Project Balika, SMS Nudges, and Parental Engagement: a Behavioral Intervention in Mumbai, India during COVID-19 Schooling and Economic Disruptions

Greetings, all! My name is Anahita Kumar (she/hers) , and it’s such an honor to be a part of the CASI community and to contribute to the CASI summer blogs. I just wrapped up my first (and tumultuous, thanks to the pandemic) year of doctoral studies as a PhD student at Penn GSE in the Human Development and Quantitative Methods Division. I have been a Research Apprentice at the RIPPLE lab with Dr. Sharon Wolf (now my PhD advisor) since 2019.

My research interests lie in the various environmental factors that shape children’s development in the early years, and in leveraging evidence-based behavioral interventions to improve children’s cognitive, socio-emotional, and physical outcomes. Evaluating whether interventions such as cash transfer economic programs and nudges-based educational programs impact long-term parental decision-making will help researchers and policymakers alike in addressing questions on bringing solutions to scale. Addressing community-level questions to bring about policy-level change may be a sustainable blueprint for navigating a system so disrupted by COVID-19.

Parent engagement during COVID-19 related schooling and financial disruptions may prove to be a pivotal factor in shaping children’s outcomes, particularly in children exposed to severe degrees of schooling and home disruptions. Research documents the substantial differences in parental engagement between advantaged and disadvantaged parents and the importance of parental engagement to children’s future socioeconomic, health, and behavioral outcomes. This summer, I will be immersed in designing and leading a rigorous study in Mumbai’s Malvani area. Malvani is a low-income neighborhood with issues of chronic violence, communal tensions, and overcrowding. For this project, I am pleased to partner with a local education NGO, Project Balika (Hindi translation: Project Girl) ( Project Balika has almost a decade long established relationship with the Malvani community, and has played a pivotal role in promoting girls education and girls rights in a predominantly traditional community. Project Balika is established as a trustworthy and reliable NGO with schools and families in Malvani, and is involved in implementing home visits, cash transfers, food distribution, and girls advocacy, among other initiatives.

Official Logo: NGO Project Balika

This research project intends to (1) investigate families’ well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic through three rounds of phone-based interviews with 525 low-income families in Mumbai’s Malvani community (net annual income averaging $835), (2) to implement a high quality SMS nudges-based parent education program to promote parent-child engagement using an RCT design, and (3) to evaluate the effectiveness of the program in improving parent engagement.

I look forward to returning to this blog to share more about the project Theory of Change model, and research design. In the meantime, our efforts have culminated in wrapping up the nudges intervention, and preparing for endline surveys in the month of July, 2021. This has been an incredible experience, and would not be possible without the brilliant community leadership of Project Balika.

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About Anahita Kumar

I'm a PhD student at Penn GSE in the Human Development and Quantitative Methods Division. I research behavioral interventions such as cash transfers and phone-based nudges, parent engagement and decision-making, household stress, child labour practices, and children's learning environments, in India, Côte d'Ivoire, and Ghana.