January 2024 J-PAL MENA Newsletter

The J-PAL Middle East and North Africa team in August 2023. Photo credit: Ahmed Nagy Draz, J-PAL

Dear all,

As we welcome 2024, my heartfelt wish for the new year is to unfold as a chapter of hope and happiness, bringing a gentle light to alleviate the profound challenges posed by devastating conflicts in our MENA region.

Since its establishment in 2020, J-PAL MENA has demonstrated consistent growth, expanding its capabilities to fight poverty through rigorous evidence. As we embark on our fourth year of operations, we are proud of our growing team of 70 dedicated staff members across American University in Cairo, Egyptian Ministry of Planning and Economic Development (as part of Egypt Impact Lab), and Morocco Employment Lab. Last year also marked the inauguration of our first cohort of MENA Scholars—a group of six exceptional researchers representing four countries. This cohort lays the groundwork for localizing research efforts and enhancing the capacity of regional researchers to address unique challenges in their local communities.

I am delighted to share below the latest J-PAL MENA newsletter, featuring updates and exciting news from our office, including our expanding efforts under Egypt Impact Lab, the renewal of the Global Evidence for Egypt Spotlight Seminar Series Partnership, our conference on Partnership Development for Climate Adaptation in Arab States, the soft launch of the Air and Water Lab in Egypt, and the initiation of the Education sector in J‑PAL MENA.

Connect with us on social media for more engagement opportunities. 

Warm wishes,

Ahmed Elsayed, PhD
Executive Director, J-PAL MENA at AUC
Associate Professor, AUC


Expanding efforts under the Egypt Impact Lab

The Egypt Impact Lab (EIL) team has been disseminating evidence and identifying research opportunities around major government development initiatives that target social protection and poverty alleviation, employment and MSME development, and women’s empowerment and family development. The first EIL Request for Proposals (RFP) was launched in March 2023, after which the EIL Review Board awarded funding to one pilot randomized evaluation and two exploratory studies. The second RFP is now open and is accepting proposals until April 19. Learn more about how to apply »

Renewing the Global Evidence for Egypt Spotlight Seminar Series Partnership for a third phase

J-PAL MENA and UNICEF Egypt have renewed the Global Evidence for Egypt Spotlight Seminar Series (GE4E) collaboration for a third phase that will run until 2025. The partnership fosters a dialogue among Egyptian policymakers, development practitioners, and J-PAL affiliated professors around pertinent policy issues in Egypt. The third phase will include three public seminars and closed door sessions that allow affiliates to directly engage with policymakers and development practitioners; and capacity building programs that target Egypt Impact Lab partners and local researchers. Read UNICEF Egypt’s perspective on the partnership in J-PAL’s 20 for 20: Partner Voices blog series.

Partnership Development for Climate Adaptation in Arab States and soft launch of the Air and Water Lab 

J-PAL MENA hosted a conference titled “Partnership Development for Climate Adaptation in Arab States” on September 26 and 27 in Cairo, in partnership with the Ministry of Planning and Economic Development in Egypt, the National Institute of Governance and Sustainable Development, and the Arab Water Council. The event brought together researchers, development practitioners, and climate negotiators from Arab states. It focused on leveraging insights from J-PAL's global research and best practices in climate adaptation strategies in anticipation for COP 28. The conference also marked the soft launch of the Air and Water Lab (AWL) in Egypt.

Launching the Education sector

The Education sector has been working to expand regional partnerships and is currently engaged in promising discussions to implement randomized evaluations in Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan. Most notably, the sector has established a collaboration with the Ministry of Education and Technical Education (MOETE) to evaluate their reform program titled “Technical Education 2.0,” which focuses on teacher training and changing societal perceptions of vocational education. To prepare for the evaluation, the team delivered a “Leading for Evidence-Informed Decision-making” workshop with high-level representatives from MOETE. The sector has also participated in various regional events to align policy outreach for evidence-based programs at the intersection of education and climate change adaptation in the lead up to COP28.

The Morocco Employment Lab (MEL) has also successfully expanded its activities to the Education sector by capitalizing on opportunities provided by the current education reform policy window and leveraging the J-PAL research network. In March 2023, MEL hosted a 4-day in-person training and incubator at the Ministry of Education in Rabat to help build the M&E team’s capacity and to develop new research collaborations with the Ministry of Education. 

Strengthening capacities for evidence generation and use

Alongside the EIL Evaluating Social Programs (ESP) course, we delivered a second ESP in partnership with the Sawiris Foundation for Social Development, targeting participants working from NGOs in Upper Egypt. The course was followed by a concluding conference with a keynote address by H.E. Nivine El-Kabbag, Minister of Social Solidarity. We also delivered two “Data Collection for Randomized Evaluations” trainings in Arabic to enumerators and staff members of eight local data collection firms to delve deeply into survey instruments as well as considerations and field protocols to ensure data collection quality. The second took place in Minya Governorate and targeted fresh graduates from eight governorates in Upper Egypt interested in working in the data collection field.

We also welcomed the first cohort of MENA Scholars in June 2023. Following its launch in the last quarter of 2022, the Fellowship received an overwhelming response with a highly competitive pool of applications from across the MENA region. After a rigorous selection process, six outstanding individuals were chosen to be part of the program and are now being matched with J-PAL affiliated professors leading on evaluations with J-PAL MENA. Stay tuned  for a forthcoming video with insights from the Scholars on how the Fellowship complements their career progression and more. 

Development Methodologies Summer School

In July 2023, MEL held the “Development Methodologies” summer school in Rabat in partnership with the French Development Agency, the Fund for Innovation in Development, and the Mohammed VI Polytechnic University. Around 100 researchers and project managers from African countries gathered for a week of academic workshops and project incubators that strengthened participants' knowledge and skills in the use of rigorous impact evaluations. J-PAL co-founders and Nobel laureates Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee participated in the summer school and shared their valuable experiences with participants.


Empowering Women through Digital Savings Groups

Researchers are partnering with the National Council for Women (NCW) to evaluate the impact of a national financial inclusion program known as “Tahweesha” under the Egypt Impact Lab. Tahweesha aims to integrate women into the formal economy by offering them the opportunity to participate in digital-only Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs). The evaluation will test the impact of the program on the livelihoods and investment behavior of women in rural communities in Egypt. Researchers are also working with NCW on piloting a bundle of interventions (i.e. financial incentives and training sessions) to encourage the take-up of the program. Jason KerwinAlfredo BurlandoReham Rizk, and Sarah Wahby are leading on this evaluation. 

Shifting Attitudes about Gender Norms through Media Campaigns

Researchers are partnering with the United Nations Population Fund in Egypt to evaluate a 360 degree edutainment campaign consisting of a 45-episode TV series and community mobilization activities. The evaluation tests the impact of two-hour viewing sessions on shifting viewers’ attitudes and behaviors regarding gender-based violence, with a focus on female genital mutilation and early marriage, and family planning. This evaluation will generate evidence on the impact of the media as a tool to shift gender norms to be more in favor of girls and women in the context of Egypt. Donald GreenSalma Mousa, and Ahmed Ezzeldine are leading on this evaluation. 


Second Annual EIL Evaluating Social Programs Course

The second annual EIL Evaluating Social Programs will take place in January at the American University in Cairo. This three-day, in-person training course equips participants with resources and knowledge to engage with impact evaluations of social programs. The course provides an in-depth look at why and when randomized evaluations can be used to rigorously measure social impact, methods and considerations for their design and implementation, and how findings can inform evidence-based policies and programs. Participation is limited to EIL strategic partners and NGOs, international organizations, and foundations with whom they work. 

MEL | New Government Partnership and Expansion into New Sectors

MEL is working toward institutionalizing its partnership with the Moroccan Ministry of National Education, Preschool, and Sports through a Memorandum of Understanding to define shared objectives and strengthen activities that promote the use of rigorous evidence in the education sector. MEL is also expanding its efforts to new sectors, including social protection, health, firms, and agriculture.


Team Spotlight: Reham Rizk

Meet the director of the Egypt Impact Lab (EIL), who joined J-PAL MENA last September! Reham assumes a leadership role in steering the Lab's strategic initiatives and ensuring the highest standards of research, policy outreach, and capacity building. Her multifaceted responsibilities include providing both strategic and technical oversight, thereby shaping the trajectory of the Lab’s growth and impact

Reham Rizk was previously the Head of the Modelling and Social Planning and Development Unit at the Egyptian Ministry of Planning and Economic Development. Currently, she also holds the position of Associate Professor of Economics at the University of London, representing the European Universities in Egypt, and is actively engaged in the Master’s Program at Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne University. Emphasizing a commitment to evidence-based policy and research, Reham also serves as an Invited Researcher at J-PAL Middle East and North Africa at AUC.

Previously, Reham held the position of Associate Professor of Economics at the Universities of Canada in Egypt and the British University in Egypt. She has a rich research background, having been a Research Fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, and the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research at the University of Michigan. She has also contributed as a Senior Economist at the Tahya-Misr Fund.

Reham earned her PhD and MA in Economics from Helwan University and focuses her work on establishing sustainable partnerships between universities, government entities, and development practitioners. Her efforts aim to advance policy-driven research and effective planning for development initiatives, with a specific focus on areas such as employment, microenterprise development, female empowerment, and family development.