The Economics and Psychology of Poverty

Friday, May 18, 2012
8:00 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

For well over a century, economists, policymakers, and idealists have talked about an end to poverty. Yet hunger, destitution, and homelessness continue to afflict even the wealthiest communities, including New York City. We are in the midst of what has been described as a social enterprise revolution: From mobile health to microfinance to new approaches to educating and training those born or living in poverty, there are innovative efforts afoot to bring us closer to actually ending poverty. How does poverty shape the way individuals view the world, and make decisions? What are the particular challenges they face in managing their households and savings? What can we learn from recent developments in economics, psychology, and the emerging field of behavioral economics to help the poor manage their lives better?

In this half-day meeting, we brought together leaders from a range of social service sectors to exchange ideas on how best to work together to bring an end to poverty. We focused on themes relevant to organizations working in urban settings, guided by presentations from leading thinkers from academia and practice. View photos from the event.
Executive directors who would like to attend future Social Enterprise Leadership Forums can contact [email protected].


8:00–8:25 a.m.

Breakfast and Registration

8:25–8:35 a.m.

Welcome and Introductions

  • Ray Fisman
    Lambert Family Professor of Social Enterprise
    Co-director, Social Enterprise Program
    Columbia Business School
  • Laurie Tisch
    Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund
8:35–9:35 a.m.

Keynote Presentation: In Praise of Failure: The Need for Organizational Experimentation

9:35–10:35 a.m.

Behaviorally Informed Anti-poverty Programs

10:35–11:00 a.m.

Coffee Break

11:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m. 

Decision-making Under Conditions of Poverty

  • Sendhil Mullainathan (view presentation or watch the recording)
    Professor of Economics
    Harvard University;
    Poverty Action Lab
    Co-founder and Co-director
  • Eldar Shafir (view presentation)
    William Stewart Tod Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs
    Princeton University
    Co-founder and Co-director
12:00–1:00 p.m.

Closing Keynote: Research Meets Reality in Microfinance

  • Diana Taylor ’80 (watch the recording)
    Managing Director
    Wolfensohn Fund Management
1:15–1:30 p.m. 

Closing Remarks

  • Ray Fisman
    Lambert Family Professor of Social Enterprise
    Co-director, Social Enterprise Program
    Columbia Business School
1:30–2:30 p.m.

Working Lunch


Research Report

Download the research report here.