Researchers seek to improve social programs with scientific evidence in Bolivia

Fundación INESAD, Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) and Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) jointly organized the Seminar “Improving social programs with evidence in Bolivia” that emphasized rigorous evidence’s importance in the public policy definition process. IPA representatives presented results of studies on programs that have had positive effects in several countries in the region. The event was held on Wednesday, November 12th, 2014 at the Aparthotel Camino Real in the city of La Paz.

J-PAL and IPA work complementarily to achieve the common goal of reducing poverty by ensuring that public policies are based on scientific evidence, and thus ensure the most effective resources use for social programs. Meanwhile, Fundación INESAD seeks to influence public policies definitions by generating scientific evidence on sustainable socioeconomic development.

The first paper presented at the Seminar “Improving social programs with evidence in Bolivia” focused on the importance of using and generating rigorous evidence to define public policies. Also, three relevant to the Bolivian context experiences on generating evidence by random impact assessments were exposed; in the sectors of education, rural development and financial inclusion. These experiences are detailed below.

Tikichuela, Mathematics In My School: Improving Basic Math Skills In Paraguay: Possessing “pre-math” skills on an early age has been demonstrated as an important fact to develop skills in math later. In Paraguay, where the average math scores are below other Latin-American countries’, and there is great heterogeneity in the early age children’s math skills; the government promulgated a pre-math audio lessons curriculum for preschool classes. The results showed an increase in math scores and led to the closure of learning gaps among many demographic groups.

The Extreme Poverty Graduation Model is a comprehensive package of services that can help the poor to escape poverty (Peru): Many “revenue generators” programs, as microcredit, do not reach the lower-income population; neither are effective in relieving poverty. Therefore, a strategy was built to address many of the problems that the poor population faces simultaneously. The model is being tested in seven different countries, providing positive preliminary results. In Peru, the program combined an assets transfer – usually Guinea Pigs – with a small cash transfer, health education, savings accounts, and weekly monitoring visits. Preliminary results in Peru brought positive effects, including income raise for the program’s participants.

Reminders via text messages and saving incentives can increase savings levels (Bolivia): Without savings, unforeseen events, such as health emergencies may force households to sell assets or go into debt. In order to help customers save funds, a Bolivian financial services company offered savings accounts with a favorable rate of interest, as well as a life and accidents free insurance, requiring customers to agree to make deposits regularly and accept retreat limitations. The researchers of this study evaluated the, saving reminders’ (sent via SMS) impact on clients’ saving habits and found out that messages mentioning incentives to maintain a life insurance and receive interest income increased savings balances by 10 percent.

Dylan Ramshaw, Deputy Director for IPA Bolivia-Peru-Paraguay declared: “We hope this initiative will contribute to the efforts that are already happening in Bolivia to promote the use of evidence in the public, private and civil society sector to work together in order to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of social programs benefiting the poorest”

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