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After graduating from the University of Virginia with a degree in international affairs, he found his calling during a stint working for a microlender in El Salvador. He was surprised to discover that there was little rigorous testing to determine what antipoverty approaches were effective. Resuming his academic training, Karlan simultaneously earned his Booth MBA and master’s degree in public policy at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy Studies. He went on to earn a PhD at MIT and is a professor of economics at Yale University. 

At Chicago Booth, professor Richard Thaler was particularly influential, and his pioneering thinking in behavioral economics inspired much of the work Karlan and other researchers do at Innovations for Poverty Action. The organization today oversees projects in more than 40 countries with a staff of 600 and income of $30 million from grants and donations. In the challenge of helping the world’s 3 billion poor, Dean Karlan found a field worth his prodigious energy and considerable intellect.