Job Market Paper

Short Messages Fall Short for Micro-Entrepreneurs: Experimental Evidence from Kenya

SMS-based business trainings are becoming a popular tool to remotely support micro-entrepreneurs in low-income settings due to their scalability and low costs. However, little evidence exists on the effectiveness of such trainings to improve business outcomes. In this study, I evaluate a field experiment in which access to an SMS-based training was randomized across 4,700 micro-entrepreneurs in Kenya. After three months, I find positive effects on knowledge and adoption of best practices. Younger entrepreneurs see stronger effects on sales, profits and business survival, driven by higher engagement with training content, more time spent on business, and getting larger loans. Contrary to predictions elicited from social scientists, I find that these positive effects disappear twelve months after the intervention, as all engagement with content ended within the first five months. Notwithstanding the low engagement and lack of longer-run effects, I find that micro-entrepreneurs are still willing to pay a small positive amount for additional SMS-based trainings, suggesting that they value access to the content. Findings from this study suggest that, despite the promise and wide-spread use, SMS-based trainings are unlikely to be effective for micro-entrepreneurs. Results highlight the importance of lack of engagement as a major challenge limiting the potential of remotely provided trainings.

Blog Posts:
Center for Effective Global Action (CEGA)
The International Growth Center (IGC)

Working Papers

Command and Can’t Control: Assessing Centralized Accountability in the Public Sector
with Saad Gulzar, Juan Felipe Ladino and Daniel Rogger

A long-established approach to management in government has been the transmission of information up a hierarchy, centralized decision-making by senior management, and corresponding centralized accountability; colloquially known as `command and control’. This paper examines the effectiveness of a centralized accountability system implemented at scale in Punjab, Pakistan for six years. The scheme automatically identified poorly performing schools and jurisdictions for the attention of central management. We find that flagging of schools and corresponding de facto punishments had no impact on school or student outcomes. We use detailed data on key elements of the education production function to show that command and control approaches to managing the general public sector do not induce bureaucratic action towards improvements in government performance.

Selected Work in Progress

“The Political Economy of Environmental Protection: Evidence from India”
with Juan Felipe Ladino and Suraj R. Nair

“Accounting for Accounting: Book-keeping Lessons from Nigeria”
with Abiola Oyebanjo and Anne Krahn

“Mobile Mentoring: Supporting Education of Children of Sex Workers in Kenya”
with Stephanie Bonds and Eric Ochieng