate long-time academic collaborators and supporters of its work, Professors Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer, who have been awarded the 2019 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science ‘for their experimental approach to alleviating global poverty.'

Seva Mandir's research association with Abhijeet Banerjee, Esther Duflo and Michael Kremer began in 1996 and set out to improve the health and educational status of remote rural and tribal communities in our region.

Abhijit Banerjee says: ‘Seva Mandir, then and as now, was an organisation that suffered from the Groucho Marx problem. No standard that they could realistically meet was high enough for them; there was always room for self-criticism and to aim higher.'

In an effort to improve the conditions in our work area, Seva Mandir partnered with Banerjee, Duflo and Kremer to conduct a series of action-research projects using the Randomised Control Trial (RCT) methodology. The first experiment showed that increasing from one to two the number of teachers in Seva Mandir's village schools (see Education) did not necessarily increase their efficiency, but that a camera-monitoring system linked to teachers' pay could greatly increase their attendance rate. Another study showed that immunisation rates could be increased by offering families small incentives (such as lentils or utensils) to ensure that children attended Seva Mandir's regular immunisation camps.

The results were remarkable: teacher attendance increased in Seva Mandir's Shiksha Kendras (bridge schools) leading to nearly all schools being open 25 days a month, and immunisation rates from 3% to 38%.

The research studies contributed to the global discourse on the alleviation of poverty. Banerjee and Duflo discussed the results of their research with Seva Mandir and other organisations globally in their book Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, which won the 2011 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award. In the book, Banerjee and Duflo write:

‘Seva Mandir's immunisation program is one of the most impressive we have ever evaluated, and probably the one that has saved most lives.'

For Seva Mandir, the partnership helped to enhance the effectiveness not only of those programmes studied but also of future programmes, and showed the importance of evidence-based planning. We continue to use and develop the outcomes in our programmes, and camera monitoring has been expanded to other interventions.

This is not the first time that one of Seva Mandir's research partners has received a Nobel prize. In 2015, Professor Angus Deaton won the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences for his analysis of consumption, poverty and welfare. With Banerjee and Duflo, and in partnership with Seva Mandir, Professor Deaton conducted a survey of rural households and health facilities in Udaipur district, discussed in their joint paper Health Care Delivery in Rural Rajasthan, 2003.

Seva Mandir is deeply proud of its collaboration in the work conducted by Nobel laureates Abhijeet Banerjee, Esther Duflo, Michael Kremer and Angus Deaton.



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