Lesson #2 | What not-to-do: Wisdom from years of trials (and errors)

Shobhini Mukerji, executive director of Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) South Asia shares lessons about taking a long-term approaches over short-term gains in the second installation of her three-part series exploring insights from research and work in evidence-based poverty reduction.


Lesson #2: Don't trade for short gains - play the long game

This lesson emerges from our partnerships and research in our 20-year journey globally, and sixteen years in South Asia, which have impacted over 600 million lives through our collaborative work.

My first exposure to understanding development issues on the ground, using measurement techniques to unpack the problem and co-create locally grounded solutions—my rite of passage as a practitioner and researcher—takes me back to 2005. It was around that year when the Bihar government announced hiring over 80,000 para-teachers (shiksha-mitras) to be placed in government schools. As a young field research associate, I found myself in the hinterlands of Bihar over the next month, assisting the Pratham teams as they painstakingly traveled across 150 locations in Bihar’s far flung districts, training a core team of government master trainers who would then go on to train these para-teachers. It was no small task. In the true Pratham style of learning by doing, training was not imparted through classroom sessions; rather, hundreds of master trainers were taken to the field and engaged in daily practice classes with children. Pratham could have chosen the traditional in-classroom training which would have been less of a logistical challenge, and the trainees would also have been happy to catch that much needed mid-afternoon nap. But taking the harder path taught us all an invaluable lesson: how to get master-trainers to do the practice classes in a do-it-yourself style, at a large scale, with quality and rigour, who can then percolate their experience to the teachers.