Massachusetts Institute of Technology: J-PAL launches the Egypt Impact Lab to improve lives through evidence-informed policymaking

A new collaboration between the Middle East and North Africa regional office of MIT’s Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab and Egypt’s Ministry of Planning and Economic Development aims to strengthen the effectiveness of Egypt’s poverty alleviation policies through rigorous evaluation and innovation.

The new initiative, the Egypt Impact Lab, will connect academics with government partners to rigorously evaluate the impact of promising and innovative government programs. Results from these evaluations will inform decisions to scale up the most effective programs across the nation, potentially reaching millions of low-income people.

The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab was launched at MIT in 2003 by co-founders and MIT professors Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, who were awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Economics for their pioneering anti-poverty research. Banerjee, Duflo, and J-PAL’s more than 250 affiliated researchers at universities around the world conduct laboratory-style randomized controlled trials in the real world, applying a precise measure to evaluate the effectiveness of development and social programs in education, labor markets, agriculture, and women’s empowerment, among other topics.

J-PAL launched its seventh regional office, J-PAL Middle East and North Africa (MENA), at The American University in Cairo in 2020 to expand this work in the MENA region after spending many years building partnerships and working with local academics and policymakers.

The launch of the Egypt Impact Lab reflects the critical importance of poverty alleviation in Egypt, where nearly one-third of the population lives below the poverty line. The lab’s research and policy work will revolve around top government priorities, including reducing poverty in rural Egypt, improving the effectiveness of social protection programs, promoting microenterprise development, and increasing access to economic opportunities and family planning to empower women.

“We believe that promoting the utilization of evidence-based policy is our way forward to augment and complement such efforts, ultimately translating our broad aspirations into tangible outcomes for Egyptians,” said Hala El Said, Egypt’s minister of planning and economic development. “In this regard, the Egypt Impact Lab plays a vital role in addressing the government development priorities and reinforcing the impact of national initiatives.”

The lab will work with key partners in the Egyptian government, including the Ministry of Social Solidarity; the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency; the National Council for Women; and the National Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development. Through these partnerships, the lab will strengthen the impact of major national programs and initiatives, including Hayah Karima, an initiative to improve the quality of life for rural Egyptians, and the National Family Development Program, focused on empowering women and families.

Through this work, the Egypt Impact Lab is designed to help build a culture of evidence-informed decision-making across government by building partners’ capacity to use evidence in program design and delivery.

“The Government of Egypt is embarking on many major poverty reduction and human development initiatives,” noted Alison Fahey, executive director of J-PAL MENA. “J-PAL MENA at AUC is excited to be partnering with the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development and other government partners at this important time to bring an evidence-based, innovation-oriented approach to this work.”

The Egypt Impact Lab was made possible with support from its founding partners, Community Jameel and the Sawiris Foundation for Social Development, with additional support from UNICEF Egypt.

“Supporting evidence-based policymaking is a priority for Community Jameel, and we are honored to be joining J-PAL MENA and a consortium of strategic partners, in government and beyond, to launch this Egypt Impact Lab,” said George Richards, director of Community Jameel. “From the Jameel Management Centre at AUC’s Downtown campus (now the Greek Campus), to the Jameel House of Traditional Arts in Fustat, to COP27 [the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference] in Sharm El Sheikh later this year, Community Jameel is proud to be working with Egyptian institutions, researchers, and creative communities to strengthen systems of science and traditional knowledge in a common effort to tackle global challenges.”

Iqbal Dhaliwal, global executive director of J-PAL, spoke of the importance of partnerships to add value to government-led policies and programs. “We are grateful to Community Jameel, whose generous gift made it possible to establish JPAL MENA; The American University in Cairo, which has been a wonderful host for our regional office; and our government partners, whose innovation and commitment to evidence-informed policymaking is at the foundation of our work together,” said Dhaliwal. “This new lab is a testament to the potential of rigorous anti-poverty research to not only support decision-making at the highest levels, but also to help transform lives of those most in need.”

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