Expanding Banking Access to the Poor: New Gates Foundation Initiative Based at Wagner

Expanding Banking Access to the Poor: New Gates Foundation Initiative Based at Wagner

The importance of access to finance in building the wealth of low-income individuals in developing countries is clear, but there are many questions about how to improve that access most effectively. The anecdotal success stories about microfinance are well known; substantive research on how to increase and improve access is still lacking.

Now, a five-year Financial Access Initiative funded by a $5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will bring together top researchers from Harvard, NYU, Yale, and Innovations for Poverty Action to assess existing research on global financial access, generate new evidence through field work, and inform regulatory policy.

"As donors in this space, it is critical that we make decisions informed by sound research," said Bob Christen, Director of Financial Services for the Poor at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. "We hope that the Financial Access Initiative will yield data, analysis, and research that decision makers need to deliver financial services that markedly advance the well being of the poor."

One of the biggest hurdles to opening up financial sectors to those living in poverty is a lack of hard data and analysis about how poor households manage their finances and cope with risk: which financial products do the poor use and why, who has access to what, at what cost and where. The impact of regulation and government policy on the broad availability of finance is still badly understood. Most fundamentally, despite the anecdotes, rigorous evidence is lacking on the economic and social impacts of different interventions and policies.

Director and Principal Investigator Jonathan Morduch said: "The Financial Access Initiative will systematically address important knowledge gaps and contribute to a much stronger understanding of the issues hindering access to good financial services."

Under the direction of Morduch, a professor at New York University, the Initiative is based at NYU's Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and is co-directed by professors of economics Sendhil Mullainathan of Harvard and Dean Karlan of Yale. Christina Barrineau, who formerly headed the International Year of Microcredit for the United Nations, will lead the Initiative as Managing Director.

Field research will be coordinated by Innovations for Poverty Action, an organization based in New Haven, Connecticut, and headed by Dean Karlan. The research will build on studies with existing microfinance partners in a dozen countries including Mexico, Peru, India, Pakistan, Ghana, and the Philippines. The Initiative is also developing new collaborative relationships to broaden the potential of the research and dissemination of findings.

To reach Christina Barrineau, call 212.998.7536 or send email to

Faculty Honored for Research on the Racial Test Score Gap

Faculty Honored for Research on the Racial Test Score Gap

Leanna Stiefel receiving the fist annual L. Douglas Wilder Award for Scholarship in Social Equity and Public Policy

NYU Wagner Professors Leanna Stiefel, Amy Ellen Schwartz, and Ingrid Gould Ellen have won the first annual L. Douglas Wilder Award for Scholarship in Social Equity and Public Policy. The award was given for their recent article in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management entitled "Disentangling the Racial Test Score Gap: Proving the Evidence in a Large Urban School District."

The Standing Panel on Social Equity of the Washington, D.C.-based National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA), a 40-year-old organization, honored the professors at the Social Equity Leadership Conference on February 7, 2008, held at Arizona State University. The judges termed the work an example of exemplary scholarship and a substantial contribution to social equity, selecting it from a field of 15 finalists.

In the study, the professors measure the size and distribution of the racial and ethnic gaps in performance in New York City's elementary and middle schools. The data allow them to explore the role of many factors at the school and classroom level in shaping racial disparities. They are able to explain variations within and between schools, using a complete census of students. They also complement their analyses of the black/white test score gaps - standard in the research literature - with a wider focus that also compares whites with Hispanics and Asians.

Professors Stiefel, Schwartz and Ellen teach at NYU Wagner, while Professor Schwartz - who also teaches at NYU Steinhardt - directs NYU's Institute for Education and Social Policy, a partnership of Wagner and Steinhardt.


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