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ACP Countries | The Next Generation of Researchers

Emmanuel Jimenez, Executive Director (3ie). Photo: 3ie

Q&A with Emmanuel Jimenez, Executive Director of the International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie), and advisor to the European Investment Bank-Global Development Network Program in Applied Development Finance. The purpose of the program is to engage qualified young researchers, from developing countries, in producing knowledge that informs large public investment decisionmaking. 

Q. You are an Expert Advisor for the EIB-GDN Program in Applied Development Finance. What made you sign on?

First, I bought into the objective. Building the capacity of the next generation of researchers and policy analysts is key to sustaining development in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. There is no better way to do this than to give promising young scholars opportunities to practice their craft by evaluating real projects. It was a brilliant idea to pair them up with projects funded by the EIB, which also stands to gain from the knowledge generated. It had the potential for a real win-win if curated properly by GDN and the expert advisors.

Second, GDN served as the host ‘incubator’ for my institution, 3ie, until 2015 and it seemed only natural that we develop more opportunities to partner.

Third, when I saw the list of the other EAs, I was impressed and honored to have been asked to join them. They are not only of the highest caliber technically, but also are known for their interpersonal skills as well. And, those I knew already were friends.

Q. What is your assessment of the challenges of connecting research to operations in impact investing?

The principal methodological challenge is that, in these types of investments, it is important to assess, not only the economic, but also social, returns. Private entrepreneurs may not be accustomed to being evaluated in this way. After all, they are used to being judged by that most decisive of arbiters: the market place.

On the other hand, researchers need to ask the impact of longer-term questions, which go well beyond immediate market concerns, such as on social or environmental impacts or long-term economic consequences. Moreover, funders may also be asked why publicly-supported funds such as EIB financing, should support private firms.

These differing interests pose challenges in conducting research. There must be an agreement on the outcomes against which success can be judged. Researchers must also make a convincing case for rigor in methodology and be able to communicate, in a non-technical way, the importance of their activities.

Q. As an established thought leader in impact evaluation, what key messages would you give development practitioners?

'Development practitioners' encompass a wide range of people. For those who are actually doing the investing, in looking beyond immediate economic impacts, it is important to have patience because it takes time to assess ultimate social, environmental or longer-term outcomes. One must also be open to the possibility that there may be unintended consequences which go well beyond what was originally meant.

For development researchers, it is important, as I said above, to communicate with the end users of the research in a language that they will understand and appreciate. Also, they'll need to be flexible in research methods, because some of the practical questions being asked may not be evaluable through randomized control trials, or there may not be appropriate baseline data.

Q. What can this program teach the development community?

First, there is a rich pool of African researchers to draw on. They are young, dynamic, well-trained and show great promise. To realize that promise, they can benefit from the opportunity to hone their skills through practical applications.

Second, capacity building through the intense mentoring of the program, where expert advisers are ‘paired’ with researchers, is costly but well worth it.

Third, we don’t know what the long-term effects are. I hope that GDN can track the program’s fellows over time.The effects of what they are learning now may not be seen until a few years later.

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In correspondence with Madhuri Dass Woudenberg, Head of Communications at the Global Development Network.