Dean Karlan sworn in as USAID chief economist 

Development economist Dean Karlan has joined the United States Agency for International Development as chief economist.

He was sworn in on Nov. 15 and will serve as the federal agency’s top expert on economic policy and analysis at the federal agency. In the role, he will be tasked with improving the use of evidence across USAID’s programs and further integrating behavioral science and experimental design into its work.

Karlan is a professor of economics and finance at Northwestern University, and is also the founder and former president of nonprofit Innovations for Poverty Action.

His research focuses on microeconomic issues of poverty, typically employing experimental methodologies and behavioral economics insights to figure out what solutions work best and why they work.

Prior to joining Northwestern, Karlan was the Samuel C. Park, Jr. Professor of Economics at Yale University. Before that, he was an assistant professor of economics at Princeton University

In a statement, Northwestern said that during his time at USAID, Karlan will retain his affiliation and appointment at the university’s Kellogg School of Management.

Speaking at the economist’s swearing-in ceremony, USAID Administrator Samantha Power said: “What is truly innovative about [Innovations for Poverty Action] and about Dean’s work, is that it helped revolutionize what development economists cared about. 

She added: “The field has been around since the early 20th century, but it dealt mainly with questions like, why were some countries rich and others poor? Why were some able to develop and become stable while others struggled? Big questions that invited grand theories. But modern development economics is more inclusive and focuses on applying insights to the actual work of development – the programs, projects, and interventions that are aiming to benefit the lives of people in the countries we serve. 

“The goal is to hold development to a standard of impact – moving away from questions like ‘do people like this program’ or ‘does it make people feel good’ but instead, ‘does it achieve significant and sufficient impact?’”