Nava Ashraf

Associate Professor, MBA Class of 1966 Faculty Research Fellow

Nava Ashraf is an Associate Professor in the Negotiations, Organizations, and Markets Unit at Harvard Business School. Professor Ashraf’s research combines psychology and economics, using both lab and field experiments to test insights from behavioral economics in the context of global development in Africa, Latin America, and Southeast Asia. She also conducts research on questions of intra-household decision making in the areas of finance and fertility. Her research is published in leading journals including the American Economic Review, the Quarterly Journal of Economics and the Journal of Economic Perspectives. Her recent field experiments have been carried out jointly with the Ministries of Health and Education in Zambia in the areas of health services delivery and educational investment. 

Professor Ashraf designed and teaches a second year MBA course called Managing Global Health: Applying Behavioral Economics to Create Impact. She also teaches a University-wide Ph.D. course in Field Experiments. She has also taught in the first year MBA sequence on Negotiation, and is part of the Executive Education program of the HBS Social Enterprise Initiative, where she teaches Impact Evaluation and Performance Measurement for Nonprofit Management.  

She is a Faculty Affiliate of the Jameel Poverty Action Lab at MIT, dedicated to the use of randomized trials as a tool for learning what works in international development, and a Fellow of the National Bureau of Economic Research. Prior to joining HBS, she worked at the World Bank on trade negotiations between Morocco and the European Union, as a consultant for several nonprofit organizations in developing countries, and as founder of a business skills training institute for women in west Africa.

Professor Ashraf received her Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard University in 2005, and her BA in Economics and International Relations from Stanford University. She has been awarded a Queen's Jubilee Medal for service by the Government of Canada, and is the youngest person ever to receive the Order of British Columbia.

Learn more about Professor Ashraf's research in a Harvard magazine cover article.

  1. Overview

    Professor Ashraf's research applies insights from psychology, sociology, and economics to understand and affect behavior in development. Her current research interests fall into three broad categories: technology adoption, motivation and incentive design, and intra-household decision making.

    Keywords: health; Microfinance; Agriculture; Women's Empowerment;

  2. Technology Adoption

    Professor Ashraf's research in technology adoption addresses the puzzling question of why easy and accessible technology is not used, even when it has the potential to save lives or significantly increase income.

    "Can Higher Prices Stimulate Product Use? Evidence from a Field Experiment in Zambia." (with James Berry and Jesse Shapiro) August 2008, forthcoming, American Economic Review, December 2010.

    "Finding Missing Markets: Evidence from an Export Crop Adoption and Marketing Intervention in Kenya." (with Xavier Giné and Dean Karlan), American Journal of Agricultural Economics. 91, no.4, November 2009.

    "Tying Odysseus to the Mast: Evidence from a Commitment Savings Product in the Philippines." (with Dean Karlan and Wesley Yin) Quarterly Journal of Economics 121, no. 2, 2006.

  3. Motivation and Incentive Design

    Professor Ashraf's research in motivation and incentives focuses on how to design incentives in sectors where it is important that individuals are motivated by service, such as healthcare or environmental conservation. An important lever is the extent to which individuals have "pro-social" motivation, which I have explored in laboratory settings across countries.

    "Decomposing Trust and Trustworthiness." (with Iris Bohnet and Nikita Piankov) Experimental Economics 9, no. 3, September 2006.

    "No Margin, no mission? A field experiment on incentives for health promoters." (on-going, with Oriana Bandiera and Kelsey Jack).

    "Selection and Compensation of Community Health Workers in Zambia." (on-going, with Oriana Bandiera and Scott Lee).

  4. Intra-Household Decision Making

    Professor Ashraf's research in intra-household decision making examines how households make financial and health decisions, particularly in the presence of asymmetric information or benefits.

    "Spousal Control and Intra-Household Decision Making: An Experimental Study in the Philippines." American Economic Review 99, no. 4, September 2009.

    "Female Empowerment: Further Evidence From a Commitment Savings Product in the Philippines." (with Dean Karlan and Wesley Yin) April 2009, World Development 38, Issue 3, March 2010

    "Remittances and the Problem of Control: A Field Experiment Among Migrants from El Salvador." (with Diego Aycinena, Claudia Martinez A., and Dean Yang).

    "Household Bargaining and Excess Fertility: An Experimental Study in Zambia." (with Erica Field and Jean Lee).

    "Understanding Male Fertility Preferences in Zambia."
    (on-going, with Erica Field and Alessandra Voena).

  5. Health

    "Can Higher Prices Stimulate Product Use? Evidence from a Field Experiment in Zambia." (with James Berry and Jesse Shapiro) August 2008,  American Economic Review, December 2010.

    "Household Bargaining and Excess Fertility: An Experimental Study in Zambia." (with Erica Field and Jean Lee).

    "No Margin, no mission? A field experiment on incentives for health promoters." (on-going, with Oriana Bandiera and Kelsey Jack).

    "Understanding Male Fertility Preferences in Zambia." (on-going, with Erica Field and Alessandra Voena).

    "Selection and Compensation of Community Health Workers in Zambia." (on-going, with Oriana Bandiera and Scott Lee).

  6. Microfinance

    "Tying Odysseus to the Mast: Evidence from a Commitment Savings Product in the Philippines." (with Dean Karlan and Wesley Yin)Quarterly Journal of Economics 121, no. 2, 2006.

    "Female Empowerment: Further Evidence From a Commitment Savings Product in the Philippines." (with Dean Karlan and Wesley Yin) April 2009, World Development. 38, Issue 3, March 2010

    "Deposit Collectors." (with Dean Karlan and Wesley Yin) Advances in Economic Analysis &Policy, Vol. 6, No. 2, Article 5, March 2006.

    "Remittances and the Problem of Control: A Field Experiment Among Migrants from El Salvador." (with Diego Aycinena, Claudia Martinez A., and Dean Yang).

    "Spousal Control and Intra-Household Decision Making: An Experimental Study in the Philippines." American Economic Review 99, no. 4, September 2009.

  7. Agriculture

    "Finding Missing Markets: Evidence from an Export Crop Adoption and Marketing Intervention in Kenya." (with Xavier Giné and Dean Karlan), American Journal of Agricultural Economics. 91, no.4, November 2009.

  8. Women's Empowerment

    "Female Empowerment: Further Evidence From a Commitment Savings Product in the Philippines." (with Dean Karlan and Wesley Yin) April 2009, World Development 38, Issue 3, March 2010

    "Household Bargaining and Excess Fertility: An Experimental Study in Zambia." (with Erica Field and Jean Lee).

    "Spousal Control and Intra-Household Decision Making: An Experimental Study in the Philippines." American Economic Review 99, no. 4, September 2009.

    "No Margin, No Mission? A Field Experiment on Incentives for Health promoters." (on-going, with Oriana Bandiera and Kelsey Jack).

    "Understanding Male Fertility Preferences in Zambia." (on-going, with Erica Field and Alessandra Voena).