Interviewer: Teresa Grøtan
Photographs: Norwegian School of Economics/Choice Lab
One of those involved in the project is Bertil Tungodden, professor at the Norwegian School of Economics (NHH) in Bergen and a researcher at the Choice Lab. The latter is the NHH’s research group on how economic and moral choices are made.
What is the background for this project. How did the idea come up?
This concept has developed over time in a dialogue with our partner, Femina HIP. We’ve worked for quite a time on entrepreneurship as a strategy for combating poverty in Tanzania, and the goal of this project is to see whether training in entrepreneurial behaviour can be used specifically to create opportunities for girls in rural areas.
Why research economic behaviour in an African country?
We’ve worked in Tanzania for a long time and have good local partners there. So we’re confident we can conduct the project with a high level of quality. But we hope and believe that our findings will be relevant for other poor nations, both in Africa and beyond.
Build Your Life and Protect Your Life are the two sub-projects? What do they cover, and what results have you obtained?
The basic idea of the project is to study what type of intervention has the most positive effect on the position of girls in poor countries. With the traditional approach, you provided teaching on health and family planning. That’s also the main component in Protect Your Life. The innovative aspect of our project is that we measure the effect of such an intervention by comparing it with the outcome of Build Your Life, which gives the girls entrepreneurial training. That involves teaching them how they can start a little company on leaving school, as an alternative to becoming pregnant and starting a family at a very young age.
You write that health information on its own has little significance for actual change. More specifically, what kind of information are you talking about here?
We’ve looked at teaching which gives the girls classic health information, including what happens to their body after puberty, how to protect themselves in sexual relations, and generally about pregnancy and family planning. Many kinds of programmes naturally exist in this context, so we can’t generalise. But a trend seen when evaluating such health education is that it has relatively little effect. That’s partly because the girls already possess this information, and attention has accordingly shifted towards other interventions which can strengthen their position.
What’s happening right now in the project?
We’re working at the moment on plans for measuring the long-term health consequences of the intervention, and have been fortunate enough to receive funding for this from Kavli. It’s demanding work. However, if we succeed in making the measurements in a good way, we’ll acquire data which are unique in an international context.
How have the participants been recruited?
In cooperation with local partners, we picked 80 schools for this trial project. All the girls in their final year of lower secondary education were then invited to take part.
We selected 20 schools at random where Protect Your Life teaching was offered, 20 to run the Build Your Life programme, 20 to offer both schemes, and 20 which received neither. The last group serves as our control.
What information do you give participants about the project?
They’re told that we’re pursuing a project to see how we can improve opportunities for girls in Tanzania. The parents have to consent to their daughters taking part – and all of them did.
How are data on the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) acquired – self-reporting or physical examination? This is presumably a taboo subject, as it is in Norway?
This is where the support from Kavli has been crucial. Earlier studies concentrated on self-reporting but, as you say, that’s sensitive and difficult to ask about. The plan is accordingly to carry out medical testing of the girls to obtain objective information on the effect of the programme on both pregnancy and STDs. We’re focusing on STDs because an important component in the teaching has been to tell the girls how they should protect themselves.
How do you determine that a possible decline in STDs and early pregnancy is a result of this programme rather than other factors, such as a different path through school or increased prosperity?
Since we’ve randomised who’s been given what type of teaching, we can be sure that we’re measuring the effect of the intervention. This is a new approach to social science studies, which has won great support internationally.
Click here for more information on the Choice Lab and this project.