Spotlight on Research: Tara Bedi

Posted: 17 October, 2019

Today is the UN International Day for the Eradication of Poverty. To mark the occasion, we have asked Dr Tara Bedi, a CAROLINE awardee at TCD, some questions about her research on anti-poverty interventions.

Tell us about the research you’re currently working on.

My current research studies the barriers to escaping poverty faced by the poorest households and particularly by women. In my main project, I focus on one of the most promising anti-poverty interventions, the Graduation Model, which invests in ultra-poor households through cash and asset transfers, mentoring, savings programmes, and livelihood training over an 18-month period, in order to help them move out of poverty. This is a really collaborative research project. I work with Concern Worldwide, who designed and are implementing the Model, and also with Professor Michael King from Trinity College Dublin and the Gender Impact Lab team at the World Bank. You can read more about the Graduation Model here.

Through a randomised control trial (RCT), we test the impact of varying the gender of the recipient and the provision of gender empowerment training on intrahousehold bargaining power, well-being, and household poverty indicators, including consumption, food expenditure, and healthcare and education investment.

What inspired you to pursue research in this area?

My current research is driven by two very different experiences. I grew up in rural India, where I saw the effects of poverty on people’s lives and the role of unequal opportunity in keeping them poor. This issue of inequality was especially pronounced for women. Yet, through my parents’ work of helping the rural poor in Andhra Pradesh access social and economic programmes, I saw hope. It was this hope that change was possible that inspired my research focus on fighting poverty, particularly for women.

The other is my own experience of vulnerability. Soon after having our daughter, my husband had a very tragic accident that left him in a minimally conscious state. The strong state support, including health care; our extensive family, friend and community networks; and the education I was privileged to obtain were essential in helping me slowly piece my life back together. This created a real desire in me to focus my research on vulnerability and resilience to life-changing events.

In your opinion, why is your research important?

I believe it will contribute to a more in-depth understanding of the barriers to escaping poverty faced by poor households, especially women. I hope my research will make critical contributions to the academic, policy, and practical spheres by developing a clearer understanding of the gender dynamics of cash and asset transfer programmes. Through these learnings, we can identify mechanisms and tools within anti-poverty programmes that can help poor households move out of poverty, while also strengthening their resilience to any future income shocks. This will help provide insights into how policymakers and practitioners can evolve the Graduation Model and other anti-poverty transfer programmes, so that they are more effective in reaching all income and gender groups.

How is your research relevant to the UN Day for the Eradication of Poverty?

While the global commitment to eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere by 2030 (SDG 1.1) is a much welcome step, the scale of the challenge remains daunting. We still have over 1.3 billion people living in extreme poverty.

To date, the Graduation Model represents the most promising intervention to tackle extreme poverty. Impact evaluations have found that the Graduation Model has led to a significant income effect that has persisted even four years after the intervention. There is a gap, though, in the literature on its impact on gender dynamics and women’s empowerment.

As women account for a large portion of the total poor, addressing gender barriers in tackling poverty is essential. Ester Duflo, who recently received the Nobel Prize for Economics for her work on RCTs studying poverty, argues that if we are concerned about gender equality and poverty, we have to create initiatives that directly look at how to ensure equal access to resources, decision making, and opportunity. I believe in order to tackle poverty, we have to tailor anti-poverty programmes to address gender-specific barriers to moving out of poverty. Through this research, we can make important contributions to helping achieve the UN 2030 vision on poverty and gender.

What are some of the greatest challenges facing researchers in your field? What are the greatest opportunities?

There is incredible work being done to tackle poverty by NGOs in Ireland like Concern Worldwide and Trocaire. For researchers like me, one of the greatest opportunities is to partner with organisations like Concern, who are innovating in the fight against poverty, and to study practical, scalable and effective methods to tackle poverty. Similarly, there is great scope to link with teams like the Gender Innovation Lab, who are focused on addressing gender barriers to overcoming poverty. Through such partnerships, there is significant scope to create research that is helping progress the fight against poverty.

One big challenge in my field is making these partnerships work, as there are few opportunities that bring such different actors together. Another challenge is to ensure that any relevant findings are put into practice and that they actually influence the design of policy.

How has the Irish Research Council supported you in your work?

Through creating opportunities such as the CAROLINE Fellowship, the IRC has provided important support to bring together researchers, practitioners, and policy makers to create innovative research that is operationally relevant. Through the support of the IRC, this research project is embedded in the work of Concern Worldwide but also linked to a larger work programme on gender being carried out by the World Bank. By bringing together this mix of partners, emerging findings from this research are well positioned to influence the policy design and the implementation of the Graduation Model.


The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of the Irish Research Council.

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