Vijayendra Rao

Lead Economist, Development Economics

Vijayendra (Biju) Rao, a Lead Economist in the Development Research Group of the World Bank, works at the intersection of scholarship and practice. He integrates his training in economics with theories and methods from anthropology, sociology and political science to study the social, cultural, and political context of extreme poverty in developing countries.

His research, published in the American Economic Review, the American Political Science Review, the European Economic Review, the Journal of Development EconomicsWorld Development and other places has spanned a variety of subjects. In his early work he pioneered empirical research in Economics on dowriesdomestic violence and sex work. His 2004 edited book with Mike Walton, Culture and Public Actionwas an effort to instigate a conversation between anthropologists and economists to open up (then) new questions at the intersection of culture and development including the role of aspirations, inequality traps, and cultural heritage. He is a proponent of mixing qualitative and quantitative methods to make economics more reflexive, and to better understand and diagnose issues in development. His recent work has focused on participatory approaches to development, deliberative democracy, and voice and agency among the poor. He has been experimenting with the use of Natural Language Processing methods to understand epistemic discrimination in Indian village meetings, and to develop tools to analyze open-ended qualitative interviews at scale.  He and Ghazala Mansuri co-authored Localizing Development: Does Participation Work? which the Nobel Laureate Roger Myerson has described as “one of the most important books in development in recent years.” His most recent book, co-authored with Paromita Sanyal, is Oral Democracy: Deliberation in Indian Village Assemblies (Cambridge University Press).

Dr. Rao obtained a BA in Economics from St. Xavier’s College, Bombay University, a PhD in Economics from the University of Pennsylvania, was a Hewlett post-doctoral fellow at the Economics Research Center and an Associate of the Committee on Southern Asian Studies at the University of Chicago, and has been a Mellon Fellow at Population Studies Centers at the University of Michigan and Brown University. He was an Assistant Professor of Economics at Williams College before joining the World Bank’s research department in 1999. 

He is a Fellow of the International Economics Association, and the Chair of the Advisory Committee of the program on Boundaries, Membership and Belonging, at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research.

  • Featured Research

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    Localizing Development: Does Participation Work?

    November 2012
    Through an analysis of community development and decentralization projects, this Policy Research Report shows that such projects often fail to be sensitive to complex contexts – including social, political, historical and geographical realities – and fall short in terms of monitoring and evaluation systems, which hampers learning.
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