WHO IS JODI NELSON?
Jodi Nelson is the director of Strategy, Measurement & Evaluation at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Committed to helping the foundation maximize its results, the Strategy, Measurement & Evaluation (SME) team is responsible for the organization’s strategy development and review process and its overall approach to measurement and evaluation. SME leads efforts to integrate results-based planning into the foundation’s grant making and operations; develop a strong, organization-wide M&E Community of Practice; conduct independent evaluations of the foundation’s most important investments; and provide teams and leadership with access to relevant data for learning and decision-making.
Prior to joining the foundation, Jodi was the director of Research and Evaluation at the International Rescue Committee. There for almost ten years, Jodi created two new initiatives to improve the organization’s measurement system. In 2003, Jodi raised private funds to launch a three year effort to bridge the gap between academic research and IRC’s field program implementation. Jodi advocated for and founded a department dedicated to research and evaluation. As its director, Jodi strengthened the agency’s program design capacity; streamlined data collection and analysis across country offices; and built capacity for the use of rigorous evaluation for learning and decision-making. This included partnering with bilateral organizations and university scholars to evaluate post-conflict development models in settings such as Liberia, DR Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Burundi and Afghanistan.
Jodi worked before this at several nonprofit organizations with international missions, including the Asia Society, the Society for International Development, the World Resources Institute, and the Committee for Economic Development. She has taught graduate courses on international development and evaluation at Princeton University and New York University.
Jodi has a doctorate in Political Science from Columbia University with a concentration in political economy, and a Bachelor’s from Northwestern University. Jodi was a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations from 2000-2007, and currently serves on the board of Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), the Antelope Foundation and Maloto, an innovative nonprofit organization committed to youth in Malawi.
You can connect with Jodi here:
IN TOR 033 YOU’LL LEARN ABOUT:
- Jodi’s varied career around diverse jobs and facets of the development sector, from ground work to a PhD, from grant writer to evidence-based policy advocate, and from fundraiser to donor.
- The value of networking and mentorship by a thorough recount of the people in Jodi’s life, often with their specific contributions to her life and career.
- The many opportunities Jodi has received to sharpen her observation skills, and what that has meant for success in the organizations she’s worked for.
- The unique and often misunderstood challenges of donors.
OUR CONVERSATION INCLUDES THE FOLLOWING:
- Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
- Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS)
- International Rescue Committee (IRC)
- University of Columbia
- Jeremy Weinstein at Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL)
- Esther Duflo and Rachel Glennester at MIT’s Povery Action Lab
- Craig Mcintosh at UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy
- Measurement and evaluation
- Scientific evidence
- Seattle, WA
EPISODE CRIB NOTES
Measurement and evaluation
Consistency in overall approaches.
Support team in policy, standards.
Building evaluation capacity, program design.
Learning, prospective for future evaluation.
What’s harder: strategy or evaluation
Depends on the definition of strategy, the logic behind it.
There is not a lot of evaluation conversation.
Factors: aspirations, scope, resources. Strategy defines evaluation, but the path is not straightforward.
Jodi’s storied career
Stumbled into it. Secretary\intern in disguise, did all kinds of things at CSIS in DC, “from coffee to project research.“
Jumped towards several organizations, lastly World Resources Institute.
Driven by “the naive claim of wanting to change the world.” Wanted a PhD “because those are the people who get all the respect.” The era of innovation in development was not upon us.
PhD on conflict at Columbia, political science, political economy.
Development only appeared as an option post dissertation. She was pregnant then.
She did not want to stay a professor, “but I had no idea what the other path was.“
Networked a lot. Social science was not very engaged in development, but it helped her, as did connecting with renown economists. Strong research skills were very valuable.
Her fist post doc job was fundraising. Not intellectually challenging, but highly paid relative to PhD prospects.
A lot of gratitude towards Reynold Levy “and mentors.“
A lady* at the Mellon(?) foundation* provided an IRC initiative to bridge academic science with development, it included a year for Jodi to just study and learn, understand what counts as evidence, reach out to social scientists.
A group at Stanford led by Jeremy Weinstein.
Esther Duflo and Rachel Glennester, who would come to lead MIT’s Poverty Action Lab, Jodi took one of the first courses on impact evaluation.
Craig Mcintosh at UCSD.
Revelations, good and bad
“Only time after the Mellon grant I realized I had the job that was right for me.” Fifth work, after a lot of grunt and hating. Not a recommended career path.
At IRC she was happy under Levy, even though she did not study proposal writing, “but my writing was really strengthened after the PhD.“
Post conflict development initiative, intersection between conflict, communities and organizations. Both of them develop the grant.
“There are days when I don’t feel particularly successful. And at M&E, it’s not always clear what constitutes a success or a failure.“
“It’s hard to define your value.“
Organizations have dynamics, feelings of accomplishments are not straightforward.
Conversations among different technical levels shadow clear outcomes.
IRC was an uphill battle, but it was clear.
From recipient to donor
“The donor position is more complex.” There are common things in fundraising, things to rely on that do not exist at Gates. People were passionate, finding resources was challenging but doable.
As a donor, impact evaluation, experimental design, takes on an importance hardly understood everywhere else.
“I don’t have a toolkit.” She has strong opinions on having clarity as to what needs to be measured.
Time nurturing relationships with program managers.
Lots of writing.
Good management as practice and advocacy.
“I don’t travel at all.“
“Get a job, don’t worry about the perfect one. Being uber-prepared does not work.“
“Get something valuable out of every experience.“
For highly technical fields some of it does not apply.
“Seek out people that you respect, build relationships with them.” People as sounding boards, particularly for women
Be humble. There’s too many know-it-all’s. Listen.
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