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Inspiring Women: An example of a randomized control trial in practice

Define the setting and identify the problem.
Hello. I’m Gaia Narciso, and I’m an Associate Professor of the Department of Economics. I’m also the Director of TIME, the Trinity Impact Evaluation Unit based at Trinity College Dublin. Over the past years, a few studies, such as the 2015 World Development Report, have focused on how development policies can better target human behaviour. A project I’ve been recently involved in, together with Carol Newman and two PhD students from University of Makerere, Patrick Lubega and Frances Nakakawa, investigates the impact of role models in the livelihoods of excluded, vulnerable groups. The study was part of the NOURISH Project, which you have heard about in week 2.
The initial idea of the study was to provide information and training on developing entrepreneurial skills among women living with HIV in rural Uganda. The more we thought about the design of the intervention, the more we realised that a bottom-up approach rather than a top-down approach could be more effective in shaping behaviour and changing livelihoods. In particular, the study focuses on a specific group of individuals who are usually discriminated, women, and will carry substantial social stigma, HIV-positive patients. The study addresses two fundamental questions. Do role models and bottom-up knowledge sharing of an impact in the way in which discriminated individuals think and behave? Is this permanent, or does it fade away over time?
Participants in the project were randomly selected among HIV-positive women attending health clinics in rural Uganda. We randomly assigned clinics to two different groups, a treatment group that received specially-designed role models’ intervention and a control group to allow us identifying impact. The intervention in the treatment clinics took the form of a screening of four videos of inspiring women. A different three-minute video was shown for each round of the intervention, each featuring an inspiring woman who describes her story, from discovering that she is HIV positive to the challenges and rewards from setting up her own business. The casting of inspiring women was conducted by one of our partner institutions in Uganda.
Our inspiring women were selected among the HIV patients attending their clinics. Six women were filmed, and eventually four videos were picked to be screened. The videos were shot exclusively for the purpose of this project, and they all feature the same structure. They start with some background information about the inspiring woman, followed by a description of how she started her business. There was a discussion of the challenges and targets for the future. And finally, the videos end with an inspirational message. Although the plot was similar across the four videos, each of them highlights different aspects of the challenges and goals of the four inspiring women.
The first video and the last one are more inspirational, while the second one stresses the importance of children’s education as a driving reason for their entrepreneurial activities. The third video highlights the more entrepreneurial and business-strategic aspect. Each video ends with a final message similar across the four videos and which was meant to encourage viewers that anything was possible for them, too. A group discussion took place during and after the video screening, and it was led by one of our team. We provide evidence that being exposed to these role-model videos has a positive effect on the probability of starting a business, on the level of income from crops and livestock, and enterprise income one year after the start of the intervention.
We find no effect on other household income, a result which is not unexpected given the message contained in the videos. The treatment has some effect on control over personal resources, although the effect is short-lived. More importantly, the videos are found to lead to better health among women and their children, and a lower proportion of children absent from school. Finally, women in the treatment group save more. These latter two findings, education and savings, suggest that this simple, cost-effective, and easily-scalable intervention could have long-term effects on welfare outcomes. This is an example of how we can clearly identify impact of a programme using a randomised controlled trial.
Our findings show that providing vulnerable women with role models that empower them to start their own enterprise activities may be very effective in improving welfare outcomes.

Understanding whether sustainable development projects are having an impact on communities is a key part of overcoming challenges. In this video, Gaia introduces the Inspiring Women project; an intervention in Uganda which used inspiring videos of women to encourage entrepreneurship.

In the next two steps, we will be exploring how this project was run, and how the research was carried out. This case study gives a good example of how a randomized control trial is implemented in the field.

The researchers wanted to find out:

  • Do role models and bottom-up knowledge sharing have an impact in the way in which discriminated individuals think and behave?

  • Is this impact permanent or does it fade away over time?

In the next video, we will be looking at how research into this project planned and designed, and how the data was collected.

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