D. McKenzie

"Why do more small firms in developing countries not use the market for professional business services like accounting, marketing, and human resource specialists? Two key reasons maybe that firms lack information about the availability of these services, and that they struggle to distinguish the quality of good versus bad providers. A brand recognition exercise finds that most small firms are unaware of most providers in this market, and a survey of service providers reveals that they largely rely on word-of-mouth and informal reputation mechanisms for acquiring customers. This study set up a business services marketplace that contains information about the different providers present in the market and used mystery shopper visits to develop a quality ratings system. A randomized experiment with more than 1,000 firms provided access to this marketplace to the treatment group and randomized whether firms received just information or also quality ratings. The provision of quality ratings information shifts small firms’ preferences over which provider they would like to use, increasing the average quality rating of their preferred providers by 0.2 to 0.4 ratings points out of 5. However, neither the provision of information nor these quality ratings had any significant impact on the likelihood that small firms go on to hire a business service provider over the subsequent six months. The results suggest that alleviating information frictions alone is insufficient to increase usage of professional business services."

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"Despite the popularity of business training among policy makers, the use of business training has faced increasing skepticism. This is, in part, fueled by the fact that most of the first wave of randomized experiments in developing countries could not detect statistically significant impacts of training on firms' profits or sales. This paper revisits and reassesses the evidence for whether small business training works, incorporating the results of more recent studies. A meta-analysis of these estimates suggests that training increases profits and sales on average by 5 to 10 percent. The author argues that this is in line with what is optimistic to expect given the relatively short length of most training programs, and the expected return on investment from the cost of such training. However, impacts of this magnitude are too small for most experiments to detect statistically. Emerging evidence is provided on five approaches for improving the effectiveness of traditional training by incorporating gender, kaizen methods, localization and mentoring, heuristics, and psychology. Training programs that incorporate these elements appear to deliver improvements over traditional training programs on average, although with considerable variation. Given that training delivers some benefits for firms, the challenge is then how to deliver a quality program on a cost-effective basis at a much larger scale. Three possible approaches to scaling up training are discussed: using the market, using technology, or targeting and funneling firms."

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"In a webinar on February 20, 2020, Tim Ogden, Managing Director of the Financial Access Initiative at NYU shared the latest insights on SME business training programs, with guest speaker David McKenzie, Lead Economist in the Development Research Group, Finance and Private Sector Development Unit at the World Bank. Tim and David discussed what we know about small business performance and productivity, the importance of management, and training impact evaluations--all essential for innovating SME training programs."

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"We estimate the demand for business training among entrepreneurs in Jamaica. We use either a re-framed version of the Becker-DeGroot-Marschak (BDM) mechanism or take-it-or-leave-it (TIOLI) offers to elicit willingness to pay for business training. We find that the majority of entrepreneurs have a positive willingness to pay for training, which suggests some scope for providers to help partially recover the costs of offering training. Our results indicate that charging a higher price for the course screens out a large share of entrepreneurs, in particular those entrepreneurs with fewer assets, who are more risk-averse business owners, and those who do not expect to benefit as much from the training. Providing a credit option does not affect take-up of the course. We find that higher willingness to pay is correlated with higher attendance, and conditionally on paying a positive price, those who are offered higher prices are more likely to attend, pointing to psychological or sunk-cost effects. However, this does not fully compensate for the reduction in participation in training due to the extensive margin effect of charging higher prices. Finally, we find some evidence that business training encourages higher adoption of business practices and improves business knowledge.

Our follow-up survey suffered from high attrition, which limits our ability to detect impacts on sales and profits. We do not see that effects are stronger for entrepreneurs paying higher prices or with higher willingness to pay, but a lack of statistical power also means that we cannot rule out the possibility that those
who pay higher prices do benefit more. We conclude that the optimal price for governments to charge may therefore lie somewhere in between free or nominal cost and market price, and depend on how governments trade-off equity and efficiency."

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"Aid agencies and governments spend more than a billion US$ on entrepreneurship training annually. What have we learned about the effectiveness of training? We review research on entrepreneurship training. Classroom-based training remains the most popular method of training owners and managers of small firms. A meta-analysis shows that the standard training model has modestly positive effects, on average, though the effects imply reasonably high returns on investments in training, given low costs per participant. Innovation on this basic training model has increased in recent years, particularly with regard to content. Both personal initiative and rule-of-thumb training show promise for subsistencelevel enterprises. Individual consulting has shown significant positive effects for larger enterprises, but the model is expensive and markets for consulting do not appear to work well. Selection is important, particularly in matching the type of training with the type of enterprise. There are several seemingly promising approaches to training where definitive evidence is lacking. For example, Kaizen approaches and Incubators and accelerators both appear to have positive effects, though the evidence is limited and, in the case of accelerators, it is unclear as yet whether the effects come primarily from selection or from the content of the programmes themselves."

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"Many small firms lack the finance and marketing skills needed for firm growth. The standard approach in many business support programs is to attempt to train the entrepreneur to develop these skills, through classroom-based training or personalized consulting. However, rather than requiring the entrepreneur to be a jack-of-all-trades, an alternative is to move beyond the boundary of the entrepreneur and link firms to these skills in a marketplace through insourcing workers with functional expertise or outsourcing tasks to professional specialists. A randomized experiment in Nigeria tests the relative effectiveness of these four different approaches to improving business practices. Insourcing and outsourcing both dominate business training; and do at least as well as business consulting at one-half of the cost. Moving beyond the entrepreneurial boundary enables firms to use higher quality digital marketing practices, innovate more, and achieve greater sales and profits growth over a two-year horizon."

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"Differences in management quality are an important contributor to productivity differences across countries. A key question is how to best improve poor management in developing countries. This paper tests two different approaches to improving management in Colombian auto parts firms. The first uses intensive and expensive one-on-one consulting, while the second draws on agricultural extension approaches to provide consulting to small groups of firms at approximately one-third of the cost of the individual approach. Both approaches lead to improvements in management practices of a similar magnitude (8-10 percentage points), so that the new group-based approach dominates on a cost-benefit basis. Moreover, the paper finds some evidence that the group-based intervention led to increases in firm size over the next three years, while the impacts on firm outcomes are smaller and statistically insignificant for the individual consulting. The results point to the potential of group-based approaches as a pathway to scaling up management improvements."

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"The study was set in rural markets in Kenya with the objective of testing how the GET Ahead programme affects the profitability, growth and survival of female-owned businesses, and to evaluate whether any gains in profitability come at the expense of other business owners. A year-and-a-half after the training had taken place, a mentoring intervention was randomly assigned among trained women to test whether additional group-based and in-person support strengthens the impacts of training on intended outcomes."

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"Almost all firms in developing countries have fewer than ten workers, with a modal size of one. Are there potential high-growth entrepreneurs, and can public policy help identify them and facilitate their growth? A large-scale national business plan competition in Nigeria provides evidence on these questions. Random assignment of US$34 million in grants provided each winner with approximately US$50,000. Surveys tracking applicants over five years show that winning leads to greater firm entry, more survival, higher profits and sales, and higher employment, including increases of over 20 percentage points in the likelihood of a firm having ten or more workers."

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"Standard business training programs aim to boost the incomes of the millions of self-employed business owners in developing countries by teaching basic financial and marketing practices, yet the impacts of such programs are mixed. We tested whether a psychology-based personal initiative training approach, which teaches a proactive mindset and focuses on entrepreneurial behaviors, could have more success. A randomized controlled trial in Togo assigned microenterprise owners to a control group (n = 500), a leading business training program (n = 500), or a personal initiative training program (n = 500). Four follow-up surveys tracked outcomes for firms over 2 years and showed that personal initiative training increased firm profits by 30%, compared with a statistically insignificant 11% for traditional training. The training is cost-effective, paying for itself within 1 year."

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