Busara Center for Behavioral Economics
Supporting behavior change for poverty alleviation through applied research
Our approach to applied research seeks to directly help individuals towards more equitable and self-determined lives. We always ask: how will our work benefit whom this is supposed to help? How does their context shape their preferences? What does this mean for sustained and meaningful behavioral change?
We ground our research in context, and customize our recommendations to what that context requires. While we work on research insights that can be swiftly turned into action, much of our work uncovers deeper insights for the long term.
Our work might look broad—spanning diverse sectors such as agriculture, inclusive finance, individual and public health, and good governance. Yet it is our commitment to using rigorous behavioral science to alleviate poverty, coupled with a deep appreciation of the research and policy context, that makes us boutique.
Pushing the frontiers of knowledge in behavioral science and development
Most research on the Global South is based on research agendas, funding, and researchers in the Global North. A stark reminder of this is that less than 1% of published psychology research has African researchers as first authors in high-impact journals, or Africans in participant samples. This creates inequity in knowledge production today, and lessens the relevance of that knowledge tomorrow.
We place ourselves at the cutting-edge of research by centering the geographic boundaries of knowledge squarely where the knowledge will be applied; right here in the Global South.
Our research needs to contribute to our understanding of human behavior, and have relevance to decision-makers. This means a commitment to putting behavioral approaches center stage, while actively incorporating other methodologies, disciplines, and ways of thinking.
Putting the Global South at the center of research, policy, and practice
While policymakers and practitioners are increasingly integrating behavioral insights into their programs, the field is still in its infancy. Much of applied behavioral science is still a translation of Global North perspectives into the Global South.
We see our role as amplifier for the voices of the people we serve, and to help our partners listen to, and respond to those voices.
To create a thriving behavioral science ecosystem in the Global South, we are building the community and capacity of researchers, practitioners, and policymakers who use behavioral science to identify and solve global problems. This happens through our support for North/South and South/South networks, internal and external capacity building (through sharing our resources and tools), and by building the next generation of behavioral scientists.
Act with curiosity
We want to learn. We want to never stop asking the difficult questions in our work. We want to meet each other with openness and interest.
Act with Respect
We want our work to be thoughtful and of high quality. We want to fulfill the need that we originally identified in pursuing a piece of work. We are careful about the complex issues we tackle, and mindful of the huge impact they have on people’s real lives.
We are collaborators, seeking to actively share knowledge and perspectives. We seek to communicate and contribute to achieving our shared purpose.
Act with purpose
We want to keep a clear line of sight of why we do what we do. We want to take responsible ownership of our work, and be held accountable to the standards we set for ourselves.
We started one of the first behavioral science research labs in the Global South
We set up Busara to bring research on poverty alleviation closer to the people it seeks to serve. We were also filling a gap: behavioral science and international development were meeting each other for the first time.
We soon learned that while research is a critical piece of the puzzle, it is not enough if you really want to change the world. The gap between creating knowledge, and turning it into better practice, is real. It takes months to write the paper, years to publish the book, and decades to win the Nobel Prize that changes the way people think about development.
But even such knowledge does not automatically shift practice: for things to change, programs have to be embedded in their contexts, and acknowledge constraints. The tools and methods of behavioral science can help with that by gathering insights that can more swiftly improve programs, policies, and the lives of people living in scarcity.
Since 2015, we have been an independent entity committed to applied research with partners seeking to use behavioral science to address specific problems.
Today, our 110+ staff are based in our HQ in Nairobi, or offices in East and West Africa, and India. Remaining firmly rooted in our commitment to stay close to the people and the contexts we serve, we only set up offices where we are doing our work. We’ve worked in 25+ countries across the Global South, including in Latin America and the Pacific Islands.
The Busara Lab is now the largest behavioral science lab in the world with a panel of more than 133,000 participants across sites in India, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, and Uganda. Having run more than 500 projects with over 250 partners, we have offered decision-makers practical recommendations for instant action, while advancing behavioral science in the Global South.
Current Project Presence