Skip to content

Notes on Nobel Laureates

17 October 2019

IDinsight team members share notes about Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Michael Kremer, reflecting on their contributions.

Picture credited to Johan Jarnestad/The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

This week, the Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to three of the most influential applied economists of our time: Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Michael Kremer. Their contributions enabled our work, and that of so many others, which continues to improve lives every day. Their work has transformed the global development sector and how governments, non-profits, social enterprises, philanthropists, think tanks, individuals, and others think about and address the complexity of poverty globally. In recognizing their contributions, our IDinsight team reflects on how these three individuals influenced us personally and our work.

As practitioners who see firsthand how rigorous evidence is improving lives, we also celebrate the Nobel Prize Committee in recognizing the immense value and global contribution of this work. We hope this is only the beginning.

“Esther and Abhijit’s mentorship during my three years at J-PAL defined who I am as a researcher today. Getting to work with Esther and Abhijit was the reason I decided not to pursue a PhD (though I don’t think that they intended this). I just couldn’t justify the time and cost of a 5–6 year doctoral program after training under two of the most brilliant applied economists. All of us at IDinsight — whether we trained directly under them or not — are their intellectual children. I am grateful for what they have given to us: their inspiration, mentorship, and friendship. Their Nobel Prize elevates our shared goal of solving some of the hardest and most important problems in the world.” — Jeff McManus, Senior Economist

“I owe so much in my career to Esther and Abhijit. I will always be grateful that they took a chance on me and gave me the opportunity to run their massive endline survey in Udaipur in 2007. I was fortunate to spend part of my first week on the job piloting a questionnaire with them, and their enthusiasm and respect for fieldwork have left a permanent imprint on me. Congratulations Esther, Abhijit, and Michael! Thank you for inspiring all of us to use economics as a force to improve the lives of the disadvantaged.” — Andrew Fraker, Founding Partner

“I joined J-PAL as a super enthusiastic associate who wanted to change the world after being inspired by Poor Economics. Over the three years that I spent there, I learned so much from the team by working on projects in energy and agriculture in Punjab and Rajasthan. Even though I didn’t work with Abhijit and Esther directly, their vision has always been at the heart of my work. I carry the same vision with me now at IDinsight and it will greatly influence my future work.” — Aditi Gupta, Manager

“Congrats to some of my personal heroes for winning the Nobel Prize in Economics. They have not only popularized methodological innovations (of randomized trials) in development economics, but have transformed academic findings into policies that improve the lives of the global poor. Some notable examples include: deworming children, chlorine dispensers to treat water and reduce diarrhea incidences, lentil incentives to vaccinate children, and many more.

Tools like RCTs (Randomized Control Trials) are well known among circles of economists and those involved in evidence-based policy. However, the important role of evidence (for which RCT is only one, albeit an important, tool) in informing decisions is not understood enough by the general public, policymakers, philanthropists and the broader international development sector. I hope this Nobel Prize generates attention and discussion about what works to help people — and the rigorous efforts needed to really find out, to ensure that every well-intentioned project is helping as much as it can.” — Sindy Li, Economist

“The Nobel Prize highlights Michael, Esther, and Abhijit’s intellectual contributions, but their influence as personal mentors is also immense. For me, I could not think of a better first boss than Michael. He demonstrated how combining both head and heart can inspire others to do meaningful things. He enabled me to have the most formative professional and personal experience working /stumbling /learning /thriving in rural Kenya. A hearty thank you and congratulations!” — Paul Wang, Founding Partner

“IDinsight Partners Esther, Paul, Buddy, and Andrew mailed me a copy of Poor Economics as a welcome present right after I took the Associate offer in 2012. It was my first real introduction to RCT world.” — Ben Brockman, Associate Director

“My purview on Abhijit and Esther’s work is narrow but illustrative of their larger influence. Having worked for several years on BRAC’s ultra-poor Graduation initiatives, it was remarkable to see how their results in 2015 transformed how governments and implementers globally addressed and serviced people living in extreme poverty. Their research made tangible stories I heard firsthand from women who not only transformed their lives economically — but who also overcame the entrapment of the poverty mindset. Now Graduation programs are widespread and we stand a chance at eliminating extreme poverty in our lifetime because of it.” — Emily Coppel, Associate Director

“The two years that I spent in J-PAL South Asia learning about evidence-based policymaking from the pioneers in the field has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my career. It was great to support Abhijit and Esther on their unique Market Math project! Overall, the focus on data for decision-making for policymakers is a paradigm-changing approach of how we look at problems in the development sector — this learning shapes my current work, and will shape it in the future. This tremendous recognition paves the way for a newer focus and recognition of the community working on evidence generation for decision-making, and I am incredibly humbled to be a part of this.” — Krishanu Chakraborty, Senior Manager

“I began my journey with Esther and Abhijit in 2002 thanks to an introduction by my friend and colleague (and future co-author), Jim Berry. The two future Nobel Laureates offered Jim and me the opportunity to be an RA on a research project on remedial education in India. J-PAL was still just an idea at that point. I am lucky to have been a part of the early days of J-PAL, starting as one of its first full-time staff members at MIT, sharing one of the two offices in the corner of the economics department with two other RAs (and in the other office, J-PAL’s new Executive Director, Rachel Glennerster.) I‘m honoured to have been part of building J-PAL from the ground up. With Rachel, Esther, and Abhijit’s mentorship, I eventually grew into J-PAL’s Director of Research and Training, and co-author on some of the seminal work on the Teaching at the Right Level studies — the remedial education work cited by the Nobel committee. It was always intimidating being in the presence of such brilliant minds. (Having watched dozens of grad students and even more faculty colleagues pass through those halls, I know I’m not alone in that sentiment.) But (as everyone else also felt) it was even more inspiring seeing J-PAL’s founders direct all of that intellectual might towards tackling the intractable problem of global poverty. While I am no longer with J-PAL today, I am honoured to continue the revolution launched by Michael, Esther, and Abhijit almost two decades ago.” — Marc Shotland, Director

“I was lucky to have Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo, and Michael Kremer as early mentors. They gave me a lens through which to see how evidence-informed policymaking can transform the lives of people living in poverty. Sending a huge congratulations; I can’t think of any three people more deserving.” — Neil Buddy Shah, CEO