Member Spotlight: Tara Bedi
Development economist and FinEquity member, Tara Bedi, sat down with us to share her motivation in designing large-scale project evaluations for programs that have the potential to significantly transform the lives of poor women.
FinEquity: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Bedi: My name is Tara Bedi, and I am a development economist with a focus on gender and social protection. I am about to start as an Assistant Professor teaching on the Masters in Development Practice in the School of Geography at Trinity College Dublin. I am quite excited because I'll be teaching future practitioners working on financial inclusion and empowerment, exploring how women can move out of poverty and examining the impact of antipoverty programs on them.
I grew up in rural India, where my parents ran an NGO dedicated to ensuring people could access their rights. During my childhood, self-help groups gained momentum in rural India, and so did financial inclusion. In my undergraduate studies, I conducted my dissertation on microcredit, collecting data to understand how microcredit in the Indian rural context affected women's empowerment.
FinEquity: Please tell us a bit more about your work and how it aligns with women's financial inclusion and women’s economic empowerment?
Bedi: Currently, I am working on projects in Ethiopia, India, Malawi, Mauritania, and Zambia. I am involved in designing large-scale project evaluations for programs that have the potential to significantly transform the lives of poor women. At a fundamental level, the questions I'm interested in are: How do anti-poverty programs affect women, how can we adapt these programs to better meet the needs of women and what impact do they have on their abilities?
FinEquity: Are there any current projects you’re working on that you’re finding particularly exciting/engaging?
Bedi: In a Graduation economic inclusion program in Malawi, our partner Concern Worldwide combined gender targeting with couple’s empowerment training to uncover how the integration of economic inclusion and gender-transformative approaches can bolster women's empowerment within households and overall household economic outcomes. We conduct follow-up evaluations five months post-intervention, approximately 12 months after households receive a capital transfer to start a business, and around 10 months after they cease receiving any form of consumption support. We continue to follow these households at the 17-month post-intervention mark.
Our findings indicate that all households who received the Graduation program, irrespective of whether the anti-poverty program targets men or women or if the household participates in the empowerment training, outperform those that do not receive the program, displaying higher consumption, increased assets, and greater livestock value. Though we do find that male targeting reinforces male livestock ownership, while female targeting strengthens her relative economic position in the household. This suggests that policy makers must be deliberate about who they target. We also find that adding a couple’s empowerment training to female targeted households benefits both spouses.
I find this type of research particularly motivating. Engaging couples in an economic inclusion program involves joint participation, where couples work together to establish a common vision and refine their budgeting strategies. Our results show that the empowerment training boosts household income, livestock ownership, women’s economic agency, and male mental wellbeing, compared to households where the female is targeted but the couple does not participate in the empowerment training. Although we may not observe an immediate translation into decision-making, the woman becomes more capable of participating in economic activities, and the income from these activities is more likely to be directed towards her.
From a financial inclusion point of view, we observe a noticeable increase in the likelihood of saving by all households who participate in the Graduation program. The financial inclusion aspect is particularly crucial in the context of our study in rural Malawi, where options, especially formal ones like banks or microfinance institutions, are scarce. In this setting, Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) become the only option. How can we better support households once they decide to save using VSLAs?
Building on our results in Malawi, with the Gender Innovation Lab Africa at the World Bank, we are studying the impact of a cash transfer program combined with couples empowerment training that is implemented by the government in Mauritania, where we have an increased focus on the role of community interventions. This raises questions about social norms, especially those related to empowerment, work restrictions, and chore-sharing within households. One area that we are also interested in exploring is combining gender sensitization and empowerment training with a digital financial inclusion component.
FinEquity: What keeps you going?
Bedi: What keeps me going is the realization that women confront incredibly challenging shocks, particularly when compounded by the effects of climate change. Having experienced a significant shock myself, I recognize that education, social networks, and employment played pivotal roles in my recovery. Contemplating the numerous women who lack these essential components motivates me to continue our work. I believe we must invest more effort in providing women facing such shocks with the necessary tools to be resilient and overcome adversity.
My primary focus moving forward is to explore ways to build upon our current work and discover economic interventions with financial inclusion components that can enhance women's resilience in the face of escalating climate change impacts.
For example, one of the research projects that I am most enthusiastic about involves exploring ways to enhance anti-poverty programs, such as graduation initiatives, to address climate change. We aim to incorporate the insights gained from couples training as a recurring theme. By doing so, we hope to assess the impact on resilience when adults can critically think about challenges, understand each other's visions, and provide mutual support in the face of evolving climate. The goal is to achieve better results in the face of climate-related adversities.
FinEquity: What value can a Community of Practice like FinEquity have for your work?
Bedi: A community always has value! I never work alone. Michael King - who is also at Trinity College - and I, have collaborated on all these research projects I’ve talked about (both of us are members of the Trinity Impact Evaluation Unit). We also work closely with the Gender Innovation Lab Africa at the World bank, and in particular Julia Vaillant. Having a community is essential for every component of our work. As a community of researchers, we can produce results that are not only academically valuable but also relevant to a broader group. A community like FinEquity, that brings together different stakeholders, allowing researchers like us to speak with practitioners, policymakers, and funders is essential. This helps us understand the core issues and priorities of practitioners and in turn we can design better evaluations that align with both academic goals and practical needs. If the studies are designed with practitioners' interests in mind, the information is more likely to be relevant to their work.
A community of practice like FinEquity is also crucial for dissemination of our research findings. With over 7,000 members, FinEquity can allow us to reach a wide audience. It can help us forge partnerships for future research: engaging with a community provides a network effect that elevates research to a different level.
FinEquity: What topics can our members connect with you about?
Bedi: There are several ways for members to engage with me! For instance, Michael and I are readily available to share our results, especially regarding the policy implications of our findings. If there are upcoming opportunities or events, and members wish for us to present our research, we would be more than happy to do so. I view research as an ongoing process that extends beyond the conclusion of papers or projects; it's the beginning of the next phase.
Additionally, if researchers or practitioners are contemplating research ideas in the process of applying for proposals on gender empowerment and financial inclusion, I am open to discussing and providing input. I often emphasize the importance of connecting early in the process rather than later, as it allows for more fruitful collaboration.