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

  • Karlan, Dean S.
  • Knight, Ryan
  • Udry, Christopher

Many basic economic theories with perfectly functioning markets do not predict the existence of the vast number of microenterprises readily observed across the world. We put forward a model that illuminates why financial and managerial capital constraints may impede experimentation, and thus limit learning about the profitability of alternative firm sizes. The model shows how lack of information about one’s own type, but willingness to experiment to learn one’s type, may lead to short-run negative expected returns to investments on average, with some outliers succeeding. To test the model we put forward first a motivating experiment from Ghana, and second a small meta-analysis of other experiments. In the Ghana experiment, we provide inputs to microenterprises, specifically financial capital (a cash grant) and managerial capital (consulting services), to catalyze adoption of investments and practices aimed towards enterprise growth. We find that entrepreneurs invest the cash, and take the advice, but both lead to lower profits on average. In the long run, they revert back to their prior scale of operations. The small meta analysis includes results from 18 other experiments in which either capital or managerial capital were relaxed, and find mixed support for this theory.

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Paper provided by C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers in its series CEPR Discussion Papers with number 9100.

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Date of creation: Aug 2012
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Handle: RePEc:cpr:ceprdp:9100
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  1. Mano, Yukichi & Iddrisu, Alhassan & Yoshino, Yutaka & Sonobe, Tetsushi, 2012. "How Can Micro and Small Enterprises in Sub-Saharan Africa Become More Productive? The Impacts of Experimental Basic Managerial Training," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 40(3), pages 458-468.
  2. Attanasio, Orazio & Augsburg, Britta & de Haas, Ralph & Fitzsimons, Emla & Harmgart, Heike, 2014. "Group lending or individual lending? Evidence from a randomised field experiment in Mongolia," Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Economics of Change SP II 2014-303, Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB).
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Dean Karlan & Robert Darko Osei & Isaac Osei-Akoto & Christopher Udry, 2012. "Agricultural Decisions after Relaxing Credit and Risk Constraints," NBER Working Papers 18463, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  7. 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.
  8. Bruhn, Miriam & Karlan, Dean & Schoar, Antoinette, 2013. "The impact of consulting services on small and medium enterprises: evidence from a randomized trial in Mexico," Policy Research Working Paper Series 6508, The World Bank.
  9. 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.
  10. Fafchamps, Marcel & McKenzie, David J. & Quinn, Simon & Woodruff, Christopher, 2011. "When is capital enough to get female microenterprises growing? Evidence from a randomized experiment in Ghana," CEPR Discussion Papers 8466, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  11. 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.
  12. 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.
  13. Christopher Udry & Santosh Anagol, 2006. "The Return to Capital in Ghana," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 96(2), pages 388-393, May.
  14. de Mel, Suresh & McKenzie, David & Woodruff, Christopher, 2007. "Returns to Capital in Microenterprises: Evidence from a Field Experiment," IZA Discussion Papers 2934, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA).
  15. Dean Karlan & Martin Valdivia, 2007. "Teaching Entrepreneurship: Impact of Business Training on Microfinance Clients and Institutions," Working Papers 107, Center for Global Development.
  16. Augsburg, Britta & de Haas, Ralph & Harmgart, Heike & Meghir, Costas, 2014. "Microfinance at the margin: Experimental evidence from Bosnia and Herzegovina," Discussion Papers, Research Unit: Economics of Change SP II 2014-304, Social Science Research Center Berlin (WZB).
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