Ending Poverty, One Study at a Time

Turley_TyFrom China to Sierra Leone, Ty Turley’s research on development economics has taken him around the world. Last winter he braved a different sort of environment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he joined MIT’s prestigious Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) as a visiting scholar.

At J-PAL some of the top development economists in the world are researching how to reduce poverty by ensuring public policy is effective and backed by research. Turley was accepted as a visiting scholar by one of the directors of the center and spent six months performing his own research on aspiration failure and aid policies in Ghana and Paraguay.

“It’s inspiring to be around so many great development economists,” Turley says. “I want to make my research as good as it can be, and it’s really great to hear the way the economists at J-PAL ground their research in theory.”

Turley’s research involves testing economic theories by running large-scale experiments in developing countries. His current project includes a field study with Paraguayan social enterprise Fundación Paraguaya on aspirations failure—the idea that low aspirations lead to lower performance. He will study whether simply setting higher goals will lead to economic improvement.

Other projects involve helping Ghanaian farmers use sustainable farming techniques and seeing whether people who know an aid group is coming to their village will make complimentary investments in preparation.

J-PAL was founded to conduct and share rigorous evaluations of public policy and development methods in order to find real solutions for combating poverty. Esther Duflo, one of the center’s founders, has performed research on aspirations failure, and Turley says he has enjoyed the opportunity to hear her feedback on his research.

“She’s been very supportive, and she’s given me great feedback on the design of the experiment,” Turley says. “It’s been invaluable to bounce ideas back and forth with her.”

Duflo is regarded as one of the best development economists in the world, and she has won numerous prizes for her scholarship. Turley, who is from Mesa, Arizona, says he feels grateful for the chance to be in an environment with leading development professionals.

“Ty’s invitation to J-PAL is momentous for him and for our department,” says Jeff Thompson, Romney Institute director. “J-PAL is a very prestigious program, and it is a testament to Ty’s promise as a scholar that he was invited.”

In addition to performing research, Turley attended lectures from visiting economists and students and was excited to bring back what he has learned to teach at the Romney Institute. Turley won’t finish his research for another couple years, but he returned to BYU this summer.

“The experience has been great,” he says. “I feel like my research has become better, and now I know how to better prepare students for working in the development field. It’s raised my aspirations too.”