HOME | NEWSROOM | ARTICLES

How behavioral science could boost development in the Caribbean

For Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago, nine proposals to reduce waste, improve public health, and spur entrepreneurship

By Zach Church  |  April 5, 2016

A street scene in Havana, Cuba

Havana, Cuba; Photo: Michaela Calnan

Last month, 26 MIT Sloan MBA students traveled to Cuba and Trinidad and Tobago to explore how those countries might use behavioral science to reduce waste, encourage healthy lifestyles, and expand and strengthen their economies.

Students on the trip met with professors of tourism in Cuba and CEOs and leaders in tourism, entertainment, and chamber of commerce organizations in Trinidad and Tobago, including Trinidad Hotels CEO Brian Frontin, who served as a liaison for the group.

While the goal was to suggest how nudge theory—the idea that indirect suggestion can influence groups toward a desired outcome—could benefit growing economies, the results of the working sessions were more than encouraging, assistant professor of marketing Renée Gosline said.

“I’ve already received emails from several of those people wanting to continue figuring out how to implement these behavioral nudges that we proposed," she said.

Adding to the excitement of the trip was its historic timing. The MIT Sloan visit overlapped with President Barack Obama’s trip to Cuba, the first by a sitting U.S. president since 1928. On the ground, the students found mixed feelings. One student asked a taxi driver if he was excited, only to get a “I don’t care” sort of reply, said Veronica Franzese, MBA ’16, one of the trip’s student organizers.

“I think the perspective of people in terms of Obama and that he was coming was varied,” Franzese said. “And as the tour guide told us, there is sort of a generational divide” between Cuban youth and the older generation committed to the Cuban Revolution.

Franzese said the trip was her favorite experience in her time at MIT Sloan and Gosline said she experienced a feeling of unity when the students and their hosts rushed to catch a glimpse of Obama’s motorcade passing.

“We weren’t Americans and Cubans at that moment,” Gosline said. “We were just excited to be witnessing history.”

---

Here are the ideas students brought with them to the islands. Each of the proposals uses behavioral science techniques and includes an experimental design.

Carnival CostumeRecycle
Jessica Jeana Kim, Maeghan Oberoi-Smith, Ellen Rice Staten

Trinidad and Tobago’s annual carnival is a massive celebration, complete with costumes that can cost thousands of dollars. The costumes are often thrown away, a problem in a country that produces the most garbage per capita in the region. This proposal is a program to encourage citizens to recycle costumes in collection bins. Municipalities then collect the costumes, which are resold at a discount.

A taxi cart in Havana, CubaA taxi cart in Havana, Cuba; Photo: Michaela Calnan

Smoking Cessation in Cuba
Meera Krishna, Charles Wu

Cutting the smoking rate in a country known for its tobacco may seem like a fool’s errand, but this proposal advocates early intervention, targeting 6th grade students for anti-smoking education and asking them to write letters to loved ones who smoke. Success would be measured against a control group in 8th grade.

Maintaining Healthy Lifestyles Despite New Economic Temptations Coming to Cuba
Rishika Samant, Dennis Schwedhelm

Here comes McDonald’s. Cuba today has a preventative treatment-focused health care system. But if fast food franchises begin to open on the island, couldthe system be overburdened? This proposal suggests developing educational videos providing social proof of the short-term health effects of fast food binging for teens.

Trinidad and Tobago Sustainability Initiative
Octavio Sandoval, Justin Yi

As with Carnival CostumeRecycle, this proposal seeks to mitigate and reverse the damage of a culture that has not emphasized recycling. The idea is to increase the use of reusable shopping bags by appealing to national pride and positioning bags as fashionable accessories.

SafeLime: Changing Attitudes Towards Drunk Driving in Trinidad and Tobago
Nicole Krensky, Allie Lowe, Kristin McNelis

Drunk driving is a problem in Trinidad and Tobago, where drinking is a major part of social lives in a country with limited public transportation infrastructure. This proposal suggests developing an app called SafeLime (a play on the “ liming” lifestyle in Trinidad and Tobago) that allows revelers to call a group taxi for their trip to and from the bar or club.

Trinidad and Tobago: Do Recycling Better
Curt Cannon, Thitikorn Setthalikhit, Nicholas Van Niel

What if you could get lottery tickets for recycling? This proposal suggests citizens of Trinidad and Tobago receive one ticket per 5 kilograms of recycling. The tickets come on badges that can be worn to offer a social proof, similar to the “I Voted” stickers popular in the United States.

Trinidad and Tobago recycling containersRecycling in Tobago, where efforts are underway to reduce waste; Photo: Nicholas Van Niel

Lionfish Population Management: Using Behavioral Science to Ameliorate the Environmental Impacts of the Invasive Lionfish Species
Andrew Kao, Jessica Kao

With no natural predators, the lionfish is a perennial nuisance in Caribbean waters. In Trinidad and Tobago efforts to control the lionfish population include fishing derbies and spearfishing challenges. This proposal suggests positioning lionfish—which is edible, but not a popular dish—as a must-eat dish for tourists visiting the islands. Marketing efforts include a seafood dining map to be distributed at hotels.

“Nudging” Entrepreneurial Ambition: Improving Venture Quality and Diversity in Trinidad and Tobago
Matt Cardoso, Alanna Hughes, Anton Lande

In Trinidad and Tobago, petroleum and natural gas accounts for as much as 45 percent of gross domestic product, but only 3 percent of employment. This proposal seeks to reduce bureaucratic barriers to diversified entrepreneurship. While the country has a business incubator system, the application process is cumbersome, jargon-filled, and not available online. The proposal seeks to correct those problems.

Trinidad and Tobago: Recycling and Landfills
Michaela Calnan, Zach Oliver

Again confronting trash and recycling problems in Trinidad and Tobago, this proposal is to overhaul an information flyer to emphasize social proof and scarcity of resources. It also focuses on clearer language. The flyer would be distributed by trash collectors and results would be tested against a control group that received the older version of the flyer.