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Dean Karlan        

Behavioral Economist, Social Entrepreneur & Author

A professor of economics at Yale University, Dean Karlan is the founder and president of Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), a nonprofit organization that designs and evaluates programs to help fight world poverty. Originally created in 2002, IPA has projects in over 40 countries today.

In conjunction with his work and research for IPA, Karlan co-wrote More Than Good Intentions: Improving the Ways the World's Poor Borrow, Save, Farm, Learn, and Stay Healthy along with Jacob Appel. In it, he combines behavioral economics with worldwide field research that take readers into villages across Africa, India, South America, and the Philippines, where economic theory collides with real life. He shows how small changes in banking, insurance, healthcare, and other development initiatives that take into account human irrationality can drastically improve the well-being of poor people everywhere.

Combining his academic background with hands-on field experiments, Dean Karlan is a unique voice in the discussion of global economics and poverty. In his insightful keynotes, he addresses economic and policy issues relevant to developing countries, domestic charitable fundraising, and political participation, and lets audiences know what they can do to help in the fight to end poverty.

Speech Topics

Using Behavioral Economics to Help People Lead the Lives They Want to Lead

Behavioral economics recognizes that people do not always do the things they say they want to do – and then later regret it. Commitment contracts are a way to make vices more expensive and virtues cheaper by binding your future self – much like Odysseus did to resist the temptation of the sirens on his famous journey.

Keynote speaker Dean Karlan created in 2008, a website that allows individuals to write a contract in which they (a) set a goal, (b) put up (optional) cash stakes and say where the money will go (anti-charities are popular), (c) name a referee, and (d) name supporters who are informed if they succeed or fail. In this talk, he explains how principles from and can be used to help nonprofits fundraise and corporations improve employee wellness, through positive incentive programs for everything from completing health appraisals to losing weight to maintaining a work/family balance.

Behavioral Economics & Consumer Behavior: How to Optimize Products, Services & Customer Satisfaction

There is huge debate in America on how to help consumers make better decisions, avoid foreclosure, and not be overindebted. This debate is for the poor, who find themselves using expensive payday loans and check cashers, as well as the middle class who just can't seem to get out of credit card debt. For corporate America, the question remains: how to balance offering "good" products to consumers while also helping consumers do better for themselves.

In this speech, keynote speaker Dean Karlan explains how behavioral economics can be used to solve this question. Behavioral economics can make us better, but it requires careful attention to the way we design products and the way we market them. Karlan describes how to think like consumers, for consumers, to help create loyal and financially healthy consumers.

More Than Good Intentions: How a New Economics Is Helping to Solve Global Poverty

When it comes to global poverty, people are passionate and polarized. At one extreme: We just need to invest more resources. At the other: We've thrown billions down a sinkhole over the last 50 years and accomplished almost nothing.

In this speech based on his book of the same name, Dean Karlan presents a new approach that blazes an optimistic and realistic trail between these two extremes. Through careful integration of ideas from both behavioral and traditional economics, and rigorous evaluation and data collection, Karlan presents evidence from around the world on how to tackle poverty, explaining that sometimes the most popular ideas aren't the best. Karlan will explore evidence from microfinance, health, insurance, and agriculture, and will work to help see that, while good intentions are great, we need more than good intentions to do the best that we can in the fight against poverty.


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