Adapting to a changing world

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A group photo of J-PAL's senior management team
J-PAL's Senior Management Team gathered in Paris in February 2020.
Photo: J-PAL

Today, in the midst of a pandemic that has imposed untold suffering on millions worldwide, there are signs of hope on the horizon. Although the vaccine is rolling out worldwide in the coming months, the pandemic will still alter the course of the next decade, particularly for the world's poorest. J-PAL worked with many new and existing partners in creative ways in 2020 to meet the needs of a changing world.

We were far from immune to the impact of the pandemic. While the full consequences of the pandemic are still coming to bear, we have seen grants for critical research and scaling put on hold and great uncertainty in the research pipeline, forcing us to halt field research and shrink our staff. We pivoted to adjust our research operations from in-person to remote surveys and, through our Innovations in Data and Experiments for Action (IDEA) Initiative, leveraged administrative data for rapid research to inform policy responses.

Our work continues to evolve to address new pandemic-related challenges as they arise. We have collaborated closely with policymakers around the world to ensure that their pandemic responses are informed by relevant existing scientific evidence, synthesizing evidence around pressing topics like increasing adherence to health guidelines and keeping children learning.

Our affiliated researchers have already released results from new research projects designed to inform pandemic response, including those aimed at addressing preventive health behaviors and stemming learning loss despite school closures.

And in the midst of ongoing challenges, J-PAL was fortunate to be able to launch a few new initiatives to strengthen evidence-informed policymaking. With the generous support of King Philanthropies, we launched our biggest research initiative yet, the $25 million King Climate Action Initiative (K-CAI), to tackle the challenges of climate change and explore solutions at the intersection of climate and poverty alleviation.

We opened a new regional research center in the Middle East and North Africa in collaboration with the American University in Cairo and longtime J-PAL partner Community Jameel. This new center will focus on generating rigorous research to reduce poverty and support a culture of evidence-informed decision making in the region.

We are also proud to have launched the Jobs and Opportunity Initiative (JOI) in partnership with, and the Gender and Economic Agency Initiative (GEA) in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. JOI and GEA will support innovative research on pressing labor market challenges and strategies to promote women’s work and enhance women’s economic agency. This work is even more critical as the pandemic exacerbates enduring unemployment and existing inequalities faced by women in the labor force.

As we look toward 2021, we are working to launch new initiatives aimed to provide evidence-based insights for policymakers related to improving humanitarian response in emergencies, building robust social protection programs, reducing discrimination, and combating disinformation and democratic backsliding.

We also reaffirmed our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), setting out an action plan for how we can build on our existing work and be even more proactive about these topics moving forward. This includes improving the diversity of our research network, staff, and leadership; building mentorship of researchers from low- and middle-income countries into our initiative models; and taking steps toward more inclusive research practices and policy engagement. Stay tuned for more detail on our DEI efforts in the coming year.

These issues are even more critical now as the J-PAL community continues to grow: We welcomed 34 new affiliated professors to our network, bringing the total number up to 227. Our new affiliates hail from 29 universities across 4 continents. Our pool of invited researchers to specific initiatives and regions rose to 300.

Amid all the uncertainty, it is more important now than ever to strengthen our bonds with our partners and keep evidence at the forefront of decision-making. Because of Covid-19, extreme poverty is increasing worldwide for the first time in more than twenty years. And climate change continues to be as much of an existential challenge today as it was a year ago before we had heard of Covid-19. We have a long fight ahead of us and everyone at J-PAL is committed to continue doing our bit.

I sincerely hope that in 2021, we will be able to build on the lessons learned during this challenging year to create a stronger world more equipped to use evidence in the fight against poverty and climate change. A huge thank you to all our partners, researchers, and staff for their steadfast commitment to our mission, and to you, our readers, for continuing to value evidence and scientific rigor during these trying times.


Iqbal Dhaliwal

Global Executive Director, J-PAL


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