Doctor of Humane Letters

Esther Duflo is one of the world’s most innovative economists.As co-founder and co-director of the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), she conducts research to understand the economic lives of the poor, with the aim of helping to design and evaluate social policies. Through J-PAL, she has employed randomized experiments—a scientific method traditionally reserved for drug trials—to assess the costs and benefits of economic development interventions. She and her colleagues, often referred to as “the randomistas,” incorporate fieldwork, behavioral insights, and a micro perspective on macro issues.The randomista approach has been nothing short of revolutionary.

Through seemingly straightforward questions and assessments, Duflo’s work has had broad implications, often challenging the erroneous assumptions of Western aid organizations.The impact of her work is evident in small communities throughout India,where Duflo’s studies have prompted highly polluting industrial plants to cut their emissions; increased immunization rates sixfold; and verified that a quota system for female village leaders has changed perceptions of women’s abilities, improved women’s electoral chances, and raised aspirations and educational attainment for adolescent girls.

Among Duflo’s many academic honors and prizes are a MacArthur Fellowship and a John Bates Clark Medal. She has worked on issues related to health, education, financial inclusion, environment and governance. With Abhijit V. Banerjee, she wrote Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty, which has been translated into 17 languages. J-PAL has evolved into a network of more than 140 affiliated professors from over 40 universities, and now has regional offices on five continents.

Duflo holds degrees in history and economics from École Normale Supérieure, Paris, and a Ph.D. in economics from MIT. She is currently the Abdul Latif Jameel Professor of Poverty Alleviation and Development Economics at MIT.