Foundation research

EXCLUSIVE: Veddis Foundation invests $6.3 million in Abhijit Banerjee’s J-PAL

The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), a global research center co-founded by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, has received a $6.3 million investment commitment from the UK-based Veddis Foundation , to launch a new initiative to spur the adoption of evidence-based and science-based anti-poverty policies.

Titled “Alliance for Scaling Policy Impact through Research and Evidence” (ASPIRE), the initiative will help governments overcome policy challenges that stand in the way of poverty eradication.

The investment comes from the Veddis Foundation’s Rs 100 crore Social Impact Fund (SIF), announced last year to provide grants to non-profit organizations working to improve public service delivery and governance.

Founded by Vikrant Bhargava, a tech entrepreneur and alumnus of IIT Delhi and IIM Calcutta, the Veddis Foundation takes an evidence-based approach to supporting institutions doing radical work. He works with state governments and has supported over 100 organizations, including the incubation of LetzChange.org, which is now the technology platform that powers GiveIndia’s retail fundraising platform.

“SIF is part of our commitment to transformation initiatives. We seek to bring more analytical and intellectual rigor to philanthropy in India as well as an entrepreneurial spirit to philanthropic investments. We hope this is one of many initiatives in this direction. We want to bring more philanthropic capital into innovative companies like ASPIRE,” Veddis Foundation CEO Murugan Vasudevan said in an interaction with Business Today.

With this investment, Veddis becomes a member of ASPIRE’s governance committee. J-PAL was launched at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2003 and has seven regional offices around the world. J-PAL South Asia, hosted by the Institute for Financial Management and Research (IFMR) in Chennai, has formal partnerships with the governments of 20 Indian states and union territories.

J-PAL co-founders Banerjee and Duflo received the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics for their pioneering work in using randomized controlled trials (RCTs) to reduce global poverty.

Shobhini Mukerji, executive director of J-PAL South Asia, said the grant will help the company build a core team of policy researchers, data scientists and field staff for data collection.

“The funding gives us the flexibility to build a core team for ASPIRE that will work with governments to analyze administrative data, run pilots, evaluate solutions and scale their programs. ASPIRE is going to be the biggest initiative for J-PAL in South Asia,” she said.

J-PAL uses rigorous scientific evidence to help policy makers. He works with governments to make social spending much more efficient, improve public services, transform government’s ability to use data and evidence to design and implement more effective policies and programs. The organization has run poverty reduction programs in India for about 15 years and says its programs and policies have reached more than 100 million people in 20 Indian states. Anchored by a network of 262 affiliated professors at universities around the world, J-PAL conducts randomized impact evaluations to answer critical questions in the fight against poverty.

With ASPIRE, J-PAL South Asia will build long-term partnerships with governments and conduct in-depth reviews of policy challenges that impede poverty eradication. The alliance also plans to conduct pilot studies of potential solutions and develop the most promising ones. It collects data through surveys and administrative data, to give governments feedback on decision-making.

“ASPIRE was designed to make evidence and scientific data the foundation of policy-making in India. Veddis’ commitment will allow us to anticipate in the long term. When we work with government, it’s a long-term commitment. We want to build deeper partnerships where we see ourselves as an active knowledge partner to be able to transform the culture of evidence-based policymaking wherever we work. We also want to work with policymakers to improve existing policies and programs as well,” Mukerji told BusinessToday.In.

As a first step under ASPIRE, J-PAL South Asia will roll out a gender equity program named Taaron ki Toli in 23,000 public schools in Odisha. J-PAL South Asia will also help the government of Odisha assess the effectiveness of potential solutions to the biggest policy challenges in the areas of livelihoods and workplace well-being, education, gender, distress migration and early childhood development. These have been identified by the government as its priority areas for poverty reduction.

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