Learning to see a World of Opportunities: Unpacking Gender Effects
Traditional business training interventions have been widely implemented but offered mixed results, especially for women (McKenzie and Woodruff, 2013; Blattman and Ralston, 2015; McKenzie and Woodruff, 2021). Since 2018, our interdisciplinary team, including professors of economics, neuroscience and psychiatry, have been engaged in designing, implementing, and evaluating a curriculum which trains business skills through mental-imagery pedagogy. The original curriculum and 3-arm RCT (imagery, traditional, and pure control) was designed to facilitate successful entrepreneurship among victims of conflict and displacement in Colombia; the imagery training uses insights from the frontier of neuroscience and psychiatry on the value of visualization and mental simulation, particularly for those who have faced trauma (Holmes & Mathews, 2010; Mathews et al., 2013). While the curriculum wasn't originally designed with women in mind, we did stratify by gender and our (on-going) midline and endline analysis reveals that women, significantly more than men, learn imagery skills and perform better on both psychological and economic outcomes, both pre-Covid and during Covid, when offered the imagery-curriculum compared to traditional business training- but women perform significantly worse than men when offered a traditional business training program. The significant, positive gender gap holds even when controlling for trauma-experience. In this proposal, we ask for funds to support small scale qualitative research activities as well as research support for additional analysis to develop a deeper understanding of the mechanisms behind the gender results. Finally, we plan to conduct further conversations with a Colombian NGO that JPAL helped us match with to explore a potential scale-up of the intervention, targeted largely at women, but in the broader labor market domain.