Innovations for Poverty Action

Innovations for Poverty Action

Innovations for Poverty Action is a research and policy nonprofit that discovers and promotes effective solutions to global poverty problems. IPA brings together researchers and decision-makers to design, evaluate, and refine these solutions, ensuring that the rigorous evidence they create leads to tangible impact on the world.

Founded in
On-the-ground staff in
solutions to poverty
Currently evaluating
more solutions

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The problem: lack of evidence driving global poverty solutions

In recent decades, trillions of dollars have been spent on programs designed to reduce global poverty. Unfortunately, clear evidence on which programs succeed is rare — even when evidence does exist, decision-makers often do not know about it. This leads to programs that are either ineffective or not as effective as they could be, and often to wasted money and enduring poverty.

The solution: rigorous, randomized evaluations

Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are considered the gold standard of impact evaluation design, allowing researchers to isolate the effects of a program from other factors. Once an intervention has proven effective in one context through an RCT, it’s replicated in others — an essential step on the path to scaling up impactful programs.

Imagine if the trillions of dollars spent on aid went to programs that had a tangible impact. IPA exists to make this vision a reality.

How Innovations for Poverty Action works

Imagine if the trillions of dollars spent on aid in the past 50 years went to programs that had a tangible, cost-effective impact. IPA exists to make this vision a reality.

In partnership with top researchers in the field, IPA designs and implements RCTs to measure the effectiveness of programs and policies aimed at alleviating poverty. IPA’s evaluations do not simply give these programs a passing or failing grade, but rather seek to uncover and disentangle causal mechanisms and determine which adjustments will make a program more effective. Studies range in time from months to years — even decades. IPA then works to scale successful initiatives.

As an organization, IPA’s comparative advantage is its local presence in the countries where they have established offices. They work with local governments, NGOs, for-profits, and civil society to ensure that the right people are involved in crafting research questions, understanding the data they are collecting, and using it effectively. This allows IPA to develop strong relationships with decision-makers, a deep understanding of local contexts, and a long-term view for evidence-based policy. IPA has more than 1,000 research staff across 21 countries.

To date, IPA has designed and evaluated more than 550 potential solutions to poverty problems, and has over 315 additional evaluations in progress.
Man on a laptop while two women look over his shoulder

To date, IPA has designed and evaluated more than 550 potential solutions to poverty problems, and has over 315 additional evaluations in progress. [1] The results of their research, such as those on chlorine dispensers, insecticide-treated bednets, deworming, and community health promoters, have been used by governments and NGOs to develop or scale-up programs that are reaching millions of people. Other impacts are smaller, such as the scale-up of a government campaign in Zambia to attract better health workers, and the scale-up of text message reminders to take malaria medication in Sierra Leone.

IPA’s research is behind the work of seven of The Life You Can Save’s recommended charities, including Evidence Action’s deworming and safe water programs, which were both incubated by IPA.

What makes Innovations for Poverty Action so effective

Designed for global scale

Before recommending the scale-up of a program or policy, IPA figures out if the intervention works in multiple locales, how it works, and why. Then they can advocate for it more broadly, while continuing to refine its cost-effectiveness. 

Information dissemination

IPA produces policy publications, including plain language web summaries of individual studies and briefs that synthesize evidence from multiple studies, allowing organizations across the world to benefit from their research. IPA also works with media outlets to share findings with the public.


Proven anti-poverty programs continue in a country long-after IPA’s work there is complete. Plus, IPA partners learn why their interventions work, as well as how to use rigorous evaluation methodologies in the future. 

Wide-reaching impact

IPA has produced rigorous evidence on interventions ranging from chlorine dispensers to deworming, as well as text message reminders to take medication and government campaigns to attract health workers. Their work has also influenced international development debates on crucial investments such as microcredit and cash transfers.

Innovations for Poverty Action’s accountability

IPA excels at transparency and publishes its financial and operational disclosures for public viewing. Financial information and annual reports are available on IPA’s website. [2]

Innovations for Poverty Action’s partners

IPA’s studies have been funded either directly or indirectly by a variety of foundations in the academic, development, and policy research communities, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the National Science Foundation, The World Bank, USAID, the Asian Development Bank, CGAP, DFID, 3IE, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Ford Foundation.

Frequently Asked Questions

IPA researches effective solutions to global poverty problems in agriculture, education, financial inclusion, governance, health, peace and recovery, small and medium enterprises, and social protection.

A great example is IPA’s work with the Ghanaian Ministry of Education to create a targeted instruction program based on evidence from programs in India and Kenya. IPA helps facilitate partnerships and communication between the Ghanaian ministry, the teacher’s union, and other key participants.

IPA is active in 21 countries. [3]

  • In Asia: Bangladesh, Myanmar, Philippines
  • In Latin America: Bolivia, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Paraguay, and Peru
  • In West Africa: Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, Mali, and Sierra Leone
  • In East Africa: Kenya, Malawi, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia

All unrestricted donations to IPA are funneled to where they are needed most, such as growing IPA’s policy impact reach, developing cutting-edge research proposals, and providing training to researchers and affiliates.

Just as with research grants, a portion of unrestricted gifts are put towards operating expenses to ensure their global staff has the necessary resources to accomplish their groundbreaking work.

IPA’s 2017 audited expenditures were US$38.3M — over 77% of which was allocated to direct funding for research projects. The remainder was put towards bolstering IPA’s policy outreach program (4%), new project development and fundraising (2.5%), research support and training (1% percent), and operations and financial management (15%).

Investing in IPA means investing in the next innovative solution. Many of the world’s top poverty-alleviation organizations and non-profits have implemented successful programs that were discovered by IPA research teams.

As Dylan Matthews of The Washington Post puts it, “If one of the essential features of good charities is their use of good, randomized experiments to back up their methods, then it follows that groups like IPA are needed to conduct those experiments, either in conjunction with charities or on their own. So giving to IPA is a good way to indirectly promote effective charitable work by other organizations.”

Randomized evaluations provide the most credible and reliable way to learn what works and what does not. They allow researchers to measure the impact on those who randomly received a program or policy to those who did not. These are the same methods used by high-quality medical research.

Funding for IPA’s research projects typically comes either from an organization’s evaluation budget or from individual donors. On occasion, IPA will secure direct funding for research and evaluation, and then search for partners to evaluate specific innovations or programs. More often, they work with their partners to identify potential funding sources and submit joint proposals.

We recommend IPA because there is broad consensus in the nonprofit world that IPA is a leader in using randomized controlled trials to test programs and influence policies. IPA research has helped identify numerous effective programs, including many that are run by our other recommended charities.

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All photos and videos courtesy of Innovations for Poverty Action

[1] Innovations for Poverty Action, Search Studies

[2] Innovations for Poverty Action, Annual Reports & Finances

[3] Innovations for Poverty Action, Research