Innovations for Poverty Action Bangladesh

Innovations for Poverty Action Bangladesh: Weaving Solutions in the Garment District

Dhaka, BangladeshDhaka and rural Bangladesh , Bangladesh
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$500,000 - $1 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Clothes sell. In fact, garments accounted for more than 14% of Bangladesh’s GDP in the 2013-2014 fiscal year. As this industry skyrockets, we are using Randomized Controlled Trials (RCTs) to discover solutions that simultaneously increase the welfare of sector workers and the businesses themselves.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if we could strengthen Bangladesh's growing Ready-Made Garments sector and improve the lives of its most vulnerable workers at the same time?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Bangladesh's Ready-Made Garments sector has driven per capita growth rates of almost 7% annually since 2000. The growth of the sector is responsible for the large-scale entry of workers--especially female workers--into the country's formal wage sector. But with growth comes growing pains: a lack of employee services, including childcare and access to banking; increased chronic stress; and gender discrimination in the work place, to name a few.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

We find solutions to the problems facing workers in Bangladesh’s Ready-Made Garment sector. We devise solutions—ranging from gender-equity training, to introducing electronic payments into factory payrolls—and then evaluate these solutions using RCTs. RCTs, considered the gold standard of impact evaluation design, allow us to isolate the effects of our solutions from other factors. This isolating effect helps us accurately predict the positive impact of implementing a particular program. Lastly, we take our findings to policy makers, working with them side-by-side to codify real change in the sector.


Economic and Social Research Council grant; International Growth Center grant
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

The Ready-Made Garment sector's growing pains means there is little employment of women in supervisory or managerial roles. Sadly, women comprise 80% of all operators in the sector, but only 10% of line supervisors. In 2014, we implemented a randomized operator-to-supervisor training program for women in 98 participating factories in Dhaka. As a result of the training program, participating factories promoted far more female supervisors! Now, we are working with local firms to turn this research into wide-spread policy action. This story is but one of what we hope will be many.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

We currently have 7 on-going projects in the Bangladeshi Ready-Made Garment sector. In addition to the above example (regarding female employment in supervisory or managerial roles), we are conducting studies aimed at increasing sustainable credit options and access to banking for sector employees; providing early childhood care for employees' children; increasing worker savings behavior; reducing work-related stress; and changing perceptions of women in the workplace. Once we've determined the effectiveness of these studies, we will work with firms, local NGOs, and hopefully the Bangladeshi government to understand how our findings can improve policy. The policy developed from these studies--and many more to come!--will help grow the industry while improving the lives of its workers.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

By embarking upon these groundbreaking studies, we have made major inroads in understanding how to improve the lives of garment workers and their families. In the coming years, our research will allow firms to apply the lessons learned and encourage the sector as a whole to adopt evidence-based standards. Additionally, we are working to ensure that our work in Bangladesh can be replicated in other similar sectors around the globe. In the next five years we plan to replicate these policy lessons in Myanmar, a country which, like Bangladesh, is seeing unfettered growth in the garment sector.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Each of our studies has a separate budget. Funding typically comes from an organization’s evaluation budget or from donors who are interested in learning the impact of their dollars invested. We also work with our global partners—including the Gates Foundation, the NSF, and The World Bank--to identify potential funding sources and submit proposals. As we grow our work, we will look to both old partners and new opportunities for support.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

We occupy a unique space in evaluating interventions that address problems in Bangladesh's Ready-Made Garment sector. To the best of our knowledge, we are the only organization conducting RCTs in the sector. RCTs, considered the gold standard of impact evaluation design, allow us to isolate the effects of our programs from other factors. This rigorous methodology requires extensive collaboration between economists, local partners, and local staff. Thanks to our in-country experience, we have the resources necessary to implement effective RCTs and influence policy change in the long run.

Founding Story

Innovations for Poverty Action was founded on the lessons learned during Dean Karlan's travels throughout Latin America before grad school. While traveling, he built an accounting software system from scratch for microcredit company. Ultimately, the system--and his hard work!-- was discarded because of implementation difficulties. After Karlan began his PhD in Economics at MIT, he decided to start a nonprofit that would bridge the gap between academia and development policy and, most importantly, ask the tough question: “Are interventions (like the accounting software) actually solving poverty issues?” In 2010, we opened an office in Bangladesh, eager to influence change in the country.


Our office is led by Mohammad Ashraful Haque, who was previously a professor of economics at Jahangirnagar University in Bangladesh. We have highly passionate research associates with degrees from prestigious universities from around the world who manage surveyors conducting data collection activities. Our hard-working team has allowed us to produce high-quality work, and we are confident that this reliable and experienced staff will continue to produce high-quality, high-impact work in the future. Our work is guided by some of the best and brightest economic minds in the world, including Mushfiq Mobarak (Yale), Leora Klapper (World Bank), Emily Breza (Columbia), Costas Meghir (Yale), Rachel Glennerster (J-PAL), Monica Singhal (Harvard), and Christopher Woodruff (Warwick).
Value Chain: Where does your work fit into the apparel value chain? [check all that apply]


Your Role: What is your relationship to the apparel industry? [check all that apply]

Non-profit Staff, Researcher, Other [please specify].

Target Population: What stakeholder groups do you engage or empower in your work? [check all that apply]

Children, Factory Workers, Factory Owners, Policymakers, Researchers, Women, Youth.

● Intervention Focus: What are you trying to achieve / influence? [check all that apply]

Access to Essential Services (i.e. Healthcare and Education), Access to Finance, Access to Social Protection Services (i.e. Insurance, Pension, etc.), Conscious Consumerism, Labor Rights (i.e. Collective Bargaining, etc.), Gender Equality.

Lever for Change: Select up to 3 ways your work is helping to transform the industry.

Data, Policy, Standards.

Is your project targeted at solving any of the following key barriers?

Hidden from View: Conditions in Forests, Farms, and Factories are Only Visible to a Select Few, A Job is Not Enough: Low-Income Workers Cannot Secure Long-Term Well-Being.

Does your project utilize any of the innovative design principles below?

Unite More than Voice: Tap into Community Capital and Collective Resources, Activate Local Know-how for Driving Solutions: Build Opportunities for Workers to Become Leaders.

Innovation Inspiration: When you first conceived of your project, did you think of it as applicable to the apparel industry?


If you answered "no" to the previous question, which industry was your project originally aimed at transforming?

● Replicating in the Apparel Industry: If your project didn't initially target the apparel industry, how are you specifically tailoring it to do so now?
Are you nurturing or inspiring others to be changemakers? If so, how?

Everyday we work with community leaders, entrepreneurs, and advocates. As we educate each other, we thus nurture change.

● Tell us about the partnerships that enhance your approach. How have you collaborated with others in the industry to increase your impact?

Government agents, firm directors, women workers, village leaders. Our work succeeds because of all these partners.