Mind, Behavior, and Development

eMBeD: Using the Behavioral Sciences to Fight Global Poverty and Reduce Inequality

Policymakers are increasingly turning to the behavioral sciences to tackle intractable policy challenges, including increasing student learning, raising savings rates, promoting energy and resource conservation, increasing productivity, improving sanitation practices, strengthening institutions, and reducing corruption.

Behaviorally informed policy emphasizes the importance of context for decision making and behavior. It examines a wide set of influences, paying attention to the social, psychological, and economic factors that affect what people think and do. It addresses details in bureaucracies, technologies, and service delivery that are often overlooked in standard policy design but that dramatically influence the effectiveness of development programs and projects, especially in low-income contexts. Behaviorally informed policy can provide creative solutions to difficult challenges, often at low cost. Finally, it helps policy makers themselves avoid some of the decision traps and biases that affect all individuals.

The Mind, Behavior, and Development Unit (eMBeD), the World Bank’s behavioral sciences team, works closely with project teams, governments, and other partners to diagnose, design, and evaluate behaviorally informed interventions. By collaborating with a worldwide network of scientists and practitioners, the eMBeD team provides answers to important economic and social questions, and contributes to the global effort to eliminate poverty and increase equity.

Download our brochure (in EnglishSpanish, French, Portuguese, or Arabic) to learn more.

eMBeD’s current portfolio spans 65 countries and a wide variety of thematic areas. All of our results briefs are available here. This page outlines some of our recent and ongoing projects from the areas of Learning and Beliefs, Health and WellbeingFinancial Inclusion and Taxation, Gender and Equality, Youth Unemployment and Labor, Effective Organizations, and Mindstats and Measurement.


Learning and Beliefs

Reframing mindsets and changing lives. In Peru, together with the Ministry of Education, we reframed the beliefs of middle-school students by showing them that intelligence is malleable. The intervention led to a 0.14 standard deviation increase in math test scores, equivalent to four months of schooling, at a cost of less than $0.20 per student. eMBeD reached 50,000 students in an initial phase, and an additional 250,000 subsequently. Replicated interventions in South Africa and Indonesia have had similarly promising results.

Reducing teacher and administrator absenteeism. Although Peru exhibits overall low levels of teacher absenteeism, attendance rates are inferior in the poorest and remotest areas. The project consists of sending teachers weekly text or email messages on the importance of attending school using pro-social and social norms framing approaches. The results show a significant impact of the social norm message on directors, whose absenteeism was reduced by 3.7 percentage points on average, for an intervention which cost close to zero.


Health and Wellbeing

Changing social norms and mental models to increase toilet use. Despite efforts to improve access to better sanitation, India accounts for nearly 60% of the world's population that still defecates in the open. Beyond economic reasons, social norms, cultural beliefs, or mental models can and do constrain toilet use. This project identifies these normative and cultural barriers to toilet use, particularly among toilet owners, and design low-cost, community level behavioral interventions to address them.

Increasing uptake of long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) by adolescent girls. Despite the high adolescent fertility rate in Cameroon, use of contraceptives, particularly LARCs, remain very low. This project aims to understand the interactions among social, psychological, behavioral, and neurodevelopmental processes that influence young women’s utilization of LARCs, and inform the design of both demand and supply side interventions, including counseling apps for adolescents, and training for health workers.

Overcoming structural barriers to improve outcomes for women and babies. In Haiti, low rates of prenatal and postnatal care, and institutional births, are all contributing factors to high maternal and neo-natal mortality rates. In an effort to provide actionable ideas to reduce mortality rates, this study sought to identify structural and behavioral barriers preventing women from attending prenatal care visits, and from delivering at a health institution. 


Financial Inclusion and Taxation

Partnering for better financial inclusion. In Tanzania, we partnered with the wireless service provider Airtel on a project to encourage low-income individuals to save more using mobile money products. Based on the results of an initial diagnostic phase, we designed behaviorally informed text messages that highlighted social comparisons, mental accounting, and more. The most successful intervention increased savings by up to 11% within two weeks.

Increasing tax compliance in context. Behavioral science has long informed tax policy by employing social norms. Telling people that others have paid has been found to increase tax compliance in several countries. But in Poland, a World Bank trial found that using punitive language increased tax compliance more than peer comparisons – “hard tones” increased tax compliance by 20.8%. If the best- performing communication had been sent to all taxpayers covered by the trial, the Polish Tax Authority would have generated 56% more in revenues.

Using text reminders, framing and social norms to increase income tax compliance. Reminders are a cost-effective strategy to increase tax reporting and payment. Letters from the tax authority were sent to taxpayers (individuals and firms) who had failed to pay in Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras. The interventions increased the rate of payment as well as the average amount paid, more than tripling the tax receipts. After 12 months, the effects of the intervention persisted, sustaining the increased rate of payment. 


Gender and Equality

Creating connections and empowering local women. In Nicaragua, the impacts on education and health investments of a productive cash transfer persisted two years after the program ended among beneficiaries who interacted with local female leaders. These households were 20 percentage points more likely to aspire to see their children in a professional career, showcasing how interactions with role models can be a powerful and cost-effective way to affect changes in attitudes towards the future.

Changing social norms to address sex preference at birth. Recent evidence from Georgia shows that parents’ preference for sons is distorting sex ratio at birth, which exacerbates gender inequality across generations. The study tests the effectiveness of an information campaign in altering and influencing parental perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, preferences, and behaviors toward their daughters. The campaign will be delivered through mass media and key service providers by appealing to the role of influential models.

Targeting women to diversity forest landscape productivity. In Mexico, although women's knowledge, skills, and experience are key to strengthening activities that reduce forest loss and degradation, they currently constitute only around 25% of forest program beneficiaries; their actual active participation is even lower. This project involved a qualitative analysis in rural areas of Mexico in 2018 to understand better women’s underlying socio-cultural barriers, as well as map their decision-making process, motivations, influencing agents, and other factors that can affect their decisions to participate in programs. 


Youth Unemployment and Labor

Encouraging female labor force participation among refugees and Jordanian nationals. Jordan has made significant progress in educational attainment, particularly among women. However, female labor market participation is low and has recently dropped to 13 percent. The project systematically measures social norms and cultural beliefs to better identify barriers to increased participation, and will subsequently inform interventions that aim to change these.

Supporting youth work aspirations. Despite Ethiopia’s strong economic growth in recent years, youth unemployment remains very high in urban areas, particularly in larger cities. Diagnostic work has identified a gap between youths’ expressed aspirations and daily economic behaviors. To tackle this, the intervention aims to support the unemployed youths’ psychological agency by tailoring training sessions that address the psychological and informational constraints faced by the young people that attend the center. 


Effective Organizations

Improving accurate recordkeeping and informing intelligent healthcare funding. In Nigeria, inaccurate and incomplete healthcare recordkeeping limits policy makers’ ability to direct funds where they are needed. In a pilot intervention in Ekiti state, eMBeD found that incentivizing accurate administrative work through social recognition programs and ceremonies increased recordkeeping accuracy by 13%.

Increasing charitable donations among World Bank staff. eMBeD ran a study on World Bank employees during their giving campaign, the Community Connections Campaign (CCC). Altogether, the interventions run by eMBeD, including reciprocity, timely messaging, short and clear language, and encouraging early commitment, the average donation rose by more than 30% relative to the previous year, and raised an estimated $29 for every $1 spent on the interventions.


Mindstats and Measurement

Measuring teacher biases toward poor students. In an experiment involving 600 public school teachers in Lima, Peru, the World Bank tested whether teachers who were asked to evaluate the scholastic aptitude, behavior, and education potential of a student were unconsciously biased towards him when prompted by socio-economic markers. We found that teachers use a student’s socio-economic background to assess his scholastic aptitude.  

Measuring welfare in conflict-affected regions. The Nigerian National Bureau of Statistics, in collaboration with the World Bank, collected a nationally representative sample via a new round of the General Household Survey Panel conducted in 2015-2016. Our findings suggest that chronic depression is likely to have both short- and long-term effects on welfare in Nigeria, and also seems to affect intra and inter-generational channels of upward mobility.


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The Mind, Behavior, and Development Unit works closely with a number of World Bank teams on project publications and deliverables. Below are some of the projects in which we’ve been involved.

Our Team
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    Zeina Afif

    Senior Social Scientist
    Zeina Afif is a Senior Social Scientist with the World Bank’s Mind, Behavior & Development Unit (eMBeD), within the Poverty and Equity Global Practice at the World Bank. Zeina is currently working on applying behavioral insights to improve women’s access to finance and jobs, reduce youth unemployment, reduce gender based violence, promote social cohesion, and improve access to public services and programs in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as Latin America & Caribbean region. Prior to joining the team, Zeina provided operational communication and behavioral insights support to World Bank projects and has worked in countries such as Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, and Yemen in the areas of taxes, social protection, social accountability, and citizen engagement. Zeina holds a MBA from George Washington University, and a M.Sc. in Behavioral Science from London School of Economics.
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    Jorge Luis Castaneda

    Jorge Luis Castaneda is an Economist with the Mind, Behavior & Development Unit (eMBeD), at the World Bank’s Poverty and Equity Global Practice. His work integrates behavioral science to the design of anti-poverty policies in a wide range of policy issues, such as education, employment, financial inclusion, health, and social cohesion. Through his career, he has acquired expertise in the fields of applied microeconomics, experimental economics, impact evaluation, and psychometrics, and has an extensive experience in econometric analysis and qualitative research. He previously served as a Research Fellow with the Social Sector at the Inter-American Development Bank. He holds a B.A. and a M.Sc. in Economics from the Universidad de Los Andes, Colombia.
  • Mohamad Chatila

    Behavioral Scientist
    Mohamad Chatila has six years of experience in designing and analyzing quantitative and qualitative research tools. He previously served as a Research Analyst with ARK Group, the role involved the design and analysis of several research instruments that measured social cohesion and other constructs that contribute to conflict in the Arab region. Also served as a Research Analyst with several UN agencies operating out of Lebanon including UN-ESCWA, the ILO, and IOM. Primary areas of focus include: assessing the impact of the influx of Syrian refugees on host states, conducting desk reviews on various topics such as the perception of safety and security in the Arab Region (based on the Arab Barometer Report), and authoring several background and working papers. He served as the Danish Refugee Council’s Protection Analyst in Lebanon; this role required the production of monthly Protection Monitoring reports as well as designing surveys, Focus Group Discussions, and semi-Structured Interviews. He served as an economist (consultant) for the West Asia North Africa Institute, a regional policy think tank based in Amman, Jordan. Responsible for the production of a 30-page report on “Integrating Syrian Refugee Labour into the Lebanese Labour Market”, as well as a statistical model that predicts the point of refugee protraction.
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    Abigail Dalton

    Operations Officer
    Abigail Dalton is the Operations Officer for the World Bank’s Mind, Behavior, and Development Unit (eMBeD) within the Poverty and Equity Global Practice, where she manages team operations, fundraising, communications, and strategy. Previously, she was the Assistant Director of the Behavioral Insights Group (BIG) at the Harvard Kennedy School, a university-wide initiative engaging faculty, students, and international organizations applying behavioral science for the public good. She holds a B.A. from Wellesley College, and an Ed.M. in Higher Education from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
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    Samantha De Martino

    Samantha De Martino is an Economist for the World Bank’s Mind, Behavior, and Development Unit (eMBeD), housed within the Poverty and Equity Global Practice. She leads work in Mindsets and Measurement; specifically, by developing and testing new measures for understanding behavior as well as developing innovative public goods tools which leverage disruptive technology using insights from neuroscience, psychology, applied microeconomics, and public policy for the advancement of behavioral policy implementation. In addition, Samantha’s leads teams to create evidence on “what works” in behavioral policy design and implementation, especially in the thematic areas of youth employment and labor, education, and climate change with a focus in the Africa region. She has extensive qualitative and quantitative experience using psychometrics and econometrics, as well as providing technical assistance to client countries, in impact evaluation design, implementation, and measurement of interventions for policy issues including climate change, energy and environment, land reform, health, education, anti-poverty, youth unemployment and social protection in Africa, Latin America, East Asia, Eastern Europe and Central Asia with the World Bank, Institute of Development Studies, Innovations for Poverty Action, and the City of Cape Town. She holds a master's degree from Johns Hopkins University and PhD in Economics from the University of Sussex.
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    Gabriela Farfan

    Gabriela Farfan is an Economist with the Poverty and Equity Global Practice. Her current work primarily involves methodological research on survey design and data collection, with a particular emphasis on poverty measurement and the integration of behavioral insights into traditional welfare measurement. She has also worked in the areas of poverty, health and nutrition, education, economics of the family, and migration. During her graduate studies she collaborated with the design and implementation of the Third Wave of the Mexican Family Life Survey (MxFLS), particularly the US component of the survey which followed and interviewed Mexican migrants living in the United States. She holds a Ph.D. in Economics from Duke University.
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    Tala Ismail

    Behavioral Scientist
    Tala Ismail is a Behavioral Scientist with the World Bank’s Mind, Behavior & Development Unit (eMBeD), within the Poverty and Equity Global Practice. Tala supports the diagnosis, design and evaluation of behavioral interventions related to social norms, social cohesion, labor force participation, and gender in the MENA region. Prior to joining the World Bank, she worked with the Applied Economics and Development Research Group at the American University of Beirut (AUB), where she managed multiple projects on EU economic sector policies for the Mediterranean, a UNHCR-WFP poverty targeting model for Syrian Refugees and an AUB-UNRWA national household survey for Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. During her time in Liberia, she worked with Innovations for Poverty Action on various impact evaluations and worked at eHealth Africa with the Ministry of Health on epidemiological surveillance post Ebola crisis. Tala holds a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from AUB and a Master of Science in Economics and Strategy for Business from Imperial College London.
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    Jonathan George Karver

    Research Analyst
    Jonathan is a Research Analyst in the Poverty & Equity Global Practice for Europe & Central Asia. In addition to his support of eMBeD initiatives in the region, he contributes to analytical work on poverty and inequality in the European Union. He has provided leadership and supporting roles for various impact evaluations and other analytical work related to education, household finance, fiscal policy, water and sanitation, and sexual and reproductive health, among others. Prior to joining the Bank, Jonathan collaborated with the Inter-American Development Bank, the Mexican Ministry of Education, and the Center for Global Development. He holds a Masters in Economics from the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM).
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    Sayan Kundu

    Behavioral Scientist
    Sayan Kundu works with the World Bank’s Mind, Behavior & Development Unit (eMBeD), within the Poverty and Equity Global Practice. In his current role he supports the diagnostic, design, and evaluation of behavioural science interventions targeting infant and mothers’ nutrition in India and Bangladesh. He has also worked with various World Bank projects in the past involving sugarcane farming in Uganda and youth-centred community development in Jamaica. He has previously worked as an M&E professional in various countries in North America, Africa, and South-Asia spanning fields like labor markets, gender and violence, financial inclusion, and public health with organizations like J-PAL, IPA, and IFMR. His primary research interests are in post-conflict governance and peace building with strong focus on gender, governance, and public health. Sayan is trained as an economist and public policy professional.
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    Jimena Llopis

    Behavioral Scientist
    Jimena Llopis is a Behavioral Scientist at World Bank’s Mind, Behavior & Development Unit (eMBeD), within the Poverty and Equity Global Practice at the World Bank. Her current work focuses on designing and testing behavioral interventions in maternal health, consumer behavior, disaster risk management, and social inclusion. Prior to joining the eMBeD team, Jimena worked at the research department of the Inter-American Development Bank where her work focused on developing growth strategies for Latin American countries. Prior to that, she worked at the Central Bank of Spain on economic and policy research. Jimena received her Bachelor in Economics from Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and her MPA from New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.
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    Joana S. Lourenço

    Behavioral Scientist
    Joana S. Lourenço is a Behavioral Scientist with the World Bank’s Mind, Behavior & Development Unit (eMBeD), within the Poverty and Equity Global Practice at the World Bank. Her work includes designing and evaluating behavioral interventions across various areas, such renewable energy, environment, health, and decision-making of policy professionals. Previously, she worked at the European Commission’s Competence Centre on Behavioural Insights, focusing mainly on taxation, financial services and consumer protection. Joana holds a MSc in Experimental Psychology (Minho University, PT) and a PhD in Cognitive Psychology (Warwick University, UK), including a visiting scholarship at Washington University in St. Louis (US).
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    Ellen Moscoe

    Behavioral Scientist
    Ellen Moscoe is a behavioral economist whose work applies insights from psychology and economics to change health behaviors. Her recent work has explored financial incentives aimed at reducing risky sexual behavior, the role of information in decision-making among women engaged in transactional sex, and the effectiveness of habit training sessions on savings behavior. She also uses quasi-experimental methods to evaluate the causal effects of policies and interventions on population health, with a focus on mental health outcomes. Ellen recently completed her postdoctoral training at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Health Incentives and Behavioral Economics. She holds a doctorate from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, a M.A. in Economics from McGill University and a B.Sc. in Economics from the Université du Québec à Montréal. In her spare time, she can be found backpacking with toddlers and baking excessively large cakes.
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    Ana Maria Muñoz Boudet

    Senior Social Scientist
    Ana Maria Munoz Boudet is a senior social scientist in the World Bank’s Poverty and Equity Global Practice with the Mind, Behavior, and Development Unit (eMBeD). Her work focuses on gender, poverty and inequality issues. She has worked in Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe and Central Asia, Africa, and South Asia. As part of eMBeD Ana Maria’s work has focused on socio-emotional skills development to close gaps in education and labor markets, and in changing behaviors associated with negative human capital outcomes. She has lead analytical research at the country and regional level, impact evaluations of policies and programs, as well as technical assistance to client countries. Ana Maria is also part of the South Asia Gender Innovation Lab (SARGIL). She is a co-author of the World Development Report 2012 on Gender Equality and Development. A sociologist by training, she holds a master’s degree from the London School of Economics and doctorate studies from the University College of London.
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    Nour Nasr

    Behavioral Scientist
    Nour Nasr is a behavioral scientist with World Bank’s Mind, Behavior & Development Unit (eMBeD), within the Poverty and Equity Global Practice, based in Beirut, Lebanon. Before joining the Bank, she served as Associate Director and Head of Research at the Arab Foundation for Freedoms and Equality, working on knowledge production and movement building around gender, sexuality, and bodily rights in the Middle East and North Africa. She has taught Psychology, Organizational Psychology, and Gender at the American University of Beirut and the Lebanese American University until 2017. For more than 10 years, her work has focused on gender and its intersectionality with migration, economic empowerment, and minority rights in the Middle East. Nasr holds an MSc. in Organizational and Social Psychology from the London School of Economics and an MRes. in Management and Innovation from SKEMA Business School.
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    Daniel Alejandro Pinzón Hernández

    Behavioral Scientist
    Daniel Alejandro Pinzón Hernández is a behavioral scientist for the World Bank’s Mind, Behavior, and Development Unit (eMBeD) and formerly a researcher at Universidad de Los Andes, Colombia. His work involves methodological design of skills for policy and research in developing countries. His primary areas of research are education, psychometrics, survey design and early childhood development. He holds a M.Sc. in Economics from Universidad de Los Andes, Colombia.
  • Gonzalo Pons

    Behavioral Scientist
    Gonzalo Pons is a Behavioral Scientist at the Mind, Behavior, and Development Unit (eMBeD) within the World Bank’s Poverty and Equity Global Practice. He is currently working in impact evaluations and projects that leverage behavioral and psychological sciences in a variety of policy areas, such as education, health, conditional cash transfers, management of natural resources, among others. Previously, he worked on impact evaluations in education with the Harvard Kennedy School - Student Social Support Lab, Innovations for Poverty Action, and the Ministry of Education of Perú. Gonzalo holds a Masters in Public Policy (MPP) from the University of Chicago - Harris School.
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    Tasmia Rahman

    Behavioral Scientist
    Tasmia Rahman is a Behavioral Scientist at the World Bank’s Mind, Behavior & Development Unit (eMBeD), within the Poverty and Equity Global Practice. Her work includes designing and evaluating behavioral interventions across various policy areas, such as labor and entrepreneurship, social protection, financial inclusion, social norms, and health and nutrition. Prior to joining the Bank, she worked on impact evaluation and implementation of labor market, tax compliance, and digital finance projects in East and West Africa and South Asia with the Georgetown University Initiative on Innovation, Development and Evaluation (Gui2de) and BRAC. She holds a Masters in International Development Policy from Georgetown University.
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    Renos Vakis

    (Head) Lead Economist
    Renos Vakis is a Lead Economist with the Poverty and Equity Global Practice where he heads the Mind, Behavior, and Development Unit (eMBeD). The unit integrates behavioral science in the design of anti-poverty policies in a wide range of issues such as financial inclusion, early childhood development, social protection, health and education. As a member of the Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS) team in the Development Data Group of the World Bank, he also conducts experiments to improve household survey measures of behavioral dimensions of well-being. He has written extensively on issues related to poverty dynamics and mobility, risk management, social protection, market failures and rural development, especially in Latin America and South Asia and has led the design of impact evaluation of anti-poverty interventions in various settings. Most recently, he has completed a book on Chronic Poverty in Latin America and the Caribbean. Renos has also taught economics at Johns Hopkins University (SAIS). He holds a Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.



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Learn more about our different projects, including project design, results, and policy implications.