“Do not be scared,” Is the advice that Carol would give to her younger self. She was able to utilize her background in development studies and work her way up the as a monitoring and evaluation specialist on a USAID funded project. Even though every day is a little bit different, Carol works to assess project success. Her first job was not even related to monitoring & Evaluation but it laid a foundation for her to develop valuable work place skills. Read on for her advice on how to break into the Monitoring & Evaluation field.
Name: Caroline Kasabiti
Current title/Company: Monitoring & Impact Evaluation specialist-Chemonics-Feed the Future Commodity Production and Marketing Activity
Education: Development Studies
What was your first job out university and how did you land that position? What is the greatest lesson you took away from that position?
My first job out of university was an administrative assistant with an Indian company, Publicity & publishing company. I got the job through a referral from a cousin. I worked there for no more than one month. It did not matter what my take home salary was at the time. Instead, I focused on the experience I got working with Indians. I got my first exposure to what it means to direct my work for the day because of the minimal supervision. I also learnt the value of hard work. Being focused on the work agenda and avoiding unnecessary distractions was also an important skill I picked up.
Tell us a little about your career path in the monitoring and evaluation industry. How can someone expect their career to evolve in this field?
My career in Monitoring & Evaluation started with a USAID project called Monitoring and Evaluation Management Services. I was an assistant to the technical team. The Project was responsible for providing USAID with support in performance monitoring and evaluation. From this work, I picked interest in the kind of work that was done to meet the client’s needs. I was hooked.
If you are just starting out in M&E, you will probably start out as an assistant. As you advance, you will take on different roles depending on the project (from officer, specialist to manager, to director).
Your current job is a monitoring and evaluation specialist at Chemonics. Tell us more about your major responsibilities at work. Take us through your typical day.
I work on a USAID funded activity under Feed the Future program. The program’s aims is to increase crop productivity and access to markers for farmers. My role is to monitor project implementation strategies, interventions and targets.
My day revolves around reviewing performance data, data collection processes, review of work plan strategies and supporting the team on how to get reliable data from the people we work with. I also develop contracts for subcontractors. In addition, I assist the project team to get data that can tell us if we are meeting our contract obligations in terms of creating the desired changes. We also need data for creating learning opportunities from what the project has achieved so far. We assess success stories, lessons learned and challenges we face in implementing the project.
How does your education background and skill set compliment the industry you are currently in? What qualities would you say are important to do the job you do?
My education background in development studies gave me insight into development challenges and development processes. These are all very valuable in my current line of work.
Because M&E is a lot of work, one needs to be hardworking. Analytical skills are very key as you have to be able to explain project results. Every day in M&E is a learning opportunity so you have to be eager to learn. I cannot stress enough the importance of humility to appreciate what everyone brings to the project and be open to learn something from everyone you work every day. I always have light moments with my colleagues when I share with them something unique that I have pick from any of them and always my defense is I am collecting data for M&E.
Why did you gravitate towards this industry? Why would someone consider M&E as a viable career path?
When I started working, I prayed for a job where I would never be bored. Monitoring & Evaluation was the answer. It is diverse. It’s interesting and fast paced. If you find excitement in analyzing non-financial information and learning from it, this is a career path you should consider. M&E is fulfilling because you are able to see where your effort is going and your contribution to the change in the communities you work with. In a way, I am able to give back to my country and somehow create something for the next generation.
What level of education do you think is necessary for success in this industry? What course should one enroll for if they are interested in project M&E? Apart from courses, are there any other resources one can look out for (Events, associations, internet, clubs, blogs etc)
You can get started in the field with a diploma and progress to a PhD depending on how far you intend to go with your career. Courses you can take up include: how to conduct evaluations, data quality assessments, developing a performance management plans, how to development results frameworks, how to develop performance indicators and utilizing M&E findings etc. M&E is a diverse field so any course you consider should depend on what industry you want to get into. Industries range from health, education, agriculture, to governance. There are lots of resources on the internet. My favorites are Devex and Linkedin.
What personality traits and skills do you think are necessary for success in the M&E field?
Interpersonal skills are important as you will be working with a team. You also have to be an avid reader. M&E is always evolving so you have to always be in the know of advances or changes in the field. Being a prayerful person is also important, I think we face so many challenges in our 8-5 life that we need God’s mercy to guide us all the time. So many times, God has come through for me in my work.
What are the biggest rewards and perks of your job?
The biggest reward in Monitoring & Evaluation is finishing a project. We help our clients to implement projects and when we accomplish 90% of what we set out to achieve that’s major achievement for me. Part of my work involves going to the field and working with communities in different parts of the country. It is very humbling to see what sort of challenges people have and how very different life is from your desk to the person you are working to support.
The experience is a reminder to be humble and not focus on yourself all the time but to think about other people and how my work helps to make a difference. That alone helps even when I am tired of reviewing a data set to focus on what the figures I am reviewing mean in the big picture. My work is not just about analysing numbers. It about helping a father or mother struggling to make sure that they create a better life for their children.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to break into the industry?
Use resources like Devex, Linkedin, USAID websites to learn about M&E . Look up job listings and see what requirements recruiters are interested in for an M&E person. If possible, attach yourself to someone you know in the field who can mentor you so that you can learn from them. A statistical background is valuable. One school I would recommend in Uganda is I Train and Evaluate Centre (iTEC) that provides short course in M&E. The courses are detailed and touch on very valuable M&E subject matter.
What advice could you give to your younger self?
Do not be scared. I think most of the time I was scared of messing up. Everyone has fears they are probably dealing with in their own space. But the difference is even in the middle of those fears you still show up and own what is required of you. Find space in your busy day or schedule to respect and relate comfortably with everyone. Read read read and Pray all the time for guidance.