Skip to content Skip to navigation

Stanford Economic Development Research Initiative

The Stanford Economic Development Research Initiative (SEDRI) is carrying out wide-ranging multiyear studies of the social, economic, and political conditions in African cities.

What is it that keeps people poor in Africa and other parts of the developing world? And what allows living standards to rise in other developing areas, lifting millions out of poverty? Enormous gaps remain in our understanding of poor people’s lives in developing countries, hampering efforts to design effective development policies.

SEDRI aims to fill those gaps. This ambitious research program at the Stanford Center for International Development is carrying out cutting-edge development economics research through wide-ranging multiyear studies of the social, economic, and political conditions poor people face in African cities and surrounding areas. SEDRI researchers are looking at urban households, firms, and service delivery by local government in the neighborhoods where those households live.

The initiative represents the first coordinated effort among Stanford’s schools and departments to collect data on the factors that shape poor people’s lives in the developing world. Team members are examining the critical domains of daily life and the choices people make that affect their future prospects: what health care and schooling they get; what they do for a living and hope to do in the future; what services are available to them; what new customs, products, and technologies are introduced into their lives; what social networks they belong to; and how local and national institutions affect them.

SEDRI has multiple goals:

  • to raise Stanford’s profile as a major hub for development policy research

  • to accumulate data over more than a decade that will allow development specialists both inside and outside of Stanford to break new ground in theoretical and applied work

  • to give Stanford faculty focused opportunities to carry out research on vital development questions, and train graduate students in state-of-the-art fieldwork and data analysis methods

  • to build strong, enduring collaborative relationships with in-country research groups

  • to arm Stanford researchers and local partners with practical information that will help them provide valuable policy advice

SEDRI is proceeding in two phases. In the startup phase, from 2015 to 2017, the project is setting up field research stations, putting together study teams, building relationships with local partners, and starting data collection in two African countries, beginning with Ethiopia. In the second phase, from 2017 to 2027, teams will gather additional rounds of information, accumulating data by tracking households, service providers, and local governments over many years. What distinguishes SEDRI is a three-part focus on how individuals, service providers, and local officials each behave. The interaction of these groups forms a complex web that determines a community’s quality of life. Researchers are exploring how decisions get made at all these levels. For example, what mechanisms do poor people have to voice demands for better health care or utilities, and how do service providers and officials respond? To answer such questions, field workers are conducting individual surveys of thousands of people across several urban sites. Researchers expect to use a range of techniques to study local governance, including interviews, onsite observations, and analyses of official documents.

Senior Stanford faculty specializing in development economics, public sector economics, and political economy, and representing a range of Stanford schools and research facilities, are directing SEDRI’s research. Their findings will be published in scholarly journals and presented in ways to be of practical use to decision-makers in government, multilateral and nongovernment organizations, academia, and business. In addition, the data they collect will be treated as a public good and made available to scholars and policymakers worldwide.

Please contact Jessica Leino ( with questions.