Rural Development, Community Participation and Leadership: Evidence from a Randomized Controlled Trial in Rural Liberia

Gonne Beekman, Wageningen University

In recent years, the focus of many development initiatives shifted from programme aid and technical assistance to “community driven development,” wherein “bottom-up” institution building takes a central position. In this paper, we assess the impact of a development program that combines both perspectives into a bottom-up training program among farmer households in rural Liberia. We collected data among about 1500 households in 72 communities and use an experimental approach to assess causal effects of the training program on (i) socio-economic status, (ii) food security status, (iii) farming activities, and (iv) social preferences. We find a weak positive effect on expenditures of project participants and a weak negative effect on food security. Furthermore, project participants are more often involved in farming activities and harvested more. However, we find an unexpected, negative effect of the intervention on cooperation and trust among villagers. It seems that the intervention is undermining local (informal) institutions, as indicated by the decline of cooperative behavior and trust. In addition, we observe that quality of leadership plays a mediating role in the success or failure of the intervention. Our results suggest that development interventions may have unintended negative effects and underline the need to understand the role of local institutions when designing development interventions.

About the speaker
Gonne Beekman is working as a researcher at the Development Economics Group at Wageningen University. Her research focuses on impact evaluations of development interventions and on the role of corruption and informal institutions in sub-Saharan Africa. She collects survey data to map livelihood conditions of rural households, and experimental data to elicit risk attitudes and social preferences of individuals. In her PhD research, Gonne conducted a randomized controlled trial of a rural development program in Liberia, to elicit the effect on food security and social preferences. These are relevant topics in post-conflict Liberia, where poverty is high, and trust has been heavily eroded. In addition, she studies the role of local corruption: how do corrupt leaders affect peoples investment decisions, and what is the relation between corruption and success of development interventions? As a post-doc researcher, Gonne is conducting large-scale impact evaluations in Liberia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Zimbabwe.

Venue: Conference Rooom

Date: 22 January 2015

Time: 12:30 - 13:30