Michael Callen, Joshua Blumenstock & Tarek Ghani



Michael Callen is a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation. He completed his Ph.D. in economics at the University of California, San Diego in 2011. His current research is in development economics, political economy, and experimental economics. He has active research in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and Uganda, Pakistan and at the newly established American University Afghanistan Behavioral Research Laboratory. Callen has published in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, the British Journal of Political Science, and has research under invited resubmission at the American Economic Review and the Journal of International Economics. He has a BSc in Econometrics and Mathematical Economics from the London School of Economics. For further information click here.

Joshua Blumenstock is an Assistant Professor at the Information School at University of Washington in Seattle. His research focuses on the economic and social impacts of information and communication technologies in developing countries, and the development of new methods for quantitative analysis that combine insights from econometrics and machine learning. Recent projects use terabyte-scale data on network communication to understand patterns of adoption and diffusion of mobile technologies (Pakistan and Mongolia), the welfare implications of Mobile Money (Rwanda and Uganda), and the role of technological innovation in reducing corruption and violence (Afghanistan). Joshua has received fellowships from the National Science Foundation, the Thomas J. Watson Foundation, and the Harvard Institutes of Medicine, and was a post-doctoral scholar in the Department of Economics at Yale University. He holds a Ph.D in Information Management and a M.A. in Economics from U.C. Berkeley, and Bachelor’s degrees in Physics and Computer Science from Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT.

Tarek Ghani is a PhD Candidate in Business and Public Policy at UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business. Before Berkeley, Tarek managed a grant portfolio on conflict prevention issues at the private foundation Humanity United, and held prior consultancies with the World Bank, Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Center for Global Development. A recipient of the Truman Scholarship and the Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship, Tarek graduated from Stanford University with a B.S. in Symbolic Systems and Honors in International Security. His research interests include the political economy of reform and the industrial organization of private sector development.

Current Research Initiative as part of the PEDL project:

Using Mobile Salary Payments to Improve Afghan Firm Performance

Enterprises in Afghanistan face many constraints, some common to all Low Income Countries (LICs), and some specific to fragile and conflict affected states. In Afghanistan, imperfect government control, rampant corruption, poor infrastructure, and weak growth-supporting state institutions all interact to impede private sector development. Even something as apparently straightforward as paying wages is complicated. Currently, most Afghan firms pay their employees by cash transfers, given the limited penetration of electronic bank deposits. This is plagued by inefficiencies resulting from: (i) an underdeveloped banking sector which reaches less than 5% of the population and is in a state of crisis because of the 2011 Kabul Bank failure; (ii) leakage/graft of employee salary by supervisors; and (iii) high costs of currency transport, due unreliable transport infrastructure and concerns of physical security.

Our research will examine the extent to which these constraints can be relaxed through technological innovation in the form of a mobile phone-based salary payment system. Roshan, the largest mobile phone provider, is just beginning to deploy the Mobile Money Salary Disbursement Service (MMSDS), which allows Afghan firms to pay employee's salaries by directly transmitting balance to the employee's mobile phone. This has the potential to dramatically improve the security, reliability, and efficiency of salary payments. We intend to address the following questions, using the information generated by the initial deployment of MMSDS in one or two large firms:

  • What are the internal losses in firms due to graft in the traditional salary payments system?
  • Does the increased reliability of payment, and associated reduction in rent-seeking opportunities affect employee take-home pay?
  • Can mobile money empower firms to hire employees and expand operations in areas that had formerly been prohibitively costly or dangerous to access?
  • How does the increased reliability of payment and reduction in graft affect employee retention, motivation, and productivity?
  • Do their saving and remittance patterns change?
  • Is intrahousehold bargaining affected by the opportunity to disguise money in a mobile wallet?
  • Do employees adopt other mobile banking services, and/or substitute out of traditional institutions such as hawalas?
  • How does adoption depend on mobile money agent availability?

During the exploratory phase, we will use this information to inform the design of the research and data collection in a large scale Randomized Control Trial.

Research Interests:

Development Economics, Political Economy, Experimental Economics