Challenging How We Think: Esther Duflo

Every two years, CEP hosts a conference for CEOs and senior leaders at larger foundations (roughly $5 million in giving or more). We always feature findings from CEP’s newest research and some of the leading thinkers within philanthropy, but we also try to draw thinkers from outside the world of organized philanthropy, whose work will challenge us to think differently about decision-making in pursuit of impact.

One such thinker is Esther Duflo, PhD, the French economist who is the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-founder of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab.

Duflo’s work is groundbreaking for subjecting, as The New Yorker put it in a recent profile, “social policy ideas to randomized control trials, as one would a drug.” She has a faith in the ability to sort out – from data – what works, and what does not. Many know of her talk at TED earlier this year on her social experiments to fight poverty. Duflo is committed to analyzing the data, and she doesn’t shy away from controversy—such as when her research and analyses raised questions that upset some in the world of microfinance.

“There is a lot of noise in the world,” Duflo told The New Yorker. “And there is a lot of idiosyncrasy. But there are also regularities and phenomena. And what the data is going to be able to do – if there’s enough of it—is uncover, in the mess and the noise of the world, some lines of music that actually have harmony. It’s there, somewhere.”

At CEP, we share Duflo’s belief in the power of good data, properly analyzed, to lead to better decisions. We very much look forward to hearing what Esther has to say to the foundation leaders in our audience in May 2011.

Registration is not yet open for our conference, but it will be on September 29.  Check our conference page for regular updates. The conference will be held May 10-11, 2011 in Boston, MA.

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