Recent Readings: “More Than Good Intentions,” Dean Karlan and Jacob Appel

More Than Good Intentions
“More Than Good Intentions: Improving the Ways the World’s Poor Borrow, Save, Farm, Learn, and Stay Healthy”

Dean Karlan is also the Founder and President of Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) and co-founder of

This book, which Karlan and Appel serve up in an incredibly approachable and readable manner, is all about the innovation and evaluation of global poverty alleviation strategies. How can we creatively, yet methodically, reduce global poverty? The answer is one randomized control trial at a time.

When looking at successful and unsuccessful poverty alleviation strategies, we must constantly adapt to local context. What works in one country may not work in another. Therefore, “it is important to know when and where the different solutions work so that we can apply them when the conditions are right” (252). There are several factors to consider: Why is this solution is effective over another? How does local behavior behavior play a role? What are the intangible qualities that we must consider? These questions help to guide and structure a comprehensive program that may one day be replicated in another community. While it may seem tedious, frustrating or slow, changing behavior and adapting to local context is incredibly important.

Karlan and Appel conclude the book with seven programs that may help to alleviate poverty. For each of the solution, the authors urge donors and development workers to consider the root cause of poverty when attempting to mitigate or eradicate an issue.

– Microsavings
– Reminders to Save
– Prepaid Fertilizer Savings
– Deworming
– Remedial Education in Small Groups
– Chlorine Dispensers for Clean Water
– Commitment Devices (SEED commitment savings)

I found the solution of deworming particularly intriguing because it is a great example of how attacking the root of the issue will have profound benefits across the board. Parasites are an ostensible health issue and deworming will break the chain of transmission (the more protected, the less likely the carriers, and less likely a rampant disease). But, not only does it mitigate health concerns and reduce the need for costly medicine, it also increases school attendance, the ability to save, and allows families to be in an over-all better situation.

To the point above, that programs must be adapted to local context, Karlan and Appel referenced a program that pays patients to see doctors. Two similar programs with radically different results. The program in India did not work because there was a larger issue with corruption; however, paying instructors in Mexico to show up to class did work. Why? The Mexican program managers hired a policymaker unrelated and therefore incapable of foul-play


Karlan, Dean S., and Jacob Appel. More than Good Intentions: Improving the Ways the World’s Poor Borrow, Save, Farm, Learn, and Stay Healthy. New York: Plume, 2012. Print.