Kate Hausdorff and Professor Kelsey Jack at Tufts University

From Tufts to the Village

Economics student Kate Hausdorff researches the effect of microfinance loans in Zambia with Professor Kelsey Jack

Zambia’s last “rainy” season turned out to be a drought. For a country that’s run primarily by hydroelectricity, the drought caused power outages and low harvest yields. To put food on the table, many of the country’s farmers sought work on more solvent farms to feed to their families—leaving their own crops to suffer.

Kate Hausdorff, an M.S. candidate in economics, spent the summer in Zambia working with her advisor, Assistant Professor of Economics Kelsey Jack. The project: a randomized controlled trial that tests a loan program that distributes 200 kwacha (roughly thirty dollars) to local farmers at the beginning of the hungry season to keep them on their farms through the harvest. The loan has been used for food, maize, fertilizer, and even school fees. The hope: by working on their own crops, farmers will experience higher yields and will be less likely to run out of food and have to go looking for work the following year. The loans have already seen an 85 to 90 percent repayment rate.

Assorted vegetables at a market in Zambia.

Vegetables from the daily market in Chipata, Zambia. (Photo by Kate Hausdorff)

Hausdorff had no economics background when she came to Tufts for her master's degree, but she did have a strong background in political science and sociology, as well as a passion for the developing world. “To live and work in a developing country was the opportunity of a lifetime,” she says. “And something that not every student gets to do.” This rare real-world experience she says further supported how grateful she feels to be at Tufts. “The first year of coursework was hard. It was really rigorous. But I knew it would hugely supplement my skillset—and this summer in Zambia has helped even more.”

Now in her second year of the degree program, Hausdorff will focus on her thesis. “It’s building off the work I was doing for Professor Jack in Zambia, measuring women’s bargaining power in the household,” she says, adding that Zambia is a largely male-dominated country. “It was hard for some of the women to talk about such a personal matter.” While in Africa, Hausdorff conducted focus groups for her thesis. She also cleaned data and helped manage Jack’s project day-to-day.

“I didn’t come to Tufts just looking to get a degree and get out,” Hausdorff says, crediting financial aid as another reason for choosing the university. “I came to build personal relationships with my professors, gain life experience, and poise myself for a successful career that can help change the world.” Because there are no Ph.D. students in the economics program, she adds, the M.S. students are able to have valuable close relationships with the faculty, like she has with Jack.

As for her career after Tufts, Hausdorff is aiming to land somewhere like the World Bank. “Or a think tank in DC, possibly an NGO,” she says. “It doesn’t have to be international. I have so many options because of the skills I’ve gained.” In the meantime, in March she’ll be helping Professor Jack to organize a seminar for microfinance institutions and policy makers that will focus on the outcomes of the loan program, with the hope of expanding access to microfinance in Zambia.

“Faculty members are interested in using econ as a toolkit to understand the world,” Jack says. “Students like Kate come in interested in real world problems and they have a lot of opportunities to participate, apply their knowledge, and use economics to develop solutions and insights.”

 

Story by Kristin Livingston, A05