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The unassuming development economist [Esther Duflo], recently named as one of the 100 most influential thinkers in the world, this week became the youngest woman ever to lecture at one of France’s most prestigious institutions when she addressed the Collège de France – a 500-year old open university on the Left Bank in Paris.

The lecture – which sparked a fervour rarely seen since the days of Jean-Paul Sartre – was packed, with one former prime minister failing to secure a seat.

… She is a world expert on understanding why despite throwing billions at development programmes in poor countries, many fail, and why others succeed. A pioneer in this field, which has only existed for ten years, she has devised a technique to test the effectiveness of anti-poverty programmes through “random testing”, much like pharmaceutical companies test drugs.

Rather than pontificate on abstract, lofty thoughts, her work is about homing in on precise details, such as raising pupil and teacher attendance in schools in poor countries by offering free meals…

Some details on her ideas and methods here.

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