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How One Woman’s Fight Against Global Poverty Earned Her the Nobel Prize

Esther Duflo, a researcher and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has just made history by becoming the second woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences since its creation in 1969. At just 46-years-old, she is also the youngest recipient of the prize.

Prof. Duflo and her partners, husband Abhijit Banerjee and colleague Michael Kremer, received the prize for their efforts to improve the economic lives of impoverished communities across the globe. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the institution that awards the Nobel Prize, commends the trio for introducing “a new approach to obtaining reliable answers about the best ways to fight global poverty.” 

Duflo is the co-founder and co-director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), a global research center that evaluates how changing economic policies affect those living in poverty. By ensuring that policies are informed by scientific evidence, J-PAL’s research works to help reduce poverty around the world.

Over two decades, Duflo has worked to discover the best ways of reducing global poverty. Her work revolves around an experiment-based process that tests the effects of various policies. One of her most effective studies was developed in India, where she found that teachers in public schools were often absent. By employing teachers on short-term job contracts that would extend the better they performed, students demonstrated significantly better test results. Since introducing this idea to the Indian education system, millions of children have shown improvement in their education with establishment of tutoring programs.

She and her colleagues conducted a similar experiment in Kenya. The team discovered that students diagnosed with parasitic infections were missing school due to a lack of accessible and affordable healthcare. After examining how the use of medication was influenced by its costs, Duflo found that only eighteen percent of parents were able to give their children parasitic infection medication when it costs the equivalent of a US dollar. When medicine was free, however, seventy-five percent of parents were able to give their children the medication. With J-PAL, Duflo was able to provide subsidies and grants for Kenyan families to receive free preventative healthcare. 

Prof. Duflo not only seeks to help the poor, she also hopes her work inspires women to follow their dreams and fight against the odds in male-dominated fields.

“Showing that it is possible for a woman to succeed and be recognised for success I hope is going to inspire many, many other women to continue working and many other men to give them the respect that they deserve like every single human being,” she said.

Featured Image by OECD Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development on Flickr

Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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