J-PAL’s Commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

J-PAL fundamentally seeks to reduce human suffering in all its forms, and promoting the dignity and agency of all people is a very important part of this mission. We know that our work is better when it is informed by diverse perspectives. We recognize that there is a lack of diversity, equity, and inclusion in the field of economics and in our field of work, and we are taking action to address this.

Definitions

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Diversity

We define diversity as the representation of people with varied identities based on categories including but not limited to age, (dis)ability, ethnicity, gender identity, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic status. Our work will be stronger, more relevant, and more likely to translate into action if it is informed by a wider range of perspectives including from members of historically oppressed groups, and from researchers, staff, and partners working in their own unique contexts and regions. 

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Equity

We define equity as access to resources, opportunity, and advancement for people of all backgrounds. We commit to working actively to challenge and respond to bias, harassment, and discrimination and continue to strive to identify and eliminate barriers that have prevented full participation of some individuals and groups. 

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Inclusion

We define inclusion as a culture in which everyone is welcomed, respected, supported, and valued. We strive to foster a sense of belonging and an environment in which everyone can fully contribute their perspectives and those perspectives are carefully considered.

Our goals

We are working toward increasing the diversity of our research network, staff, and the places in which we conduct research; and are prioritizing equity and inclusion in our work. We have undertaken many efforts over the years to further this goal and believe that there is significant need to do much more. We are therefore committed to working to improve DEI across many dimensions, including:

  • Increasing diversity in J-PAL’s research network;

  • Strengthening inclusion in our research and partnerships;

  • Strengthening inclusive policy outreach and communications;

  • Increasing staff diversity; and

  • Ensuring an inclusive workplace in which all staff feel welcomed, valued, and empowered.

Reflecting the global nature of our work, the 500+ researchers in the J-PAL network are based in 32 countries and have carried out more than 1,000 studies in more than 89 countries. We have opened regional research centers in Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, North America, South Asia, and Southeast Asia, with leadership and staff from those regions. Similarly, our hundreds of policy, implementation, and funding partners are based in dozens of countries.

Ongoing efforts

We have undertaken specific efforts to support DEI at J-PAL and address the lack of diversity in economics. Some examples include:

MicroMasters and Master’s in Data, Economics, and Development Policy

J-PAL and MIT created the online MicroMasters in Data, Economics, and Development Policy (DEDP) in 2017, followed by an in-person Master’s in DEDP as a new model for higher education. The MicroMasters’ personalized income-based pricing structure decreases financial barriers to enrollment. To date, more than 7,000 learners have completed a DEDP MicroMasters course, and over 60 percent of enrolled learners come from low- and middle-income countries. The master’s program features a unique admissions process designed to level the playing field by ensuring admission is based on indicators of academic engagement and performance directly relevant to the degree program and by providing need-based scholarships to a number of participants. 

We are continuing to build MicroMasters partnerships with universities in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Asia to further increase access to higher education for students in those regions, and are actively fundraising for MicroMasters and Master’s scholarships to enable participation of more learners from underrepresented groups.

Affiliate nomination process

Members of J-PAL’s affiliate network are invited each year to nominate peers to join J-PAL’s research network as an affiliate or an invited researcher to a specific region or initiative. We have revised our annual affiliate and invited researcher nomination process to explicitly call for candidates from underrepresented backgrounds, in particular who identify as Black, indigenous, people of color, women, and researchers from LMICs. We have also standardized nomination materials to ensure candidates are being evaluated across similar benchmarks, and are undertaking efforts (such as the African Scholars Program described above) to expand the pipeline of eligible researchers.

DigiFI African Scholars Program

The Digital Identification and Finance Initiative at J-PAL Africa launched its African Scholars Program in 2019. The program provides dedicated funding for researchers based at an African academic institution, or who completed high school in Africa and are based abroad, to develop and drive the research agenda on digital identification and payment systems in Africa. It funds exploratory work and pilot projects and matches grantees with a J-PAL researcher to provide support on relevant literature, research design, and implementation. This is designed to support a pipeline of researchers from Africa with the aim to add them to J-PAL’s research network in the future. As of late 2020 the program has funded 11 resident scholars and 1 non-resident scholar in five countries, and we are exploring piloting this program in other regions in 2021.

Are you a resident or non-resident African scholar? Sign up to receive notifications of funding opportunities.

JOI African Scholars Program

In 2021, J-PAL’s Jobs and Opportunities Initiative launched its African Scholars Program. Based on the model pioneered by the Digital Identification and Finance Initiative at J-PAL Africa in 2019, the program provides dedicated funding for resident African scholars, defined as researchers who have a PhD and are based at an African academic institution. With the goal of expanding the opportunities for scholars on the continent to develop and drive the research agenda on employment in Africa, it funds exploratory work and pilot projects. The program also matches grantees with a J-PAL researcher to provide support on relevant literature, research design, and implementation. This is designed to support a pipeline of researchers from Africa with the aim to add them to J-PAL’s research network in the future. JOI’s Fall 2021 funding round was the first to include the African Scholars component. Eighteen Expressions of Interest and thirteen full proposals were received from scholars across the continent. Funding decisions will be made in late December.

Are you a resident African scholar? Sign up to receive notifications of funding opportunities.

J-PAL South Asia's Indian Scholars Program

J-PAL South Asia launched the Indian Scholars Program in 2021. The program provides research funding, training, and networking opportunities for researchers and academics in India, with the goal of supporting them to drive India's development policy research agenda. In 2021, ISP is offering up to US$75,000 for India-based researchers to undertake scoping studies and randomized evaluations to examine ways to improve health outcomes for women and children as well as to increase women's participation in the labor force. These projects are funded through J-PAL's Cash Transfers for Child Health Initiative and Gender and Economic Agency Initiative. Selected candidates will receive guidance from J-PAL affiliates for their research projects, and will get steady support from J-PAL SA for the full duration of their study through tailored webinars and other training programs. 
 

J-PAL North America’s Economics Transformation Project

The Economics Transformation Project (ETP), launched in 2020, builds connections between US students from backgrounds that are underrepresented in economics and senior economists who know what is needed to enter, progress, and succeed along the economics pipeline. Through this project, J-PAL North America provides workshops, mentorship programming, and networking opportunities to broaden participation and support the work and well-being of underrepresented voices in the field.

Strengthening the research and policy pipeline in Southeast Asia

J-PAL Southeast Asia (SEA) has established a strong research and policy pipeline in Indonesia to help build a culture of rigorous evaluation. To fill entry-level research, policy, and training positions, J-PAL SEA seeks out recent Indonesian graduates who have the interest and potential to do further work in economics and public policy. Staff participate in training and receive active mentorship during their tenure, including guidance in applying to graduate school. Eleven Indonesian J-PAL SEA alums have gone on or completed master’s programs in economics or public policy since the office was created in 2013, and a further ten Indonesian J-PAL alums are enrolled in or have completed PhD programs. J-PAL researchers have also partnered with more than thirty Indonesian academics on randomized evaluations in Indonesia, several of whom have subsequently launched their own randomized evaluations and continue to collaborate with J-PAL.

Launching careers in research and social policy

J-PAL employs hundreds of research assistants (RAs) to support our affiliates’ randomized evaluations. The vast majority of our RAs are from the countries in which the research is taking place; for many, the RA-ship provides their first professional research experience. RAs get hands-on experience with key aspects of the research process, including conducting literature reviews; managing projects; assisting with study design, surveys, and other components of field experiments; managing data sets; programming; analyzing data; creating data visualizations; and presenting results; among other activities. 

RAs may also enroll for free in the online J-PAL/MITx MicroMasters in Data, Economics, and Development Policy, and those based at universities often have the opportunity to attend seminars and conferences. This exposure to research and the broader field of economics can help them formulate and refine research ideas for graduate school applications and funding, and help forge strong professional relationships that lead to career mentorship.

Many RAs go on to pursue PhDs, other graduate degrees such as masters in public administration or public health, and professional research roles, creating a pipeline of emerging scholars committed to rigorous research and evidence-based policy. Many former J-PAL research staff, including Martin Abel, Shawn Cole, Clement Imbert, Kelsey Jack, Namrata Kala, Daniel Keniston, and Nick Ryan, among others, have gone on to become J-PAL affiliates.
 

Gender Working Group

J-PAL’s internal Gender Working Group includes representatives from our seven regional research centers around the world and works to make institutional progress toward three objectives: 1) Building staff capacity and skills in gender analysis and gender sensitive communication; 2) Strengthening the gender lens in research; and 3) Affirming our commitment to gender equality in the workplace.

Staff recruitment and education

J-PAL strives to combat the siloing of people of color and other people whose backgrounds are underrepresented in economics in our staff recruitment processes. We have updated our recruitment processes at Global (head office) to promote diversity by developing and standardizing qualitative and quantitative rubrics and scoring methods for application reviews and tests; conducting double review of applications and tests to help ensure consistent results; and blinding tests so reviewers do not know the name or educational/professional background of the applicant. 

We have also expanded campus outreach, particularly at Historically Black Colleges and Universities, for jobs based in the U.S. at our Global and North America regional offices. We are reimagining the undergraduate internship to create a pipeline of future full-time candidates from more diverse backgrounds, and reviewing pieces of the recruitment process to identify opportunities to further improve, including but not limited to refining job descriptions, increasing transparency about the process and timeline in communications with candidates, and creating a list of resources to help candidates prepare for our testing and interview processes.

We have also established formal channels to safely report and address incidents of bias, discrimination, and harassment, and in 2019 began hosting training sessions for senior leadership and staff worldwide to increase awareness and sensitivity to our own implicit and explicit biases and sociological structures.

Resources and partnerships to encourage diversity in the broader economics profession

In addition to the pipeline-building work described above, we are developing and publicizing resources on how to navigate becoming a researcher for undergraduates, pre-docs, and PhD applicants, and we continue to engage with organizations working to improve representation in the economics profession. Please visit the pages of some of these organizations in the US:

For more information on J-PAL North America’s partnership with The Research in Color Foundation, see A Conversation with Research in Color on the importance of mentorship in the economic profession.

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