Esther Duflo, who along with her Indian-American husband Abhijit Banerjee and Michael Kremer, was awarded the 2019 Nobel Economics Prize for their approach to alleviate global poverty, has a strong Tamil Nadu connect.

She is the director of The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL), a global research centre, which is working with the Tamil Nadu government to reduce poverty by ensuring policies are backed by scientific evidence. This is the largest such arrangement with any provincial government in the world, said a senior State government official.

J-PAL had signed a formal MoU in November 2014. The mandate is to put in place the manner in which projects need to be approved and a protocol on how to publish the data. This is the model that J-PAL is now taking to other places, said Tamil Nadu Finance Secretary S Krishnan, who was Principal Secretary for Planning, Development and Special Initiatives when the MoU was signed.

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“We are particularly impressed by the commitment of Tamil Nadu government to challenge its officials and others to find creative solutions to reduce poverty. This continues the strong tradition of Tamil Nadu being at the forefront of finding innovative solutions to tough challenges in development,” Duflo had said while signing the MoU.

The Tamil Nadu government has committed ₹23 crore; matched by J-PAL co-funding (with similar figure) on projects, manpower, policy dialogues and capacity building, he told Business Line . J-PAL work includes 15 major studies, including a comprehensive research-policy dialogue to review pressing local problems; existing programmes and evidence from other studies to develop a number of possible solutions to rigorously test, and, if successful, scale up throughout the State.

Some of the studies that have been completed include research on sleeping patterns in Northern Chennai; the most effective way to ensure better learning outcomes in Anganwadi centres, and policy decisions to be taken for the elderly, he said. “We are also planning to align with J-PAL on data analytics,” Krishan added.

J-PAL will also help strengthen the internal evaluation department of the State government and build the capacity of other departments to collect data and make them accessible to officials in a form that encourages their use in policy-making in real time.