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Preparing for IDinsight’s next chapter

Ruth Levine 9 February 2023

A note from IDinsight CEO, Ruth Levine

Three years ago, I joined IDinsight as CEO, following in the footsteps of one of the organization’s co-founders and its first chief executive, Buddy Shah. I was warmly welcomed by the extraordinary, impact-obsessed team that he and the other co-founders had built over a decade, and I dove into the exciting opportunity to lead a dynamic team beyond its super-charged start-up phase. 

Early 2020 was not the easiest time to step into a new job. The COVID pandemic was scattering team members across the globe and bringing in-person data collection to a screeching halt. The global economic outlook was uncertain at best. And the long-overdue critiques of Northern-defined and White-led models of development and evidence generation were growing stronger by the day. I had a lot to figure out, all with the support of a set of colleagues, board members, and external partners who brought unflagging energy and commitment to the challenges we faced.

With hard work, many methodological and operational pivots, an inclination to listen more than talk, and a good deal of luck, we survived. More than that, we grew larger, stronger, and better able to make the kind of social impact that brings us to work each and every day. 

In the past three years, IDinsight has almost doubled in size to a team of 283. The vast majority of team members now are from the regions in which we work, increasing our collective ability to understand and make the most of opportunities for impact in Asia and Africa. As part of a newly built internal learning function, we have developed a methodology to estimate the contributions that our data- and evidence-centered work makes on the impact of our NGO and government partners

Within our five-year strategy, we’ve started excellent new projects with committed partners in each of the regions in which we work. We’ve invested in new organizational capabilities, including data science engineering and monitoringsurvey data collection, and broadened our service offerings in response to demand. We’ve also stepped up our communications game because evidence can’t make a difference without the craft of communicating numbers into narrative and clear messages. Now on a sound financial footing, including with the establishment of the Catalytic Fund, we’re able to focus even more on improving lives and livelihoods. IDinsight still has lots to learn and much more to contribute, but I am proud of how much my colleagues and I have achieved together. 

Which brings me to the reason for this blog post. Over the next few months, I’ll be transitioning to serve as the Inaugural Vice President for Just Societies and Chief Learning Officer at the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. In this role, I will guide the Foundation’s work to build just, and equitable societies for all people as well as lead the Foundation’s learning and evaluation strategy. It was a very difficult decision to leave IDinsight, and I will dearly miss the experience of seeing close-up the value this team brings to NGOs and government partners as they seek to improve the lives of millions of people in Asia and Africa. The opportunity at the Packard Foundation, however, feels like it was custom-made for me at this point in my career. Although I will be one step removed from the close-to-the-action work and colleagues I so value at IDinsight, I will be in a position to support many similar organizations in crucially important spheres – which I have found very professionally rewarding in the past – and to work on both U.S.-focused and global challenges. 

Fortunately for IDinsight, we are in a very strong position to be able to attract an outstanding new leader with passion and vision for the next phase. Our Board of Directors will soon share information about the executive search process.

I’m grateful (almost) beyond words for the privilege of leading IDinsight during this important moment. I’m sure I won’t be able to resist sharing some personal lessons from the past three years, so stay tuned for a few reflections at the end of April. 

With gratitude,