Introducing: Data… for What?!

August 9, 2022 Team Josh Powell

In July, Development Gateway: an IREX Venture (DG) launched our new Strategic Plan for Fiscal Year 2023 to 2025. This plan builds on twenty-two years of project implementation experience and policy engagement around the globe. To help contextualize the new Strategic Plan, we are launching a podcast series called Data… for What?! This series consists of 5 episodes in which Vanessa Goas, DG’s COO, and I (Josh Powell, CEO) talk to DGers throughout the organization – as well as collaborators within our strategic partner, IREX – about how and why we prioritized the various elements of the new strategy.

In the first episode, we talk to Kristin Lord, President and CEO of IREX, about how our partnership fits into the Strategic Plan; and to Aleks Dardeli, Executive Vice President of IREX and Chair of DG’s Board of Directors, about the process of putting the Plan together at this opportune, yet precarious, global moment.

Where Are We Going?

Widening DG’s Focus

To understand the new Strategic Plan, we need to discuss the previous Strategic Plan. DG has historically been a technology generalist, but in the last strategy we made a really intentional decision to focus on specific sectors (health, agriculture, and public financial management) and to concentrate specifically in West and East Africa. In addition to our work as implementers, we added a work stream of data strategy and policy. By narrowing our focus in the last plan, we were able to better understand our core value proposition and programmatic offerings. We found that as we worked in fewer regions, more intentionally and deeply, we were able to deliver better change. Now, with our new Strategic Plan, we are uniquely situated to thoughtfully build upon that consolidated base and to scale our impact.

The Current Global Moment

Throughout the conversation, Vanessa, Aleks, and Kristin highlighted the importance of the current moment in global affairs. Between the largest youth population in human history, recent democratic backsliding, societal changes from the COVID-19 pandemic, and more, now is a crucial moment to reassess how we can best use data and digital to solve problems. 

“This new strategy takes us to the problem, but with a bolder ambition about the scale and the depth, both our delivery and our impact with better talent, better tools, and a re-energized sense of purpose and mission.”

Aleks Dardeli Chair, DG Board of Directors and Executive Vice President of IREX

A Growth Agenda

In 2020, I wrote that “A global pandemic may not be the ideal business environment to pursue a growth agenda, but we believe that now is the time for DG to be bolder, and that this boldness will require that we also be bigger.” We are explicit in the new strategic plan that we intend to double the size of DG in the next three years. We see that the world and technology are rapidly changing and if we do not match the scale of these challenges and opportunities, and make aggressive strides, we risk not having the impact DG is capable of. This is where the partnership with IREX is important. By growing our work together, we know that we can leverage our strengths for even deeper change.

DG has spent the last few years positioning ourselves for this growth. We have prioritized systems and processes that will allow us to grow while preserving our culture of innovation and learning, the quality of our work, and while remaining a good partner. In many ways, this is not the beginning of a growth agenda, but rather the midway point. We are now in a position to accelerate this growth in a responsible and impactful way.

This growth agenda also means growing our global team. Over the past five years, DG has gone from 50% based in the United States to less than 25% of our team being based in the US. Our team is now based in more than a dozen countries around the world, and we plan to continue that trend in this growth cycle.

The Process

We had intended to release this Strategic Plan over a year ago, but early in the strategy process our conversations with IREX started, and so we put the Strategic Plan on hold. Last October we finalized the partnership and established a new board, which allowed us to restart the strategy process. From a nuts-and-bolts perspective, we worked closely with the board, but we also wanted it to be a broadly inclusive process as well. In the early stages of development we had one-on-one conversations with DGers to understand what the team was seeing in their programming, what they were excited about, what was working and what was not, and where they saw opportunities. In March, we held an all hands meeting to present a general outline, talk about the process, and allow the team to ask questions. In April, the full DG team had the opportunity to read the strategy and make any additional comments. Throughout the process we had many touchpoints for comments from both the Board and from DGers, which was important for shaping the Strategic Plan.

The Partnership 

IREX is a crucial part of this strategy cycle, and specifically in our growth trajectory. We have had much interest from other nonprofit leaders in how the partnership came together. This came out in my conversation with Kristin as well. Both Kristin and I agree that the most important part is figuring out what you want to do together and why. From there, it is much easier to select a method of partnership. Kristin also emphasized that there is a spectrum to how a partnership of this kind could look – from full merger to a more dedicated plan of working together.

I hope you will enjoy this podcast series as much as I enjoyed my conversations. Stay tuned next week, when we talk in more detail about expanding our work in education, media and disinformation, and youth!


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