Egypt Impact Lab: A collaboration with the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development
The Ministry of Planning and Economic Development (MPED) and the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab Middle East and North Africa (J-PAL MENA) at the American University in Cairo (AUC) launched the Egypt Impact Lab on March 17, 2022, at AUC New Cairo. The lab launched with strategic government partners: the Ministry of Social Solidarity, the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency, the National Council for Women, and the National Institute for Governance and Sustainable Development. The Egypt Impact Lab is made possible with support from founding partners Sawiris Foundation for Social Development and Community Jameel, and additional support from UNICEF Egypt.
Egypt’s development challenges necessitate the use of rigorous evidence. As massive public investments are made in development programs in Egypt, optimal program design, targeting, performance management, and speedy and useful monitoring are essential to improve development outcomes. Ensuring effectiveness of public investments in supporting employment, income generation, and social protection can be supported by using evidence on the effectiveness of programs or policies – all the more important as the global Covid-19 crisis exacerbated development challenges.
The Egyptian Ministry of Planning and Economic Development (MPED) is poised to be a government champion for using rigorous evidence, as it seeks to promote and sustain economic growth through effective planning and efficient management of public investment that integrates and accommodates the private sector and civil society and is staffed by civil servants and academic researchers. Building MPED’s capacity to use evidence will foster an ecosystem of innovation and evaluation in government.
MPED is partnering with the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab Middle East and North Africa (J-PAL MENA) based at the American University in Cairo (AUC) to build the Egypt Impact Lab (EIL) to advance the use of rigorous evidence and action-oriented research in designing innovative solutions to development challenges. The EIL builds on lessons from partnerships that allowed J-PAL to conduct more than 13 completed and ongoing randomized evaluations in Egypt and more than 32 evaluations in the MENA region.
EIL’s work will revolve around top government development priorities and focus on strengthening the impact of national initiatives, including Hayah Karima and National Family Development Program, guided by our strategic government partners. Together with these partners, EIL will aim to work on three pillars:
Evaluate promising and innovative government programs and use results to inform scale decisions
EIL Pillar I will take a three-stage approach to use randomized evaluations (RCTs) to evaluate innovative programs and learn what works. First, we will work with strategic partners to identify their top priorities, consider insights from existing evidence, and consult on innovative program design to meet their development goals. Second, we will work together to align program implementation and RCT implementation. Third, we will use the results from the research to inform future policy decisions and scale up of effective programs. Throughout the cycle, pillars II and III will support our learning through capacity building, evidence sharing, and using administrative data.
EIL will draw on lessons from the more than 1000 existing impact evaluations to share insights that address MPED, MoSS, MSMEDA and NCW’s top priorities, and to identify which programs should be evaluated. This will ensure that lessons that are immediately applicable from the global evidence base can be incorporated into program design in Egypt, and will ensure that any research is conducted on questions that are truly unanswered, where evaluation adds maximum value to policymakers’ understanding. J-PAL’s evidence base covers the sectors of labor markets, social protection, gender empowerment, and others that are relevant to government programs such as Hayah Karima and the National Family Development Program, and we will incorporate these lessons into policy advising for the strategic partners.
EIL will aim to launch three impact evaluations per year of flagship government initiatives anchored by government partners, leveraging J-PAL MENA at AUC’s expertise. We will work with strategic government partners to identify their top priorities, consider insights from more than 1100 existing impact evaluations, and consult on innovative program design to meet their development goals. This will ensure that lessons that are immediately applicable from the global evidence base can be incorporated into program design in Egypt, and will ensure that any research is conducted on questions that are truly unanswered, where evaluation adds maximum value to policymakers’ understanding.
Build government capacity to use rigorous evidence to strengthen program design and delivery
J-PAL’s capacity building workshops help government policymakers, program implementers, and M&E professionals become better producers and users of evidence. J-PAL’s flagship Executive Education course “Evaluating Social Programs” equips participants with resources and knowledge to engage with randomized evaluations of social programs, taught by J-PAL affiliated professors and senior staff. EIL will run variations on the course each year tailored to government priority sectors and level of technical detail, targeting government project teams and their partners (researchers, practitioners from NGOs, international organizations, private sector companies, and foundations). In addition to the ESP, EIL will also deliver different tailored training workshops, including a senior leadership training for Senior decision makers in organizations active in the labor markets sector.
EIL capacity building efforts will also focus on sharing actionable policy lessons from the global evidence. J-PAL MENA will tailor and share global evidence-informed recommendations for tackling priority issues in Egypt.
To strengthen the research ecosystem in Egypt, EIL will also establish a ‘Scholars Fellowship’ program. Fellows will work on randomized evaluations with J-PAL affiliates and staff; receive mentorship from J-PAL affiliated professors and scientific directors; receive training on website development and proposal writing; have the opportunity to enroll in MicroMasters courses.
Finally, EIL will explore the possibility of incorporating an innovative program on impact evaluations directly into Egypt’s relevant training and education curricula and university courses.
Foster the use of partner ministries’ administrative data to generate evidence and improve decision-making
Through J-PAL’s Innovations in Data and Experiments for Action Initiative (IDEA), EIL will help strategic government partners organize and analyze existing data; develop data dashboards and visualization tools; strengthen monitoring and evaluation; and partner with researchers to use this data to design, evaluate, and scale innovative programs, by hosting Data Incubators, which support data analysis pilot projects and evaluations using administrative data.
Request for Proposals
Proposals for the EIL impact evaluations are co-developed by J-PAL affiliated researchers, government representatives, and supporting implementing partners (if relevant; e.g., UN agency). The proposals include detailed support letters from EIL strategic government partners that clearly articulate a path to policy uptake of the research results. The approved impact evaluations are led by J-PAL affiliated researchers, co-principal investigators, project-based research and field operations teams working closely with partnering agencies, and on-the-ground data collection teams.
Training and Events
The Evidence-Informed Covid-19 Localized Response and Recovery In Egypt: For Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises report (forthcoming) presents a synthesis of evidence relevant to the main interventions adopted in Egypt to mitigate the impact of Covid -19 on MSMEs, and an analysis of data from the Field Survey of the Impact of COVID-19 on MSMEs, a joint effort by MPED, UNDP and MSMEDA. The objective of the report is to inform MPED’s pandemic response on a localized level, on one of the priority thematic areas of the Egypt Impact Lab: Employment and MSME development.
Engaging with the Egypt Impact Lab
The Egypt Impact Lab will work closely with government partners, development practitioners and donors focusing on three main thematic areas:
Social protection and poverty alleviation, with a focus on Hayah Karima
Social protection has a crucial role in supporting and uplifting the most vulnerable groups in society, requiring targeted, effective, and efficient programs. The need to strengthen program design and delivery related to social protection is now greater than ever. At the invitation of the Minister of Planning and Economic Development, the Minister of Social Solidarity has confirmed MoSS’s role as a strategic partner in designing and carrying out the activities of EIL. EIL will build on MoSS’s existing commitments to evidence-informed policy as it’s working with J-PAL MENA on generating new evidence on the impact of access to its subsidized nursery schools on female labor force participation and early childhood development.
EIL will have a major focus on the Hayah Karima (HK) Initiative, a comprehensive multidimensional poverty alleviation program that aims to expand the national safety net in the poorest villages in Egypt. In its first phase, HK expanded the coverage of natural gas, sewage services and education and health services in 374 villages. In the second phase, the focus is on improving living conditions by investing in human capital, infrastructure, basic services, and job opportunities. It will be essential to test the impact of these interventions on a number of outcomes including income, consumption, asset ownership, financial inclusion, physical and mental health and others. Contact Amira El Shal to learn more.
Employment and MSME development
Second, employment remains at the top of development challenges and policy priorities for the Government of Egypt, and is a key component in the country’s strategies to reduce poverty and inequality. Youth unemployment, skills mismatch, low firm growth, informality, and other structural issues hinder the creation of decent work. Along with skills training and job matching programs, the Government of Egypt places MSME development at the heart of the solution to firm growth and job creation. Given its central role in developing the MSME sector, as a crucial path for poverty alleviation, the Egyptian Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Agency (MSMEDA), is leading the development of MSMEs and is generating and using rigorous evidence in designing its policies. Together with J-PAL, MSMEDA has completed and ongoing randomized evaluations of several of its priority programs, including components of the "Emergency Employment Investment Project (EEIP)" and the ongoing "Addressing the Root Causes of Irregular Migration." Contact Lobna Kassim to learn more.
Gender empowerment and family development
Third, family development and female empowerment are top national priorities. The National Family Development Program, a coordinated effort across government to curb population growth and support healthy families has been launched. The program has four pillars: digitalization and monitoring; culture, awareness and education; service provision (reproductive health services); and economic empowerment.
This brings together a focus on family planning and development, women’s empowerment, and labor force participation. The Egypt Impact Lab will test programs under the National Family Development Program, to answer questions specific to the Egyptian context. EIL will work to use key insights from its gender, health, and labor sector research to inform program design by MPED, NCW, MoSS, and MSMEDA. Contact Nadeen El Ashmawy to learn more.