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Nobel Prize Winners on Poverty

On Monday, in our short takes, we briefly referenced this year’s three Nobel Prize Winners in Economics—Michael Kremer, Abhijit Banerjee, and Esther Duflo—for their incredible work in advancing the fight against global poverty. Let’s take a closer look today!

Why they won. Too many people who are fighting against poverty do not understand the deep roots of the problems. Kremer, Banerjee, and Duflo therefore set out with the goal to make sure the fight against global poverty was based on scientific evidence. To do so, they leveraged the randomized controlled trial (RCT), a tool that has been used in clinical medicine for decades.

Understanding the RCT. Researchers test individual poverty alleviating interventions across different populations. To see whether it works, they give some people immediate access while making others wait, and they compare the results from two groups of people. If it fails, they dig deeper to see why, and if it succeeds, they figure out how to scale it. These have been used to test interventions in education, health, agriculture, and more around the world. For more details and examples of RCTs, check out the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab.

Win for Women? Duflo is only the second woman to win the Nobel Prize in Economics, and she is the only woman among the 14 Nobel Laureates this year. This is incredibly exciting news, but it also points to a major systemic gender equality issue in the academic world. Only 6 percent of Nobel Laureates have been women in history.

Critics. As always, there are critics! David Henderson from the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank, stated that the Nobel Laureates don’t go far enough. He criticized that their work is too focused on “smaller, more manageable questions.” Rather, we should use immigration and economic growth as tools to improve the quality of life among the world’s poor. Economic growth makes a country richer, a child is 15 times less likely to die in a rich country than in a poor country.

Our take. We are big supporters of the Nobel Laureates and their work. The RCT is a powerful tool and has given us incredible insight into tackling the root causes of poverty. There are too many examples of solutions that have been implemented that have gone wrong (see The Play Pump). Only by going deep into the “smaller, more manageable questions” can we deliver meaningful, sustainable solutions.

Yes, Mr. Henderson, in an ideal world, there would be no poor countries, and all the money would be focused on supporting the most vulnerable instead of just the rich and powerful—but the world clearly doesn’t work that way. Most countries are struggling to give their people the most basic resources and even the rich countries are facing stark inequality. Therefore, if we can at least properly address the small questions, shouldn’t we?

Picking Sides in HK (Part 2)

Last week, we covered how the NBA bent a knee to Beijing. When the going gets tough and billions are on the line, some people will push aside their values. If you do choose that path, be prepared to get called out. Today, we’ll highlight two more stories about this issue!

LeBron, you’re no Muhammad Ali

Two nights ago, LeBron James got into the fight between HK and NBA. He should have stayed home.

“We all talk about freedom of speech — yes, we do have freedom of speech. But at times, there are ramifications for the negative that can happen when you’re not thinking about others and you’re only thinking about yourself. I don’t believe — I don’t want to get into a … feud with Daryl Morey but I believe he wasn’t educated on the situation at hand. And he spoke. And so many people could have been harmed, not only financially but emotionally, physically and spiritually.”

Of course, LeBron was dragged through the Twitter world and labelled extremely hypocritical. He’s always been vocal in standing up for social justice rights, but he seems to fold when his money is involved.

ESPN’s Max Kellerman called out the Lakers star for selling out to China.

“It’s called selling out, when a billion dollars of business you don’t want disturbed, so now you’re quiet, in this instance it’s called selling out. It’s very easy to take a stand when there’s low to no cost, when the cost is high, when there’s a real price to pay for taking a stand, then who will stand up? Muhammad Ali, in this case not LeBron James”

Google’s Ban on HK Protest App

Google employees are fighting over their company’s decision to ban a HK protest video game app.

What happened. Google recently removed a pro-Hong Kong Protestor mobile game, The Revolution of Our Times, from the Google Play store. Many people within and outside the company believe they should have handled it differently.

Why did Google ban it? Monetization concerns. Google pulled the game, saying it violated a Play Store policy that bans monetization of “sensitive events.” Employees think Google could have reached out to the developer about monetization rather than banning.

What they believe. As a powerful tech company, many pro-HK employees believe Google has an ethical imperative to support democratic movements.  Other pro-Chinese government employees say that it’s inappropriate to be discussing these things in internal listservs.

Our take

The line between politics and personhood is nonexistent. When conflicts that challenge our values are being fought and unintentionally supported or undermined by powerful decision makers, we need to get involved. In today’s day and age, whether we like it or not, we are advocating for something with every action we take. The choices we make—on how we live our lives, who and what we actively choose to support, and who we passively deny—all feed into a bigger narrative that has an impact. Never before has the value of democracy been challenged by economic loss at this magnitude. Can we let go of the dollars long enough to champion the rights we believe in?

Short Takes

  • UK = Clean? Maybe. 40 percent of the UK’s electricity came from renewables like wind, biomass, and solar, while fossil fuels made up 39 percent (the remaining came from nuclear). This sounds like great news, but 12 percent of this came from biomass—it’s technically renewable but it isn’t carbon free. 

  • PepsiCo’s Green Bond. The company announced that it has priced the company’s first ever Green Bond focused on environmental sustainability. They’ve also made pledges focused on Sustainable Plastics and Packaging, Decarbonization of Operations and Supply Chain, and Water Sustainability.

  • Climate Change & Hunger. The people who are going hungry primarily live in the developing world, the places most likely to get hit hardest as the world warms up. These places whose footprints are least responsible for climate change.

  • Rural Women & Climate Change. Rural women and girls across the world are a powerful force in global action to respond to climate change, according to the UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

Lual Mayen, Founder of Junub Games and a Former Refugee

“That’s the thing in life,” Mayen says. “If you’re going through something hard and you survive, the next thing is, how do you come out of that? How do you utilize that opportunity to make your life better?"

Junub Games is a gaming studio focused on bringing about positive change in the world. They are the creators of Salaam, where players learn about the hardships that refugees experience on a daily basis: hunger, dehydration, malnourishment, sickness, and lack of resources. 

In the game’s newest version, players adopt the role of a refugee who must flee falling bombs, find water, and gain energy points to ensure the character’s survival as the player’s country journeys from a war-torn present into a peaceful existence. If the player’s character runs out of energy, the player is prompted to purchase more food, water, and medicine for their character with real-world money.

The funds go beyond the game to benefit a living refugee through Junub’s partnerships with various NGOs.




  • Border South: Through a blend of visual anthropology and cinema verité, discover the story of the migrants along the 2,300-mile-long “train north” through Central America. Anthropologist Jason De León follows the trail to understand what happens to the migrants who attempt the journey. He collects decaying artifacts lost along the way, allowing him to piece together the difficult lives of his subjects, and offering glimpses of the violence of the culture of immigration along the southwestern U.S. border.


  • Conversations on Plant-based Entrepreneurship: Vegpreneur is a global entrepreneurs community that is made up of innovators who are building a plant-based future and they’re hosting an evening panel on the state of plant-based entrepreneurship at General Assembly. Light snacks and refreshments will be served. 

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