The East Africa Social Science Translation Collaborative (EASST) has brought 32 East African fellows to the University of California, Berkeley to study rigorous impact evaluation methods since 2011 (and have recently started piloting a virtual, non-resident fellowship to reach even more people). All fellows go on to join the Network of Impact Evaluation Researchers in Africa (NIERA), and continue growing in their careers as academics and important interlocutors between research and policy. EASST keeps in touch with fellows long after their stays at Berkeley, making sure to keep them abreast of opportunities in their network and also tracking their career growth and personal developments over the years.
One of the fellows from 2015, and Inaugural Treasurer of NIERA, Anthony Mveyange, has recently been appointed as the Executive Director for Partnerships for African Social and Governance Research (PASGR). He spoke to CEGA Associate Director Maya Ranganath, and NIERA Program Manager Jennifer Nyakinya, to discuss his new role, thoughts on the research--policy continuum, opinions on EASST and NIERA, and his advice for future fellows.
Maya: Can you please tell us about PASGR and your new role, and the kinds of decisions you’ll be involved in making?
Anthony: Headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, PASGR is an independent, non-partisan Pan-African not-for-profit organisation established in 2011 to build the capacity of African researchers, policy makers, civil societies, private sector and universities to do research on social/public policy and governance. PASGR was set up to focus mainly on non-economics social science disciplines, such as public policy, political sciences and governance. Over the years PASGR has expanded significantly and now organizes itself around three key themes 1) conducting innovative research for policy engagement; 2) working with African institutes of higher education on pedagogy and research capacity, and 3) working on professional development and training for young researchers and policy makers. We have a footprint in over twelve countries in Africa, and are continually expanding. As the Executive Director, I’ll be in charge of the organization’s overall strategy and operations including institutionalising an ambitious and transformational research and training agenda on topical social/public policy and governance issues in Africa.
Jennifer: How does PASGR connect with researchers and policymakers, and help to translate research into policy?
Anthony: Our triangular model links research, higher education and training and at the centre of it all is policy engagement. The research we do is meant to speak to two core arms of 1) generating knowledge for the academic community, partners, and donors in the form of high profile publications to top and high impact journals and outlets, and 2) engaging with African policy and decision makers and practitioners for translating research into practical, relevant and meaningful public policy and governance reforms in Africa. PASGR also conducts training for policy makers on gender mainstreaming, social protection, and other social disciplines and plans to expand further into more pressing public policy issues such as health, conflicts and violence, migration, social justice, access to water, urbanisation and cities, and climate change. Our training seeks to empower policy makers to expand the frontiers of knowledge on issues that are pertinent to public policy and governance.
Jennifer: What about higher education- what’s PASGR’s role there, and how does it connect with policy?
Anthony: PASGR also trains university lecturers and researchers and you can see directly how this brings them together. The research we do is meant to stimulate policy conversations and engagements with a hope of adding value to current policies, and through the Utafiti Sera (Research Policy platform) we are able to bring together different researchers, policymakers and practitioners to discuss topical development issues in Africa.
It’s equally important to ensure policymakers are a part of and resonate with the research that is produced and disseminated. Researchers have to co-create knowledge with policy makers and consistently engage and address their concerns. Bringing them at the center of the process and understanding their contribution will encourage a deep sense of ownership and translation of research evidence to policy. A majority of policy makers know the problems but are unsure of the appropriate methodological approaches. That's one more reason why these collaborations are very important!
Maya: What are the main challenges you anticipate?
Anthony: Personally, I feel there are big expectations of me-- I’m going to be in charge of the whole organization, so I want to make sure to empower my team to bring out their ingenuity and be an inclusive leader. I want to inspire free team engagement and communication and set up a healthy environment to do work, and keep values of productivity, empathy, and also having fun. It is also important for me that we relate as social human beings. I want the workplace to provide people with a sense of belonging and give them a reason to wake up every morning and contribute to our vision and mission.
On a broader level, I think that many organizations are competing for funding, and this is a challenge-- but this also opens up great potential for mutual collaborations. There are different needs of different stakeholders that are the center of trying to bridge the disconnect of policy and research. I believe in bringing on board CSO’s like NIERA, the private sector, donors/funders, development partners and other organizations in our space, as these all have their own niche.
Jennifer: How does PASGR connect with other organizations on the ground? How will it be interlinked with NIERA?
Anthony: First, PASGR has two key approaches to collaborations. These are south-north connections and south-south connections with Pan-African countries. In terms of potential linkages with NIERA, the Network has advanced technical expertise to conduct deep Impact Evaluation training unlike PASGR, who would probably conduct these capacity trainings at an intermediary level. This then becomes a potential area for a NIERA – EASST – PASGR collaboration if we tap into the strong knowledge footprint for IE methods. We don’t have to recreate the wheel, but can utilise the existing training resources in these organisations. Other areas of mutual interest lie in political science issues where a WGAPE – PASGR – EASST – NIERA collaboration can bear fruit given our broad footprint in Africa. We can also work with NIERA to potentially expand into West Africa.
It’s important to create opportunities to bring all players together and clearly determine who gets what out of the partnership. There exists a lot of avenues for collaborations but the question to explore is, what do we collaborate in and what are the areas of mutual interest among the partners? It’s not about how fast each of us can run, but how far we can go together.
In terms of professional training, the next puzzle is - so what? We’ve all trained students, university lecturers and policy makers, so what? There is a need to start thinking out of the box and ahead of the curve to devise ways to ensure stakeholders apply the acquired impact evaluation skills in their work. Can we entice policymakers to use the impact studies to change policies and have behavioral responses to do that? We have all done so much training but these in themselves are outputs and not outcomes. We want to know- to what extent can we observe that the training has contributed to policy change or the quality of conversations in the policy landscape?
At PASGR I plan to stretch out our thinking and philosophy on training a little more and track over the years, the extent to which these have contributed to policy changes and translated into something meaningful.
Maya: On that note-- we also like to track the impacts of our EASST fellowship over the years! We’re so proud of everything you’ve done since being at Berkeley. You’ve had a great career across the World Bank, Trademark East Africa, and now PASGR. Would you say that EASST had an impact on your career trajectory on the whole and to this new role? If so, how?
Anthony: EASST gave me the gift of coming to Berkeley, and being mentored by [CEGA Faculty Director] Ted [Miguel] -- it has helped my career explode outward, and has opened countless doors. Ted has really been there for me and graciously and unconditionally supported the growth of my career trajectory. I am grateful for the privilege to have been his mentee.
Connections, networking, and friendships with CEGA staff and the faculty I met there were major benefits for me. It’s great to connect with Berkeley alumni elsewhere, too. Connections with the faculty I met (such as Alain de Janvry, Betty Sadoulet, and Paul Gertler) and PhD students (who have now gone on to have interesting careers) has continued. CEGA also still invites me to conferences, such as the 2018 GeoDev Conference held in Berkeley and 2019 Food and Agriculture Organization conference in Rome, where I met many others who I am now working with.
Over the years, EASST, and now NIERA, have really brought together African colleagues-- now I have friends not only in Berkeley, but in Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and other countries. We’ve collaborated together across many studies, continue to apply for grants together, and constantly keep in touch via WhatsApp.
In a nutshell, EASST contributed significantly in terms of exposing me to the world, and giving me a platform where I connected with so many researchers. Through EASST, my talents were amplified and identified -- it gave me the chance to be recognized.
Maya: Do you have any advice for future EASST fellows, or for EASST & NIERA?
Anthony: For future fellows- don’t be shy, be very open minded to working on different types of projects, and be proactive and engaged (I benefited from knowing the American way of being direct and active to get things done by spending some time there before.) Don’t wait for opportunities-- be creative, and make things happen-- speak up, engage, interact, reach out.
For EASST and NIERA-- don’t forget the value of collaboration. Finding the right partners helps to provide better context, and different perspectives matter. If you want to make a big impact, reach out to the people who are likely to consume what we produce-- governments as well as the private sector and civil society actors. Don’t stay in your silos of academia. And keep learning directly from them about their contexts. Context is key-- it can define how fast you can run, and how far you can go!