EASST Research Grants: 2020 Competition and Recent Awardees

Maya Ranganath
Feb 24 · 5 min read

CEGA’s East Africa Social Science Translation (EASST) Collaborative announces its annual research grant competition for East African scholars and showcases six studies funded through last year’s competition. This post was written by Senior Program Manager Maya Ranganath, and Global Networks Intern Alexandra Wall.

Credit: Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Despite a focus on low and middle-income countries (LMICs), development economics literature is dominated by authors from High Income Countries (HICs), as discussed in this blog post. There is a wide gap in the number of peer-reviewed development economics publications written by authors from the very regions the discipline aims to serve — only 1% of all research outputs come from African Universities. To bridge this divide, CEGA facilitates deep collaborations between LMIC and HIC researchers through our various capacity building programs.

As the Hewlett Foundation points out in a new research briefing:

“Both African and non-African scholars reported benefits of collaboration across continents. Several emerging African scholars reported that co-authoring with well-known scholars from other continents helped them build credibility and created opportunities for future work. Non-African researchers reported that their African co-authors provided technical capacity, context to better situate the work, and relationships to help drive policy.”

In this spirit, CEGA is excited to announce the launch of its 2020 EASST Research Grant Competition, which will provide up to $75,000 in funding for research teams (comprised of an East African researcher and a CEGA affiliate) to conduct rigorous research on development issues in the region.

The goal of the competition is to provide new evidence for policy makers, and for both US-based and East African researchers to benefit from each other’s complementary skillsets. The deadline to submit applications is April 1, 2020.

Additionally, as part of our last funding round in May 2019, we seeded six innovative studies described below. Stay tuned for the results of these projects, as well as an announcement about the 2020 awards!

2019 EASST Collaborative Research Competition Awardees:

The Effect of Labeling and Modern Depositing Mechanisms on Savings Behavior: A Pilot Study from Ethiopia
East African Principal Investigators: Tewodros Tesemma, EASST fellow; Eyoual Demeke, EASST fellow
CEGA Principal Investigators:
Jonathan Robinson, UC Santa Cruz; Madeline Duhon, UC Berkeley

Common behavioral traps of self-control, present-biasedness, and inattention can perpetuate households’ inability to save and prepare for financial needs. This pilot project in Ethiopia tests whether offering multiple purpose-labeled savings accounts alone — or in combination with an automatic deposit mechanism — can help reduce barriers to saving and enable households to meet their savings goals. Findings from this pilot will hopefully inform the design of a full-scale randomized control trial testing the best way to encourage more effective formal savings behavior.

Socioeconomic Support and Tuberculosis Preventive Therapy in Tanzania
East African Principal Investigators: Werner Maokola, EASST fellow; Prosper Njau, Tanzania Ministry of Health, Community Development, Gender, Elderly and Children
CEGA Principal Investigators:
Sandra McCoy, UC Berkeley; Carolyn Fahey, UC Berkeley

Despite the wide use of Antiretroviral Therapy (ART), Tuberculosis (TB) remains a public health challenge leading to increased morbidity and mortality among People Living with HIV (PLHIV), especially in Sub- Saharan Africa. Preventive therapy reduces the risk of TB among PLHIV, however, socioeconomic barriers often inhibit patients from completing the full course of therapy. Building on a current collaboration studying financial incentives for PLHIV in Western Tanzania, this study evaluates whether a socioeconomic intervention comprised of financial incentives plus optimized community health worker engagement improves adherence to TB preventive therapy among PLHIV.

Impact of an instructional video for TB case detection in Tanzania
East African Principal Investigators: Grace Mhalu, EASST fellow
CEGA Principal Investigators:
Marcella Alsan, Stanford University; Adrienne Mocello, UC Berkeley

Tuberculosis (TB) is the ninth leading cause of death worldwide, with 1.4 million deaths in 2017. However, there are several challenges to detecting TB in LMICs. For example, in Tanzania, a national TB prevalence survey indicates that the detection rate of infectious TB might be as low as 50%. This may be the result of suboptimal diagnostic procedures: the performance of laboratory testing to detect bacterium that causes TB in humans largely depends on the quality of sputum (spit) samples collected. This RCT studies an innovative way of improving the quality of samples by measuring the effect of instructional videos on producing sputum and supplemental guidance to clinics. Findings from this low-cost intervention could have a large impact on TB detection rates through improving community understanding of TB, as well as ease the burden on health workers’ time.

The Returns to Scale: Stimulating Productivity in Firm Clusters in Uganda
East African Principal Investigators: Esau Tugume, BRAC fellow
CEGA Principal Investigators:
Vittorio Bassi, University of Southern California; Tommaso Porzio, University of California, San Diego

Firms in LMICs are both less productive and smaller than HICs. In industries with economies of scale, small firm size may itself be a driver of low productivity by hindering technology adoption and mechanization. In Uganda, furniture making is one such industry that has a high potential to benefit from increased scale. This pilot intervention randomly allocates firms to be part of (i) business clubs, (ii)business clubs with the opportunity to rent machines, and, (iii) a control group. Results from this pilot will inform decisions being made by the Ministry of Trade in Uganda, which has already provided machines to clusters of businesses.

Using iBeacons to Track the Distribution of Solar Lamps in Kenya
East African Principal Investigators: Muthoni Ng’ang’a, EASST fellow
CEGA Principal Investigators: Jennifer Hamilton, UC Los Angeles;
Daniel Posner, UC Los Angeles

The misallocation or disappearance of development goods (such as farming inputs or water purifying materials) is a substantial and expensive challenge in the aid industry. Poor distribution may undermine the benefit that the goods were designed to bring and potentially reduce support for development aid in donor countries. This project is piloting the use of iBeacon technology to track the distribution of solar lanterns in small communities in rural Kenya. The study will serve as a valuable test of the viability of the iBeacon technology as a measurement tool and a promising approach to reducing leakage in the distribution of development goods.

Can gender blinding policies promote female entrepreneurship? The role of discrimination and access to capital
East African Principal Investigators: Shibiru Melesse, EASST fellow
CEGA Principal Investigators:
Ketki Sheth, UC Merced; Shanthi Manian, Washington State University

There is a well-documented “gender profit gap” for small and medium enterprises in developing countries. Gender discrimination may be an important, yet understudied, factor inhibiting the success of female entrepreneurship. This research project compares how four different methods of evaluating businesses affect the equity and efficiency of capital allocation decisions. To test both human and algorithm-based loan decision-making, the research team is comparing decisions made by (i) loan officers with applicants’ gender information; (ii) loan officers without gender information (“gender-blinded”); (iii) an algorithm designed solely to predict business success and (iv) an algorithm designed to predict business success which incorporates discrimination-aware methods. This study is co-funded by CEGA’s Digital Credit Observatory.


Maya Ranganath

Written by

Senior Program Manager, Global Networks @ CEGA_UC



The CEGA blog is a platform for discussing key issues related to poverty alleviation and global development.

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