Grants support research on health care, violence and technology in poorest areas


View of shanties in Mathare, Kenya's second-largest slum.
Photo credit: 
Flicker/Laura Kraft

More than 500,000 people live in Mathare, the second-largest collection of slums in Nairobi, Kenya. Crime and disease ravage the population, and shanties have no electricity or running water. But there’s one piece of technology that everyone seems to have, one which promises to bring much-needed improvements: the cell phone.

Cell phones are central to two of the eight most recent Global Underdevelopment Action Fund projects funded by the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. Both projects will be led by Joshua Cohen, a professor of political science, philosophy and law and the Marta Sutton Weeks Professor of Ethics in Society.

The first of Cohen’s projects will examine whether texting private and accurate health advice will increase awareness of risky sexual behavior among Mathare’s younger residents who face high rates of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Cohen's second project involves teaching women to use mobile technology to meet up with larger groups while traveling at night, which Cohen believes can led to a decrease in the number of assaults, muggings and rapes. Eventually, the hope is that the program can be taken over by Kenya’s police and expanded.

 Cell phone charging station in Mathare

Six other projects are receiving support from the third round of Global Underdevelopment Action Fund awards, amounting to a total of $265,000.

The funds will enable multidisciplinary teams led by Stanford faculty from across the university to perform policy-relevant research focused on global underdevelopment challenges.

The funded projects will have real world impact. They will help target tuberculosis, which kills more than 1 million people a year and hinders economic development in the hardest-hit regions, like parts of India. They evaluate the amount of resources necessary to improve test scores and lower anemia rates among China’s rural schoolchildren. They ensure that health care is accessible to people in the Arab world where countries are undergoing political transitions. And they evaluate the challenges and benefits of bringing solar power to areas in Africa where electricity is a rare commodity.

As varied as the eight projects are, each will train Stanford undergraduate or graduate students, stressing the importance that Stanford and FSI place on training the next generation of researchers and policy influencers.

The projects were selected by a faculty committee chaired by Stephen D. Krasner, FSI’s deputy director and the Graham H. Stuart Professor of International Relations.

The Action Fund is supported by FSI donors, matching funds from the Office of the President and FSI. The fund grew out of the institute’s 2010 conference on Technology, Governance, and Global Development. This year’s follow-up conference further showcased FSI’s commitment to challenges posed by global underdevelopment with a focus on food security and health.

The award-winning projects and their principal investigators are:

  • Texting for Sexual Health: Effects of Information Provision and Common Knowledge on Health-Seeking Behavior in Kenya
    Joshua Cohen
    In hopes of increasing awareness that could minimize sexual health risks, the team will promote a mobile health counseling service, which will enable young people in Nairobi’s Mathare slums to receive private and reliable answers from health counselors through text messaging.
  • Can Mobile Phones Coordinate Community Action to Improve Women’s Safety in Slums?
    Joshua Cohen
    The program uses mobile technology to measure whether the number of assaults on women will decrease if they travel in groups. The project will evaluate whether this “safety in numbers” program can be taken over by Kenyan police.
  • Crime, Violence and Governance in Latin America: Sharing Data and Building a Web-Based Research Network to Expand Knowledge
    Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar
    This project will build a systematically organized repository of research on crime, violence and citizen security in Latin America.
  • Tuberculosis Control and its Benefits to the Rural Poor
    Jeremy Goldhaber-Fiebert
    This study will determine the impact of improved TB control effects in India, which accounts for 20 percent of global TB incidence, and project economic outcomes from India’s TB epidemic over the next decade.
  • Paying for Performance to Improve Health in Rural China: Does Resource Scarcity Breed Innovation in Service Delivery?
    Grant Miller
    This study will evaluate whether large subsidies are necessary for improving social situations like lowering anemia rates or improving test scores.
  • Health and Political Reform in the Arab World
    Paul H. Wise
    Partnering with The Lancet journal and the American University of Beirut, the team will produce a series of articles on war, social change and health in the Arab world with a goal of improving health care in countries undergoing political transition.
  • Solar Lighting and Phone Charging in East Africa: Understanding Adoption, Business Models and Development Outcomes
    Frank Wolak
    This project will analyze new solar businesses in East Africa. Electricity is central to industry, health services and education, yet 1.5 billion people worldwide lack access. Recently, low-power solar energy sources in homes have appeared as viable options.
  • Understanding the Current Status of Medical Technology in Rural China
    Paul Yock
    This study will evaluate the use of medical technology in rural China in order to establish a baseline for future work and establish partnerships. The long-term goal is an analytical framework within which to understand the role of medical technology in Chinese health care.