Women in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, purchase subsidized rice under Indonesia's Non-Cash Food Assistance program, one of many social assistance programs evaluated by J-PAL affiliates.

J-PAL expands evidence to policy partnerships to fight poverty worldwide in collaboration with Community Jameel, Co-Impact

Cambridge, USA
|
August 8, 2022

The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) announced a significant expansion of its efforts to forge evidence to policy partnerships with innovative-minded governments seeking to use rigorous research to inform their social policies and programmes.

These partnerships will support governments in laying the groundwork to take evidence-based policies and programmes to scale, aiming to improve the lives of at least six million people affected by poverty by 2030.

Community Jameel, the international organisation advancing science to help communities thrive in a rapidly changing world, and Co-Impact, a global organisation focused on building just and equitable systems in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, are founding partners in this expansion effort, jointly awarding J-PAL a USD 6 million grant to advance this ambitious work.

Governments are the primary providers of essential services for the vast majority of the world’s poor. Despite massive investments to reduce poverty and improve human capital, the public sector — at national and subnational levels — faces many challenges in effectively reaching, engaging, and supporting people experiencing poverty.

Recognising this, there is a growing movement among policymakers across the globe to increase use of data and evidence in decision-making to improve the effectiveness of social programmes, especially essential services like education, health, and social assistance.

Three key pillars

Since J-PAL’s founding at MIT in 2003, it has built long-standing partnerships with governments across nearly 25 countries to enable evidence-informed policymaking. This significant expansion of its evidence to policy partnerships builds on this experience to meet surging demand from governments for data and evidence use. These partnerships centre on three key pillars:

  1. Co-creating and catalysing use of timely, relevant, high-quality evidence and data to inform social policy and programme design and implementation;
  2. Building the capacity of government officials to generate and use evidence and data; and
  3. Strengthening government systems more broadly to enable and incentivise evidence-based policymaking.

Across these three pillars, women and girls’ empowerment is a central theme. Many promising approaches to poverty reduction are focused on —or have demonstrated positive outcomes for — women and girls, and much of its policy and capacity-building work is done in close collaboration with dynamic women leaders in government and civil society.

The work, focused on four regions, will also be predominantly led by women, spearheaded by its women-led and majority-staffed regional offices: J-PAL Latin America and the Caribbean at Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile, J-PAL Middle East and North Africa at the American University in Cairo, J-PAL South Asia at the Institute for Financial Management and Research, and J-PAL Southeast Asia at the University of Indonesia. Initial priority countries include Brazil, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Mexico, and Morocco, with potential for further growth.

This expansion builds on efforts to strengthen government partnerships and scaling work already underway in J-PAL’s regional offices, supported by visionary funding partners including the Sawiris Foundation for Social Development and UNICEF Egypt in the Middle East and North Africa, the Veddis Foundation in South Asia, and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Southeast Asia, among other partners.

Globally informed, locally grounded

As part of this expansion, J-PAL will also invest more systematically in facilitating learning across partnerships and regions. This will include learning across its own teams and offices on cultivating strong, responsive partnerships with governments, as well as learning between its partners about what it takes to institutionalise a culture of evidence use within government.

J-PAL’s local teams, including policy experts, former civil servants, and former representatives of civil society organisations, bring deep knowledge of local policy ecosystems and trusted partnerships with stakeholders across their regions.

This helps ensure that evidence-informed approaches and institutional strengthening are sustainable and rooted in local contexts, and that lessons from the partnership-building process are shared widely across civil society.

Esther Duflo, the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at MIT and co-founder and faculty director of J-PAL, said: “The expansion of partnerships enabled by this grant has the potential to change millions of lives on a global scale, and we are grateful to Community Jameel and Co-Impact for their vision and leadership. We applaud their foresight in investing in the critical early-stage work of partnership-building, recognising the possible social returns — evidence-based programmes reaching scale—can be high but take time to develop and succeed. Alongside Community Jameel and Co-Impact, we share a strong commitment to creating a flexible environment for these partnerships to thrive.”

Fady Jameel, vice chairman of Community Jameel, said: “We recognise the importance of this early-stage funding to seed institutional partnerships that, over time, can generate and scale meaningful government innovation. As longtime partners of J-PAL, we’ve seen how impactful this work can be, not least earlier this year with J-PAL Middle East and North Africa’s launch of the Egypt Impact Lab, an embedded policy lab in the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development, working with multiple government actors and with foundational support from Community Jameel and the Sawiris Foundation for Social Development. Now we are excited to join forces with Co-Impact and J-PAL to build on this success and help improve lives on a global scale.”    

Olivia Leland, founder and CEO of Co-Impact, said: “Evidence-informed systems change is essential to creating lasting global impact on the fight against poverty and gender inequality. This change, however, doesn’t happen overnight; it requires trusted partnerships with forward-looking governments and civil society and ongoing evidence generation and learning. J-PAL’s track record of close partnerships spanning decades, coupled with its deep local expertise, points to the tremendous potential of this work to break down structural barriers and build more just and equitable societies.”

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