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Esther Duflo: 'Nobel Prize will be a megaphone'

Esther Duflo and husband Abhijit Banerjee Image copyright AFP
Image caption Esther Duflo and her husband and fellow prize-winner Abhijit Banerjee

Economics Nobel prize winner Esther Duflo says she wants to use the award "as a megaphone" in her fight to ease poverty and improve children's education.

Prof Duflo, only the second woman to win the economics award, told the BBC she hoped it demonstrated practical ways to improve lives.

She shared the award with her husband, Abhijit Banerjee, and Michael Kremer.

Their work has focused on poor communities in India and Kenya.

Research into how teachers can improve classroom education or how to raise healthcare standards in poor areas was having real-world practical benefits, said the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the prize.

Prof Duflo told the BBC that she and her fellow prize winners took a more practical approach than many economists who had won the award previously.

For example, an experiment in schools in India dispensed with a focus on the curriculum, to concentrate on children left behind in their studies.

"That doesn't look like rocket science," she said. "It looks obvious. But nobody in India accepted that as a legitimate approach." Armed with evidence that their methods work, she said, it was easier to convince policymakers.

The economists have also, for example, looked into areas such as class sizes and comparisons between experienced and inexperienced teachers. While the former have obvious benefits, the later compensated for their lack of experience with energy and enthusiasm, she said. The challenge of their work was to prove it.

Not enough women

Prof Duflo said: "If you want to really make a dent in fighting poverty and the problems that go with it you really have to approach it problem-by-problem. Try to put away your preconceptions, and instead try and bring in a scientific and vigorous mindset. The key is experiment."

She said that winning the award was incredibly humbling, and completely unexpected because "usually a Noble prize goes to a male economist over the age of 60".

Image copyright AFP/Getty

Not only is the professor just the second women to win the award since it began in 1969, at the age of 46 she is also the youngest winner - male or female.

The three academics will share prize money of nine million Swedish krona (£728,000).

"We will put it [the money] to good use and make the best of it in our work," she told the BBC. "But this is way beyond the money. The influence that this prize will have will give us a megaphone. We will really try to make good use of that megaphone to amplify the work of everyone who works with us."

She also hopes the prize will send a message to other women economists.

"There just are not enough of us," she said. One reason for this is the culture - "a little bit macho and aggressive," she said.

Another reason is that "young women are not necessarily inspired by economics as something that could make a difference in the world. They think that if they want to be useful they should become doctors or maybe scientists - but not economists."

She hopes the award will show women that economics "is not just about wearing ties and suits, and thinking about the macro economy and finance. It can be about changing the world - making the world a better place".

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