Leah Rosenzweig: Connecting Research and Policy to Scale Up Impact

Leah Rosenzweig was introduced to the Development Innovation Lab through Professor Susan Athey, Director of the Golub Capital Social Impact Lab (GCSIL) at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. “I’d just finished the first year of my postdoc with the Stanford Golub Capital Social Impact Lab, and things were going very well,” Rosenzweig recalled. “Susan was happy for me to continue, but she also mentioned that there might be an exciting opportunity with one of her close colleagues: Michael Kremer was moving from Harvard to the University of Chicago to start a Development Innovation Lab (DIL), and they were looking for someone to help manage it.”

Headshot of Leah Rosenzweig
Leah Rosenzweig

DIL has grown quickly — from 10 to over 70 researchers — in just a few years. “The Nobel Prize opens a lot of doors,” Rosenzweig said. “The lab is in the fortunate position of being able to apply insights from social science and economics research to improve the lives of individuals in the developing world and to scale up successful innovations with government partners.” Not long after joining the DIL, Leah was tapped to be the director of one of its innovative new programs: the Market Shaping Accelerator.

The origins of the Market Shaping Accelerator go back to work that Michael Kremer, Rachel Glennerster, and Christopher Snyder, the accelerator’s faculty leaders, did together with Jonathan Levin in the early and mid-2000s. They designed and guided the implementation of an “advance market commitment” for a pneumococcal vaccine, whereby $1.5 billion dollars of funding was committed to subsidize purchases of the vaccine by developing countries. This program was credited with accelerating the launch of the pneumococcal vaccine by several years, immunizing 150 million children and saving an estimated 700,000 lives in the process.

Despite the success of the program, little follow-on work had been done by the late 2010s. At that time, Susan Athey launched the Golub Capital Social Impact Lab at Stanford GSB with a key theme of advancing “market shaping” solutions to incentivize innovation, such as advance market commitments and other approaches that may shape the supply and demand for innovation. At the lab’s Inaugural Market Shaping Conference in late 2018, several of the original members of the pneumococcal vaccine team brainstormed with Athey about opportunities to use the market-shaping approach again.

World events forced the brainstorming into action with the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic when Kremer, Glennerster, Snyder, Athey, and others quickly formed the Accelerating Health Technology (AHT) initiative. AHT’s work influenced policy decisions related to the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines. The group actively participated in committees organized by CEPI and GAVI (vaccine-focused NGOs) and provided economic analysis and advice to more than a dozen countries and top leadership of international organizations. AHT also promoted other types of market shaping related to the pandemic, including projects led by Stanford GCSIL researchers proposing approaches for repurposing generic drugs where commercial incentives are low.

After the success of vaccine procurement programs around the world, advance market commitments began to capture the imagination of philanthropists and policymakers across a wider range of areas. For example, in the area of climate, Glennerster, Snyder, and Athey advised Frontier as it raised $1 billion for an advance market commitment to removing carbon from the atmosphere.

As “market shaping” continued to attract attention as a field in innovation policy, the DIL decided to launch the Market Shaping Accelerator, creating the role of founding director that Leah stepped into. She was well prepared for this role based on her multi-faceted experience at GCSIL during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequently at the DIL.

“The goal of the new lab is to use market shaping beyond vaccines, in other cases where the social value of innovation greatly outweighs the private or commercial incentive to invest in R&D,” Rosenzweig said. “In the first year, our focus will be on climate change and pandemic preparedness and biosecurity. When we started, we thought we might have to go out and shop for ideas, but we have been inundated with calls.” The accelerator practices what it preaches in terms of tools for innovation: making use of one market-shaping tool, prizes, and competitions. The Market Shaping Accelerator recently held a contest to select focus areas for future market-shaping initiatives. Out of 186 submissions in its first phase, 39 teams from 16 countries were selected for a $4000 prize. Seven of those were in turn selected as the second phase winners, where repurposing generic drugs (a focus area for the Stanford GCSIL and AHT during the pandemic) was one of the selected projects.

Rosenzweig began preparing for this high-impact work early. As an undergrad at Georgetown, she majored in Government and also earned a certificate in African Studies; she also learned Swahili and got her first taste of field research working on a project looking at the impact of fair trade certification on Ghanaian cocoa farmers. After graduation, she lived in Nigeria, working for Jeffrey Sachs’s Earth Institute, which served as an advisor to the Presidency on how to use the country’s debt relief for development to make progress on the UN’s Millennium Development Goals.

After completing her Ph.D. in Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), she completed a postdoc at the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse (IAST), conducting a series of experiments to counter online misinformation.

When she decided to return to the United States, she looked for opportunities to continue this type of research. “I saw the opening in GCSI Lab on Twitter. I didn’t think I had the right background for the job, but I was struck by the line at the end of the job description, which encouraged people to apply even if they didn’t feel qualified.” Rosenzweig said.

At the Golub Capital Social Impact Lab, she had the chance to work on a wide range of projects, from improving fundraising effectiveness on PayPal’s donation platform to analyzing ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19 misinformation online. The latter gave her a chance to combine two of her areas of expertise: experience with social science research in Africa and addressing misinformation. The Golub Capital Social Impact Lab set out to test which approaches could be most effective in Kenya and Nigeria. “We came up with a list of 47 possible interventions,” Rosenzweig said. “We found the most impactful was an accuracy nudge — where individuals were first given an unrelated post and asked whether they thought it was true or false. This appeared to make them think more critically when reading a claim about COVID. We also found that warning labels and flags on false content were ineffective.”

“The latter result was different from what had been found in high-income countries, where most of the prior research had been conducted,” she continued. “In these high-digital-literacy countries, labeling a piece of information as verified by a trusted source could be effective, but we found in Africa this can actually backfire.” They found that the next most effective action was providing tips on how to spot misinformation.

Rosenzweig has been able to apply many of the managerial and research skills she learned at Stanford’s GCSIL to her work at the University of Chicago. She said that the common theme running through her work at the three labs is finding ways to “generate socially impactful and policy-relevant research as a core part of the academic endeavor. When academics are working with outside partners, it is vital to co-design the research, drawing on the knowledge and expertise of local NGOs and government. We want to ensure that incentives are aligned and that we’re designing something that is rigorous and will be fruitful for all.”

For more information on the Market Shaping Accelerator go to: https://marketshaping.uchicago.edu/



Golub Capital Social Impact Lab @ Stanford GSB

Led by Susan Athey, the Golub Capital Social Impact Lab at Stanford GSB uses tech and social science to improve the effectiveness of social sector organizations