Human capital interventions


Impact of Human Capital Interventions

Over the last few years my colleagues and I have been designing and analysing several interventions aimed mainly at the early years, in various parts of the world.

Here I group the projects by country.


  • Home visits: In Colombia, we piloted an early years intervention delivered through the network of an existing welfare programme. The intervention was inspired by the ‘Jamaican’ model. The short run impacts were published in the BMJ.

Using the infrastructure of a conditional cash transfer programme to deliver a scalable integrated early child development programme in Colombia: A cluster randomised controlled trial

with C. Fernandez, E. Fitzsimons, S. M Grantham-McGregor, C. Meghir and M. Rubio-Codina (British Medical Journal, 349:g5785, September 2014)


Objective To assess the effectiveness of an integrated early child development intervention, combining stimulation and micronutrient supplementation and delivered on a large scale in Colombia, for children’s development, growth, and hemoglobin levels.

Design Cluster randomized controlled trial, using a 2×2 factorial design, with municipalities assigned to one of four groups: psychosocial stimulation, micronutrient supplementation, combined intervention, or control.

Setting 96 municipalities in Colombia, located across eight of its 32 departments.

Participants 1420 children aged 12-24 months and their primary carers.

Intervention Psychosocial stimulation (weekly home visits with play demonstrations), micronutrient sprinkles given daily, and both combined. All delivered by female community leaders for 18 months.

Main outcome measures Cognitive, receptive and expressive language, and fine and gross motor scores on the Bayley scales of infant development-III; height, weight, and hemoglobin levels measured at the baseline and end of intervention.

Results Stimulation improved cognitive scores (adjusted for age, sex, testers, and baseline levels of outcomes) by 0.26 of a standard deviation (P=0.002). Stimulation also increased receptive language by 0.22 of a standard deviation (P=0.032). Micronutrient supplementation had no significant effect on any outcome and there was no interaction between the interventions. No intervention affected height, weight, or hemoglobin levels.

Conclusions Using the infrastructure of a national welfare program we implemented the integrated early child development intervention on a large scale and showed its potential for improving children’s cognitive development. We found no effect of supplementation on developmental or health outcomes. Moreover, supplementation did not interact with stimulation. The implementation model for delivering stimulation suggests that it may serve as a promising blueprint for future policy on early childhood development.

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We have also studied the mechanisms through which these results were obtained.


– Estimating the Production Function for Human Capital: Results from a Randomized Control Trial in Colombia .

with S. Cattan, E. Fitzsimons, C. Meghir and M. Rubio-Codina (May 2017, NBER WP No.20965) .  New draft!

Abstract: We examine the channels through which a randomized early childhood intervention in Colombia led to significant gains in cognitive and socio-emotional skills among a sample of disadvantaged children aged 12 to 24 months at baseline. We estimate the determinants of material and time investments in these children and evaluate the impact of the treatment on such investments. We then estimate the production functions for cognitive and socio-emotional skills. The effects of the program can be explained by increases in parental investments, which have strong effects on outcomes and are complementary to both maternal skills and child’s baseline skills. 
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We are now studying the effects 4-5 years after the intervention.

– Medium-Term Follow-Up of a Scalable Home Stimulation Intervention in Colombia: A Cluster Randomised Controlled Trial

with Alison Andrew, Emla Fitzsimons, Sally Grantham-McGregor, Costas Meghir and Marta Rubio-Codina. (available soon)

  • Home and Group Visits. More recently we have evaluated an intervention aimed at improving parenting practices among poor households in collaboration with ICBF, the Colombian government agency that runs more ECD interventions and with Fundacion Exito. The new intervention, based on our original study, developed a curriculum to be delivered mainly via group visits, rather than home visits. The results will be available soon in the paper below.  


– Early Stimulation: The Impacts of a Scalable Intervention

 with Helen Baker-Henningham, Raquel Bernal, Costas Meghir and Marta Rubio-Codina (available soon)

 Abstract: In this paper, we evaluate the effects of the implementation of a structured early stimulation curriculum and a nutritional intervention through public parenting support services for vulnerable families living in rural areas of Colombia (known as FAMI), on children’s development and parental behaviors. We use a clustered randomized controlled trial that assigns 87 municipalities to treatment and control, to evaluate the effects of these interventions on children growth and development. 1,460 children younger than 1 year of age were assessed at baseline. The interventions were also complemented with training, supervision and coaching of FAMI program facilitators. We assessed program effects on children’s nutritional status by anthropometric measures, cognitive, receptive and expressive language, and fine and gross motor using the Bayley scales of infant development-III and socio-emotional development based on the Ages and Stages Questionnaire for the socioemotional domain. The interventions had positive and significant effects on Bayley-III cognitive scale (0.15 SD), receptive language (0.11 SD), expressive language (0.14 SD) and gross motor development (0.14 SD). We also report a reduction in the risk of stunting of -0.13 SDs. We do not find any effects on socio-emotional development. We report positive and statistically significant effects on the number of toy materials at home (0.36 SD), the number of varieties of play materials (0.28 SD), and the number of varieties of play activities with adults at home over the past three days (0.17 SD).
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  • Centre-based Interventions. We have evaluated improvements to existing nurseries (first paper, that will be available soon) and the transfer from small community nurseries to big centres (second paper)

– Pre-school quality and child development in a low income setting

with Alison Andrew, Raquel Bernal, Lina Cardona, Sonya Krutikova, and Marta Rubio-Codina (available soon)

The Effects of the Transition from Home-based Community Nurseries to Childcare Centers on Children in Colombia

with R. Bernal, X. Peña and M. Vera-Hernandez

Abstract: Colombia’s national early childhood strategy launched in 2011 aimed at improving the quality of childcare services offered to socio-economically vulnerable children, and included transferring children from small non-parental family daycare units into large childcare centers in urban areas. This study seeks to understand the effects of this transition on children’s cognitive and socio-emotional development, as well as nutritional and health status, using a cluster-randomized control trial with a sample of 2,767 children between the ages of 6 and 60 months. The results point to improved height for age, a reduction in overweight children, and an increase in the incidence of diarrhea due to the transition. Apart from these, the transition did not have statistically significant effects on most developmental outcomes.
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  • Home Visits. We piloted and evaluated an intervention, inspired by the Jamaica Reach Up model i the slums of Cuttack. The paper, submitted for publication, will be available soon.  

Effects of a Scalable Home Visiting Intervention in Urban Odisha, India: A Cluster Randomised Controlled Trial

with Alison Andrew ; Britta Augsburg ; Monimalika Day; Sally Grantham-McGregor ; Costas Meghir; Fardina Mehrin ; Smriti Pahwa and Marta Rubio-Codina (available soon)

  • Home and Group Visits. 
  • Centre-based Interventions




The impact of a creche programme in Rio

with Pedro Carneiro, David Evans, Pedro Olinto and Norbert Schady

The impact of a Scholarship Program in Mexico

with Rafael de Hoyos and Costas Meghir

The long run impact of a conditional cash transfer program in Colombia

with Luca Pellerano and Olga Romero