Esther Duflo

Princess of Asturias Award for Social Sciences 2015

Biography

Esther Duflo was born on 25th October 1972 in Paris. She studied History and Economics at the Ecole Normale Superieure in the French capital. A year after graduating in 1995, she obtained a Masters in Economics from DELTA, nowadays the Paris School of Economics. She completed her education obtaining a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1999. That same year she began to work as an assistant professor at MIT, where she is currently the Abdul Latif Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics.

Specializing in development economics, Esther Duflo has headed a new way of studying the causes of poverty for more than a decade at MIT, proposing solutions to eradicate it from the realm of microeconomics. She has been a pioneer worldwide in adapting and applying the randomized methods that scientific research uses to test drugs and vaccines –control and treatment groups– to the field of economic studies. For this purpose, in 2003 she co-founded the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at MIT together with her partner Abhijit Banerjee and Sendhil Maullainathan, an institution that she currently heads. J-PAL aims to provide scientific evidence for public policy and the actions of NGOs, foundations and international development organizations to reduce poverty effectively. It comprises a network of 117 affiliated professors around the world who lead the research and randomized evaluations, for which reason they are known as “randomists”. They also provide training for policy makers and managers of organizations involved in the fight against poverty, as well as for economists interested in this methodology. With regional offices in Africa, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, South Asia and North America, since its creation J-PAL has trained more than 4,000 people and has conducted 376 evaluations in 52 countries worldwide. Together with Abhijit Banerjee, Esther Duflo set out in the book Poor Economics. A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty (2011) their analysis of policies related to the fight against poverty, in addition to providing practical suggestions supported by numerous randomized studies carried out by the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab. This book, which has also been published in Spain, Germany and Italy, won the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award (2011). Besides her activities at MIT, Duflo, who is founding editor of the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, is also Director of the Development Program at the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) and research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), as well as serving on the board of the Bureau for Research and Economic Analysis of Development (BREAD). In 2013, Barack Obama appointed her a member of the President’s Global Development Council.

Awards

Holder of honorary degrees from Yale University, the Université Libre de Louvain and the London Business School, she is member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Included by Time in its list of the 100 most influential people of 2011, she has received the Le Monde Award for Best Young French Economist (2005), the Prix Luc Durand-Reville from the Academy of Moral and Political Sciences (France, 2008), the John Bates Clark Medal (USA, 2010), the Thomas C. Schelling Award (USA, 2011), the Dan David Award in Future Dimension-Preventive Medicine (Israel, 2013), the Erna Hamburger Prize (Switzerland, 2014), the John von Neumann Award from the Rajk László College for Advanced Studies (Hungary, 2014) and the Infosys Prize in Social Sciences and Economics (India, 2014). The Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT received the 2008 BBVA Foundation Frontiers of Knowledge for Development Cooperation Prize in 2008 and the Albert O. Hirschman Prize (USA) in 2014.

Minutes of the jury

At its meeting in Oviedo, the Jury for the 2015 Princess of Asturias Award for Social Sciences, composed of Victoria Camps Cervera, Marta Elvira Rojo, María Garaña Corces, Isabel Gómez-Acebo y Duque de Estrada, Mauro Guillén Rodríguez, Enrique Krauze, Óscar Loureda Lamas, Adolfo Menéndez Menéndez, Manuel Menéndez Menéndez, José Manuel Otero Novas, Joseph Pérez, Rafael Puyol Antolín, Isaac Querub Caro y Amelia Valcárcel Bernaldo de Quirós, chaired by Carmen Iglesias Cano, Countess of Gisbert, and with Juan Vázquez García acting as secretary, has decided to grant the 2015 Princess of Asturias Award for Social Sciences to French-American economist Esther Duflo for her innovative and decisive contributions to development economics and the study of policies to reduce poverty.

Duflo has applied novel experimental methods to evaluate the effectiveness of policies to reduce economic and social inequality, especially in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The results of her research have profoundly renewed the design of strategies in the fields of education, health, microfinance and employment. She is co-founder and co-director of MIT’s Poverty Action Lab, one of the largest global networks of researchers for the promotion of development.

Oviedo, 13th May 2015