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Hoping to Win, Expected to Lose: Theory and Lessons on Microenterprise Development

  • Dean Karlan, Ryan Knight, and Christopher Udry

We show how financial and managerial constraints impede experimentation and thus limit learning about the profitability of investments. Imperfect information about one’s own type, but willingness to experiment to learn one’s type, leads to short-run negative expected returns to investments, with some outliers succeeding. We find in an experiment that entrepreneurs invest randomized grants of cash and adopt advice from randomized grants of consulting services, but both lead to lower profits on average. In the long run, they revert back to their prior scale of operations. In a meta-analysis, results from 19 other experiments find mixed support for this theory.

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Paper provided by Center for Global Development in its series Working Papers with number 312.

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Length: 55 pages
Date of creation: Nov 2012
Date of revision:
Handle: RePEc:cgd:wpaper:312
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  1. Bruhn, Miriam & Karlan, Dean S. & Schoar, Antoinette S, 2012. "The Impact of Consulting Services on Small and Medium Enterprises: Evidence from a Randomized Trial in Mexico," CEPR Discussion Papers 8887, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  2. Suresh de Mel & David McKenzie & Christopher Woodruff, 2008. "Returns to Capital in Microenterprises: Evidence from a Field Experiment," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 123(4), pages 1329-1372, November.
  3. Tetsushi Sonobe & Aya Suzuki & Keijiro Otsuka & Vu Hoang Nam, 2012. "KAIZEN for Managerial Skills Improvement in Small and Medium Enterprises: An Impact Evaluation Study in a knitwear cluster in Vietnam," Working Papers 29, Development and Policies Research Center (DEPOCEN), Vietnam.
  4. Gabriela Calderón & Jesse M. Cunha & Giacomo De Giorgi, 2013. "Business Literacy and Development: Evidence From a Randomized Controlled Trial in Rural Mexico," Working Papers 742, Barcelona Graduate School of Economics.
  5. repec:ebd:wpaper:136 is not listed on IDEAS
  6. Nick Bloom, 2011. "Does management matter?: evidence from India," LSE Research Online Documents on Economics 36391, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.
  7. Dean Karlan & Martin Valdivia, 2006. "Teaching entrepreneurship: Impact of business training on microfinance clients and institutions," Natural Field Experiments 00282, The Field Experiments Website.
  8. Shawn Cole & Thomas Sampson & Bilal Zia, 2011. "Prices or Knowledge? What Drives Demand for Financial Services in Emerging Markets?," Journal of Finance, American Finance Association, vol. 66(6), pages 1933-1967, December.
  9. Yukichi Mano & Alhassan Iddrisu & Yutaka Yoshino & Tetsushi Sonobe, 2011. "How Can Micro and Small Enterprises in Sub-Saharan Africa Become More Productive? The Impacts of Experimental Basic Managerial Training," GRIPS Discussion Papers 11-06, National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.
  10. Karlan, Dean & Osei-Akoto, Isaac & Osei, Robert Darko & Udry, Christopher, 2012. "Agricultural Decisions after Relaxing Credit and Risk Constraints," Working Papers 110, Yale University, Department of Economics.
  11. Marcel Fafchamps & David McKenzie & Simon Quinn & Christopher Woodruff, 2011. "When is capital enough to get female microenterprises growing? Evidence from a randomized experiment in Ghana," CSAE Working Paper Series 2011-11, Centre for the Study of African Economies, University of Oxford.
  12. Esther Duflo & Michael Kremer & Jonathan Robinson, 2011. "Nudging Farmers to Use Fertilizer: Theory and Experimental Evidence from Kenya," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 101(6), pages 2350-90, October.
  13. Bruhn, Miriam & Zia, Bilal, 2011. "Stimulating managerial capital in emerging markets : the impact of business and financial literacy for young entrepreneurs," Policy Research Working Paper Series 5642, The World Bank.
  14. Christopher Udry & Santosh Anagol, 2006. "The Return to Capital in Ghana," Working Papers 932, Economic Growth Center, Yale University.
  15. de Mel, Suresh & McKenzie, David J. & Woodruff, Christopher, 2009. "Measuring microenterprise profits: Must we ask how the sausage is made?," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 88(1), pages 19-31, January.
  16. Britta Augsburg & Ralph De Haas & Heike Harmgart & Costas Meghir, 2012. "Microfinance, Poverty and Education," IFS Working Papers W12/15, Institute for Fiscal Studies.
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