New faculty: Amanda Awadey

Amanda Awadey, new faculty at Mount Holyoke College, is passionate about using knowledge and tools in economics to positively impact the trajectory of human capital development and entrepreneurship in her home country of Ghana and elsewhere.

Human capital is the economic value of a worker’s accumulated knowledge and experience, and education is a key component of developing this value.

Amanda Awadey is passionate about using knowledge and tools in economics to positively impact the trajectory of human capital development and entrepreneurship in her home country of Ghana and in other developing countries.

“Developing countries have made extraordinary gains in increasing enrollment. But a challenge remains if students are in school but not learning as much as they need to,” she said.

Some of the questions Awadey interrogates in education are, “How does crowding in high school affect students’ learning? What field choices are students making on the collegiate education level? And what informs these decisions?” These fall under Awadey’s research exploring how schools in developing countries can effectively equip students with the right knowledge, how to remove obstacles at scale to learning and how to understand decision-making in higher education, which can directly impact labor force outcomes.

Awadey’s interest in human capital development further expanded into entrepreneurship when she connected with Laura Boudreau, an economics professor at Columbia Business School, whose research includes a focus on firm productivity in developing countries.

“When you think about entrepreneurship in the United States or more developed countries, you may think of venture capital or angel funded startups, which go on to have an IPO that can then be very profitable for their investors. But in a developing country, it is usually a very different story,” Awadey said. “A lot of entrepreneurs in developing countries have less than five employees and are significantly constrained typically with capital, and we don’t often see these huge explosions of productivity and growth.” Together with a team of other researchers, in conjunction with the World Bank and the Government of Ghana, Awadey is exploring ways to better target entrepreneurs that can maximize resource support to increase their productivity and growth and go on to impact their economies.

The first thing Awadey took note of about Mount Holyoke was its beautiful campus. This attraction deepened when she noticed almost immediately that it was a place where she could work with people committed to both research and teaching and making a difference on both fronts. That the students’ she interacted with also desired to make an impact on the world was the lynchpin. She is excited to teach her introductory economics course because it enables her to take her students beyond the typical finance concepts associated with economics and equip them with tools that reveal how people make decisions and interact in an economy.

“Introducing students in a development seminar to empirical research, highlighting interventions or actions that have worked in the development processes versus those that did not, is always delightful,” she said. “When you think broadly about impacting society, that can be overwhelming. But the idea that you can do one experiment, then learn something about the development process and iterate on that is empowering, because maybe you can lead that one step forward in development, even if it’s small, and make somebody’s life better at some point.”

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