Dean Karlan, MBA ’97, MPP ’97
Public Service Award - 2012
President and Founder
Innovations for Poverty Action
Dean Karlan applies economic theory and research to attacking one of the world’s most elusive problems—global poverty. Through his nonprofit organization Innovations for Poverty Action, Karlan tests what works in the field to determine if a remedy can be applied more widely.
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.