Negotiating for women’s education

Goats and Soda recently ran a story about IPA’s evaluation of a negotiation skills program for young women in Zambia.  The program was based on a course taught at Harvard Business School.  Final results aren’t out yet, but the article highlights the experience of Madalitso Mulando, who successfully negotiated with family members to get money for her school fees.

Then, [Mulando] called her older sister, who gave her nearly $70. And somehow her parents came up with the last $25.

But she still needed money for textbooks. So she called the person her mother least wanted her to call: her uncle, Neba Mbewe.  …  Mulando’s mother, Dorcus Mulando, says the idea of begging from her older brother was shameful. He’d refused them so many times before.  … Like most of us, she saw the situation as a fixed pie. Her brother had more, she had less. Any act of asking felt shamefully like begging.

Mulando, though, had learned to see it differently. She’d learned about things like “core values” and “aligning incentives.” This 15-year-old girl didn’t feel she was asking her uncle for money. She was expressing to him how much she desired to finish her education, something he has often encouraged her to do, and what she needed to achieve that goal.

[In the end,] Mulando’s uncle shelled out the $25 that she needed to buy all of her books for the year. And Mulando was able to enroll in 10th grade.

This strikes me as the development analogue to Dani Rodrik’s idea of second-best institutions.  As education interventions go, it’s fairly minimal, aimed at redistributing money from richer family members to poorer.  It won’t be so useful for students whose relatives are all quite poor, and there remain large structural barriers to education for women.  But it may still produce good results for many students who aren’t among the poorest of the poor, if Mulando’s example turns out to be representative, and it can be easily implemented within the existing educational system.