GP Students Participate in Game Theory Experiment

Thursday, April 09, 2009 | posted by Global Playground News |
This past January, students at Global Playground's schools in Cambodia and Thailand participated in a "public goods" game theory experiment that gave valuable insights into the cultural mores and concerns of children in developing countries. Such insights may eventually help organizations such as Global Playground determine how best to provide development assistance.

Bill English, a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Science at Duke University, conducted the "public goods" game as part of his dissertation work. The game first involved allocating to each student in a classroom "enough play money to buy two pencils or pens," said English. Each student could then choose to deposit none, some, or all of his or her money into a community pot. "Any money in the community pot was doubled and then split equally amongst the players," explained English. If a student contributed nothing, the student would keep his or her original allocation and also receive a share of the community pot. Yet, if all participants made no contribution, the communal pot would ultimately be empty and no one would benefit from the doubling of the pot. At the end of the game, students were given pens and pencils--highly sought-after school supplies in developing countries--in exchange for whatever "money" they had won.

Developing economies are a research interest for English, who received some funding from Duke University to conduct the game theory experiment at Global Playground's schools. A fifth-year graduate student, English has studied the history of development aid, including projects that have been successful and some that have been not so successful. According to English, "one of the challenges in developing countries is to figure out how to sustain projects that advance the common good when individuals confront personal incentives to 'free ride' off the efforts of others and not contribute themselves."

Of the forty-six Cambodian students participating in the game, seventy percent chose not to "free-ride," but rather to contribute to the community pot, a relatively high number when compared to what has been observed in other cultures, said English. At the end of the game, students were then asked survey questions about the game and their attitudes and beliefs. "In the survey, many students reported that they expected classmates to contribute, and in practice most of these students contributed themselves," said English. This was interesting because the Cambodian students reported that "most cannot be trusted. Yet, they were very trusting, based upon contribution levels to this public goods game," said English. In addition, the students reported that "they were happy, despite poverty. Wealth doesn't correlate a lot with happiness," he said.

When English conducted the experiment a second time with the Cambodian students, contribution levels plummeted to approximately thirty-five percent. "If you play this game repeatedly, in three or four iterations the contributions usually go down to zero, if it is publicly observed that 'free-riders' make out like bandits," explained English. In Cambodia, the public goods game generated a great deal of interest among the students; some who had been playing outside came inside to watch the game.

As for the Thai students, in the one instance that the experiment was conducted with them, approximately fifty percent contributed to the community pot. The results illustrated a difference by gender; boys contributed slightly more than girls. The survey results also demonstrated that despite the standard of living being higher in Thailand, Thai students perceived health as more of a problem than the Cambodian students did. When surveyed about the greatest dangers in their lives, the Thai students placed environmental issues at the top of their lists. This is not unsurprising given that the Thai students, members of the Hmong and Karen "hill tribes," live in a region where a great deal of "slash and burn" lumbering occurs. In comparison, the Cambodian students were focused on their lack of material resources, as well as violent crime and theft.

Overall, the students at both sites "seemed to enjoy the 'public goods' game, and found it interesting," said English. The "public goods" game provided a snapshot of the concerns and attitudes that Global Playground's students hold--something that may be useful for determining how to best aid them in the future. It also provided additional insight into the difficulty of achieving cooperation when individual incentives are not in line with the group's overall welfare and it affirmed that local cultural mores affect individual responses to such dilemmas. English commented, "Hopefully, the exercise provided a useful teaching moment for the students, some useful insights for Global Playground, and some additional questions for the economic development literature."

-Jon Heifetz

For more information about Bill English's dissertation work and his work with the students at Global Playground's schools, you may contact him at

Record Numbers Attend Global Playground's DC Event

Sunday, April 05, 2009 | posted by Global Playground News |
Hundreds packed the first floor of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace on Friday, March 27, as Global Playground hosted its third annual Washington, DC event. This year's event celebrated Global Playground's project openings in Uganda, Cambodia, and Thailand, and its upcoming endeavor in Honduras. Those present ranged from infant Hannah Ng to ninety-three year old Violet Branagan and all those in between, including students from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, attorneys and staff from Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC, representatives from Students Helping Honduras, alums of the College of William & Mary, and many other family and friends, some of whom traveled across the country and along the eastern seaboard to be present on Friday evening.

Among the treats of the night, not the least of which was the wonderful Thai food delicately prepared by Naovarat Branagan, those in attendance enjoyed the magical khim and kluy music of Pia Puatrakul and Noi Leekmek and the mesmerizing performances of Cambodian Master Dancers Suteera Nagavajara and Sochietah Ung from Cambodian-American Heritage, Inc., a nonprofit striving to preserve Cambodian art and culture in the United States. Those present were privileged to witness the Robaim Monosanchetana, an expressive and sentimental dance portraying an ornate royal courtship ritual and the sadness brought about by the separation of two lovers.

Sochietah Ung, who survived the genocide at the hands of Cambodia's Khmer Rouge regime in the mid-1970s, has been a master dancer since 1989 and is responsible for the elaborate costumes. Suteera Nagavajara has been studying and performing Cambodian classical dance since 2003 and is co-founder of the Somapa Thai Dance Company in Washington, DC.

Global Playground was also honored by the presence of dignitaries from the Thai, Ugandan, and Honduran embassies. Damrong Kraikruan, Charge d'Affaires of the Royal Thai Embassy, stressed the importance the Thai government places on education, highlighting that a sizable portion of his country's GDP is dedicated to education. Kraikruan also extended a heartfelt thanks to Global Playground for providing such a vital educational resource in the form of a library dedicated this past January in northern Thailand. Wendy Rivera, First Secretary, and Kay Gaekel, Second Secretary, of the Embassy of Honduras likewise expressed their thanks to Global Playground for its work around the world and evinced their excitement at the prospect of a Global Playground project in Honduras.

Michael Karugaba, Second Secretary of the Embassy of Uganda, repeatedly lauded Global Playground for mobilizing "youngsters," a reference to the many young professionals serving on Global Playground's board of directors and advisory committee, and in its worldwide network of volunteers. Secretary Karugaba, to the utter delight of those present, invoked Charles Dickens in his thanks to Global Playground. He acknowledged the broad and important impact Global Playground has had in his country's Waikiso district, but did not want "to be like Oliver Twist extending his bowl for more."

The evening was filled with similar charming conversation, wine, song and dance, and gourmet cuisine, not to mention the warm feelings of those who opened their hearts for Global Playground's mission. May we all be Oliver Twist in extending our bowls for more support to raise awareness and share resources with people of the developing world to create educational opportunities where they do not exist.

-Jennifer Rinker