For development economists, the ultimate question is why the world’s poorest people tend to stay poor. Esther Duflo’s pioneering search for the answer has taken her from the software industry in India, to studying household budgets in Ivory Coast, to investigating how a $6 school uniform allowance affects the lives of Kenyan school girls. If we have a greater understanding of the microeconomic issues at hand, Professor Duflo argues, the push to force World Bank and IMF solutions on poor countries ill-suited to thrive on them will be far easier to combat.
As Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at MIT, and as co-founder of the Poverty Action Lab, Duflo has made great strides in popularizing more effective and targeted solutions via ground-level experimentation.
She has received a raft of prizes for her work, including the prestigious American Economic Association’s Elaine Bennett Prize for Research in 2002, and earlier this year she became the youngest person ever to lecture at the Collège de France in Paris. In May, Duflo debated Columbia economist and U.N. adviser Jeffrey Sachs at The New Yorker summit and in September 2009, she was granted a “Genius Award” by the MacArthur Foundation.