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. Managing Global Health: Applying Behavioral Economics to Create Impact (MBA)

    Health, and development more broadly, is not something we give to people: it is something they produce themselves, interacting with supply-side and institutional factors. This course trains students to see through the lens of the end-user and to use the levers of behavior change to generate impact in health and social programs. Although most of the applications are in global health, it is appropriate for students who anticipate working in health, education, or international development sectors, as well as those with a general interest in learning how behavioral economics can be effectively applied.

    In this course, students learn how to design products and services from the perspective of the patient/customer and the provider/supplier.

    The course is organized around three core modules, each of which focus on one of the elements that comes together to jointly produce a health outcome: the customer, the provider, and the system:

    1. How do we understand the needs of the customer (patient)? How do we design and deliver products to meet those needs?

    2. How do we motivate the providers and ensure they are providing the best care possible?

    3. How can the larger health system, including private sector actors, enable the production of health? How do we change practices on a system-level?

    Through exposure to major practitioner challenges and innovative solutions from HBS Case discussions, protagonists from the field, expert guest faculty from across Harvard, and engagement with cutting edge research in public health, public policy, psychology, and economics, students will learn to bridge the worlds of research and action to creatively, and skillfully, make an impact in global health.

  2. Field Experiments (PhD)

    This course is for doctoral students who want to learn how to design and run field experiments as a research methodology. The objective is for students to refine their own experimental designs and be able to run them by the end of the course, leading to an academic paper.

    The course will be hands-on and oriented towards providing technical skills for the design and implementation of field experiments, including overcoming the many possible associated pitfalls. We will examine in-depth examples of how field experiments are designed, implemented and analyzed, including the “back story” of several published field experiments.

    We will also discuss at length throughout the course how to use field experiments to test academic theory as opposed to only for policy/impact evaluation. The course also introduces particularly fruitful areas for research using field experiments and facilitates students’ presentations of their own research ideas.