The Economics and Psychology of Poverty

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?


Linda Gibbs speaking at podium
Click here to view photos from the event.

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.

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

Time Event
8:00–8:25 a.m.


8:25–8:35 a.m.

Welcome and Introduction

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"

Linda Gibbs
Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services
New York City

9:35–10:35 a.m.

Behaviorally informed anti-poverty programs

Dean Karlan
Professor of Economics
Yale University;
Innovations for Poverty Action

Justine Zinkin ’02
Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners

10:35–11:00 a.m.

Coffee Break

11:00 –12:00 p.m.

Decision making under conditions of poverty

Sendhil Mullainathan

Professor of Economics
Harvard University;
Poverty Action Lab
Co-founder and Co-director

Eldar Shafir
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
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

Executive Directors who would like to attend future Social Enterprise Leadership Forums can contact: [email protected]

Research Report

Download document (PDF)




Behaviorally Informed Anti-poverty Programs - Dean Karlan

Behaviorally Informed Anti-poverty Programs- Justine Zinkin '02

Decision-Making Under Conditions of Poverty - Sendhil Mullaianthan

Decision-Making Under Conditions of Poverty - Eldar Shafir