EGC and Sub-Saharan Africa: A history of engagement

April 16, 2024


In the early 1950s, the Ford Foundation asked Lloyd Reynolds, then the economics department chair at Yale, to travel to Africa to research decolonization’s economic impacts. His daughter, Priscilla Roosevelt, called this trip a “turning point” that inspired him to switch his research focus from labor to development economics.

Reynolds, Simon Kuznets, and others founded the Economic Growth Center in 1961 with Ford Foundation funding. One of EGC’s first initiatives, under its Country Studies program, was to send Gerry Helleiner to Nigeria to analyze its economy, believing this former British colony would play a powerful role on the continent.

Later, EGC engagements with sub-Saharan African countries became more collaborative. In 2009, Yale EGC faculty led by Chris Udry collaborated with partners in Ghana to launch the first wave of the Ghana Socioeconomic Panel Survey (GSPS). As of 2024, four survey waves have been completed in collaboration with the Global Poverty Research Lab at Northwestern University and the Institute of Statistical, Social, and Economic Research (ISSER) at the University of Ghana. In November 2022, the first three waves were made freely available via Dataverse and the EGC website. Since then, the dataset has been downloaded over 400 times.

Today, EGC affiliates collaborate with African researchers on a wide range of topics, which include early-childhood development in Ghanagender-inclusive pathways to digital inclusion in Kenya, and last-mile vaccine delivery in Sierra Leone. EGC, Inclusion Economics (based across EGC and the Yale Macmillan Center), and the International Growth Centre hosted a March 11 event in Kigali chaired by Dr. Jean Chrysostome Ngabitsinze, Rwanda’s Minister of Trade and Industry, and featuring Peter Salovey, the President of Yale. Yale affiliates Lauren Falcao Bergquist and Kevin Donovan, who are conducting research in Rwanda, and senior policymakers discussed research-policy collaborations designed to evaluate and promote levers for economic growth. To further engage with African students, EGC launched in 2022 a scholarship for students from Sub-Saharan Africa for the Masters program in International Development and Economics (IDE) at Yale, which has supported five students thus far.

With the 33rd annual Simon Kuznets Memorial Lecture on April 4, we welcomed Chris Udry back to EGC to speak about his recent research on agricultural productivity and structural transformation based on data from six sub-Saharan countries. I had the chance to sit down with him and our Kuznets visitor Francis Annan for our Voices in Development podcast and discuss productive ways to collaborate with local researchers – in Ghana and elsewhere. Chris observed, “I view my work as more trying to support my local collaborators in providing them with the resources and the tools and maybe the authority to make recommendations to government. So I view myself as sort of a cheerleader, maybe a coach, for the athletes who are going to do the real policy."

We at EGC are proud to support and learn from our many affiliates and visitors who play such roles in engagements across Africa and around the world. I invite you to listen to the conversation with Chris and Francis and watch Chris’s lecture via the links below.

Pande's signature
Rohini Pande 
Henry J. Heinz II Professor of Economics
Director, Economic Growth Center

EGC Voices in Development

This podcast series explores issues related to sustainable development and economic justice in low- and middle-income countries.

Season 2 Episode 4

Season 2 Episode 4 features Christopher Udry, Francis Annan, and Rohini Pande discussing how development economists can build strong in-country partnerships to support actionable research.

Season 2 Episode 3

Season 2 Episode 3 features Pramod Varma, Chief Architect of Aadhaar, Alix Zwane, and Rohini Pande discussing the role of digital public infrastructure and inclusive growth.


Collaboration through Research: Pathways to Evidence-Based Policy in Rwanda

How can researchers and policymakers foster collaboration and promote evidence-based policies? On March 11, 2024, researchers, policymakers, and development partners gathered to discuss the generation of grounded, timely, and policy-relevant research in Rwanda. Yale President Peter Salovey delivered opening remarks at this collaborative event with the International Growth Centre.

Watch the 33rd Kuznets Memorial Lecture

Christopher Udry, the Robert E. and Emily King Professor of Economics at Northwestern University, returned to Yale on Thursday, April 4 to deliver the 33rd Kuznets Memorial Lecture. Udry's talk focused on his latest research findings on agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa, which reveal surprising new patterns of structural transformation.

2024 Kuznets Mini-Conference: Agriculture and Development

The 2024 Kuznets Mini-Conference: Agriculture and Development was held in conjunction with the 33rd Kuznets Memorial Lecture. During the mini-conference, early-career researchers presented current work on various topics – from technology adoption and intermediation in supply chains to input markets and rural poverty – and a panel featured senior researchers.

EGC Affiliate Spotlights

David Argente

Despite the advent of digital payment methods, often sponsored by governments, citizens of low- and middle-income countries struggle to adopt these new tools instead of cash. EGC Affiliate David Argente, Assistant Professor of Economics, built an economic model around the forward-thinking decision-making behavior of people in LMICs.

Sagar Saxena

India’s large, long-running government programs to support its agriculture markets yield extensive data, yet their overall economic impact remains unclear. Research by EGC Postdoctoral Associate Sagar Saxena examines how these agricultural intervention programs interact, and assesses their overall impacts on farmers and households.

Recent Publications

EGC Research

Aleh Tsyvinski et al. on the impact of Maoist and pragmatist policies on growth and structural transformation in China in the 1953–1978 period; Mobarak et al. reporting randomized controlled trial results showing that mobile vaccination teams in Sierra Leone significantly increased the Covid-19 immunization rate.

Upcoming Events

Conference: Charting the Future of Economics, Governance, and Economic Development in the United States and Beyond

What is the future direction of multidisciplinary research in history, economics, and public policy in the U.S. and globally? The upcoming “Charting the Future” conference, scheduled for April 26-27, 2024, draws inspiration from EGC affiliate Naomi Lamoreaux’s significant contributions in areas that include the organization of firms and corporations, innovation and patents, and archival research.