Spotlight: Stuart Shirrell (Manager)

stuart spotlight photo

What was your background before joining IDinsight? Why did you decide to join?

I had been interested in development in high school, and my graduation present was a trip to Rwanda. But I studied math in college, and my original plan was to do a Ph.D. in pure mathematics and be an academic for the rest of my life. Then I got into a Ph.D. program and learned that I did not, in fact, want to be an academic. After some soul-searching, I started applying for development jobs. My math knowledge and experience abroad made IDinsight a great fit.

During your time at IDinsight, where have you been based and what kind of projects have you worked on?

I’ve been based in Cambodia (twice), Uganda, and India (twice and my current base). My projects have ranged from sanitation, to nutrition/governance, to public health, to clean energy. I also spend about half my time on the technical team, which supports projects on thing like data cleaning and analysis. For the technical team, I do everything ranging from supporting an agriculture project in east Africa remotely to training staff in our India office.

How would you describe the culture at IDinsight?

The culture is challenging while also being supportive. One of my favorite things is how intellectually curious everyone is. Our lunch conversations are never dull and we often end up discussing a new paper or study results or some intractable development problem.

What are some specific things you feel that you’ve learned during your time working at IDinsight?

Squat toilets aren’t so bad.

I have a deep love of motorcycles.

Indian mangoes really are the best.

When writing randomization code in Stata, always use the “stable” option when sorting data.

How do you like to spend your free time? What would your “perfect weekend” look like?

I have a variety of side projects that I like to work on. I brew beer and mead, and am trying to figure out mango cider and lychee wine. I also make cheese. Homemade soap has been a project in the making for a while, too.

What’s your favorite book that you’ve read this year?

A Harry Truman biography by David McCullough. I never knew how much of an accident his presidency really was.

What do you plan to do next after your time at IDinsight? What from your IDinsight experience helped prepare you for this opportunity?

Right now, I am looking at law and business schools and will apply in the fall. Longer-term, I’d like to work more in the U.S. Being from Arkansas, I see a lot of similarities between the American South and the Global South, be it an agriculture-based economy or a brain drain to wealthier parts of the country. My time abroad has been invaluable, but there are also plenty of development challenges closer to home.