- Terry Roopnaraine
Will Bachman, Terry Roopnaraine
Will Bachman 00:04
Hello, and welcome to Unleashed. I’m your host will Bachman and I am extremely happy to be here today with a very old friend of mine parents, Rupert robbing Regnery, Terry Rutan Marine, who taught me how to take pictures when I was a freshman at Harvard. And Terry was the photo editor of the Harvard Crimson. And thrilled to have you on the show, Terry?
Terry Roopnaraine 00:34
All right. Will, thank you. Will, thank you for for inviting me. I know it’s very, very nice for you to mention our, our shared history and photography. And, you know, as we were chatting about this with, I know that this is, this is something we’ve been planning to do for some time. And I believe I dropped the ball on a previous chat that we had organized and booked in a couple of years ago. So I’m very glad we finally finally managed to get around the table as it were. And how about this? Yeah. So
Will Bachman 01:12
you do a type of consulting that most of our listeners, most of the listeners on the show, are probably not as close to Why don’t you just start by giving us an overview of the type of work you do?
Terry Roopnaraine 01:28
Sure, absolutely. So I work in, broadly speaking, international development consulting, I’ll talk a bit about the kind of different areas that one might work in in that, in that very broad field that I’ve worked in that for, gosh, about 25 years now. So essentially, I work as a technical consultant on international development projects, which are projects which are typically funded by either by bilateral donors, or by UN agencies, or by multilateral agencies like the World Bank. And increasingly, an increasingly important area of the practice is worked with, with foundations, which is something that’s kind of opened up over the last 10 years, I think, probably. So what I do is provide technical services to support the projects, which are essentially financed by these different sorts of entities. I mean, just to give you a little bit of history here, there was a time when, you know, I guess I’m talking here about sort of 30 odd years ago, 30 plus years ago, when development work was very much done kind of in house by by donor entities. So, you know, an organization like USA ID, or, you know, any of the new the large bilateral donors would have had a very, very strong technical in house presents. And they would, you know, go literally go to, you know, a country in Sub Saharan Africa, which required technical services and to say, health, health, health system strengthening or something of that kind, and they wouldn’t do that work themselves. But that model shifted, began to shift some time ago, and increasingly, organizations and donors and bilaterals, and funders in general moved to a kind of outsourcing, outsourcing of technical skills model, which is not to say that the bigger donors and the bigger organizations don’t have strong technical teams in house, they do. But those technical teams tend to now be oriented more towards identifying and recruiting consultant, technical consultant teams to implement their projects. So within that, within that space, I work as a as a technical consultant and provide those kinds of services that are required to make those projects work, work and deliver the best kinds of impacts on the ground for the principally for the beneficiary populations that they’re serving. But also, of course, there’s a huge accountability chain because very often, these projects are funded through the public purse of one country or another. So there has to be some kind of proper accountability and evaluation. So that’s essentially my kind have broad practice area. But within that, I have kind of certain specializations, which I’d be happy to talk through. But that’s me, I don’t want to have the top contestants. So
Will Bachman 05:12
within that space of being a technical consultant, I imagine there’s one piece at the end, which would be someone who had run a kind of evaluation of the effectiveness of a program. But maybe you could give us an overview of the different types of roles that technical consultant might play. Sure.
Terry Roopnaraine 05:34
So I guess the two big the first big sort of bifurcation, or the first big division into two broad areas, you might say, is into a division into implementation, project implementation and management on one side, and learning evidence and evaluation on the other side, okay. And these, these, these two dimensions need to fit together. But if you think about it, so the implementation side of things, is to do with getting a project up and running. You know, everything, recruiting staff, putting in inputs, designing activities, ensuring that things are run according to time, according to budget, all of those things in the best way, trying to do things in the best way possible to deliver the strongest possible impact for every dollar or euro of aid that’s provided. So that’s, that’s one really important side of technical consulting is to offer skills in implementation to say, Okay, well, you know, there is a particular education project in Uganda, which is being funded by the British government. So they, they’re going to recruit some, they’re going to hire some technical specialists in education, to make sure that the design of that project and the implementation of that project is well run, and well done, and is most likely to deliver results. Then, the other side is, as I was saying, related to learning evidence and building the knowledge base, and of course, evaluation, you mentioned evaluation of effectiveness. There, that’s one of the dimensions of evaluation, there are several dimensions of how you might evaluate a development project. But all of that, that kind of component of technical consultancy, is also super important, because as I was saying, first of all, you know, it’s about delivering the best impact for beneficiary population. So, as an evaluator, you want to make sure that a program is delivering on time, that it’s not leaking funds all over the place, that there’s robust monitoring, set up to make sure that, you know, change is kind of captured systematically. And that some solid, reliable independent evaluation workstream is in place to make sure that actually, it’s possible to say, well, this project, you know, deliver these results. And that is a tremendously important part of all of this of this whole puzzle, because, of course, you know, for donors, who particularly donors who are channeling public funds, oriented, you know, donors, which might be channeling stockholders funds, it’s really important to be able to say, well, you know, this money was spent in this way. And we, you know, we ensured that X number of children are vaccinated or X number of births took place in an institutional context, which is an increase over the last few years, or whatever the case may be, but it’s very, very important to have the left side of things. So I’ve tended, over my career, I’ve tended to work a bit more in that, in that side of technical consulting in the kind of research evidence and evaluation side of things, which I think is kind of partly an artifact of being a bit of a refugee from academia. In that I, you know, was one point, you know, I went to graduate school in anthropology and lectured in anthropology for some time. And so you know, My kind of intellectual and academic orientation was research, resource directed. So when I sort of moved across to them to development work, the sort of logical home for me, the logical corner to be working in, was more on the kind of research evaluation and evidence building side. I mean, I have worked in implementation programming, programming implementation over the years as well. But the, I’d say my kind of strongest practice area has been in the research angle research side.
Will Bachman 10:39
Oh, talk me through some examples of the projects that you’ve worked on. Let’s get into some case examples.
Terry Roopnaraine 10:49
Sure, so I can, let me give a couple of a couple of examples. So kind of early projects that I worked on, I worked in the early 2000s, on a lot of what what were called Conditional Cash Transfer Evaluations in Latin America. And it was the conditional cash transfer was a modality, an aid instrument, which was very much in favor. I mean, I, this sounds a bit cynical, but I think after, you know, almost 30 years in the field, one’s entitled to a little bit of cynicism, you know, that there are flavors of the month, right. And it was, at that time, very much the flavor of the month. The idea being that you could give a small, a small monthly cash, you know, cash transfer to households, which you’ve identified as being the poorest X percentage of the population, receive a cash transfer a cash benefit every month. It’s not an enormous amount, because it’s very carefully calibrated to kind of balance between the basic basket, I’m sure, you’ve heard that you’ve probably heard the Spanish version of it, well, I, you know, kind of style as you go. And so balancing between the needs of the basic basket, and not wanting to create kind of depressive labor market effects. So those those kinds of programs were very, very common throughout Latin America. And essentially, they were what they really were. And this is an interesting dimension to, you know, I, when I started off working on those, I thought they were really about providing a cash transfer an income supplement to the household. But that, as I later learned, was only part of the story that we’re they’re really about, they’re about social engineering. They’re about trying to incentivize uptake of health and education services. So that’s why they’re called conditional cash transfers. In other words, the deal that you strike as a house as a head of household is okay, we will receive, you know, 50 bucks a month as a cash transfer. But in order to keep receiving that money, we commit to sending our school aged children to school, and to making sure that any, any pregnant household members attend prenatal clinics, and that any postnatal vaccination schedule is adhered to, and so forth. So there, it’s an incentivization scheme. And anyway, one of the reasons that the World Bank and the IDB, the Inter American Development Bank, were very keen on these programs is that they’re, they’re very easy to evaluate quantitatively, you can, you can design, you can design a study, to measure certain indicators change in certain indicators. And with the right kind of regression analysis and the right sort of structure, you can actually attribute with a great deal of confidence, certain changes that to the program. So that’s a really attractive thing for donors to be able to the problem of attribution, above contribution is really, really important for donors. So they were, you know, it was a kind of feverish time in that space in Latin America in those years. And I came into this as an anthropologist though wanting to look at the social side of this. And it was an interesting time because you know, the evaluation field at that time had been dominated by, you know, surveys anthropometry, highly quantitative metrics, and indicators. But there was a growing awareness that there was another part of the story here and that, you know, it didn’t, it wasn’t helpful just to know, well, you know, there’s less stunting in this community because of the program. That’s great. But suppose that the program doesn’t have the kinds of effects that you’ve anticipated that you that you’ve hoped for? Well, then you want to know why. So there was a growing awareness that you needed to actually go into homes and start kind of asking questions about what people do with the transfers, and what people were what people actually thought of the programs. And, you know, what sorts of social, what are the social implications of giving a cash injection to a household that has very little cash? And what are the what are all those sorts of different social and cultural dimension. So you can imagine that as an anthropologist, this, this is something that’s super interesting. So I started working on these programs, kind of doing, essentially ethnographic and qualitative research. And really trying to, and, you know, I was, you know, I laugh about this over coffee with my anthropology, friends, you know, Trinity trying to kind of push the idea of ethnography and similar sorts of qualitative research approaches, really trying to sell that idea to like World Bank, people who, you know, you know, believe in a certain, you know, religious belief in the power of quantitative approaches. And so, you know, I worked together with a couple of other kind of qualitative oriented researchers, and we spent a lot a lot of time and effort on published articles and really tried to push the line, that it was important to understand the voices of people who were, you know, benefiting from these programs, and it wasn’t just all about how many transfers, you’d hand it out, and, and the monitoring data, it was also about, you know, what people thought of things, what perspective people had on things, how they, how they behaved behavioral issues. And so, so those were, the, those were the projects, which dominated my kind of early, early 2000s, I did those evaluations in, in Nicaragua, and El Salvador, worked on that in Peru, as well. So in quite a lot of different contexts. And essentially, what I would do is go and, you know, recruit, make some make some good contacts at a good local university, and then, you know, collaborate with colleagues at the local university, we typically recruit us a small team of field researchers, who would go and live in the communities and, you know, have do kind of semi structured interviewing for a month, which is, you know, those are methodologies, which are been really, you know, for people who are accustomed to kind of running large scale surveys, large scale household surveys, these are methodologies, which are completely alien. So, it was an interesting time.
Will Bachman 18:35
Tell me a bit more about like the how to have those semi structured interviews for listening to the show, or more typical management consultants having experience at McKinsey, Bain, BCG, Deloitte, and so forth. I’d love to hear a little bit more, you know, how an anthropologist approaches this? And, like, some of the how tos, like how would you actually train people? How would they go about living in the community? Would they? How would they record their responses? How do you, you know, open yourself up to getting off the offset set of interview questions? If you notice something interesting in our house, tell us a little bit about how to do this research. Yeah,
Terry Roopnaraine 19:20
sure. So I mean, what this was, was essentially an effort to take what would typically be, you know, at least, I mean, if you’re, if you’re in grad school and anthropology, you would be doing at least a year of methodology classes, in which you would be, you know, reading extensively, learning about how to construct these sorts of interviews. And, you know, we were in a position where we were essentially trying to collapse this process, into, you know, a week of a week of training workshop. And then also, of course, a much shorter period In the field, because, as you know, I mean, if you are going to do doctoral research and anthropology or looking at a year of fieldwork. And suddenly, what we’re asking people to do is to essentially do a relatively short training, where we would, what I would do was I designed a lot of those trainings, I would essentially, you know, sit down in a room with our six researchers say, and talk them through the process. And I really did my best to hire researchers who had experience who are from social science faculties. And that, you know, had varying amounts of success. I mean, in in Nicaragua, the researchers I hired, you know, there were very, very good, but the resources were more limited, the academic resources were more limited. When I worked in Peru, I hired researchers who, you know, were exactly the same kind of level as you would find in a European University. Very, very high level. So it just depends, but you know, you work and you have to be flexible, and you essentially teach them to work to it to conduct interviews, like conversations, and to follow up on interesting areas. And, you know, I would spend quite a lot of time really talking through the actual program, which they were doing research on, so that they would be able to really understand what the key areas of interest were. So those were, and then they would work with typically kind of written interview guides. And I mean, in those days, we used to, we used cassettes, we recorded things on cassettes. Now, I usually issued little digital recorders to everybody, for projects. But, you know, I mean, imagine you uses result on cassette recorders. So, you know, I think that there were a lot of compromises that need to be made, there was this was, in no sense kind of, you know, hardcore, it wouldn’t pass muster as sort of hardcore ethnographic research, but it was certainly leaning in that direction. And I think we managed to find ways to really benefit from the, you know, from the actual approach, in order to create a deeper understanding of what was going on, let me give you just a really quick example. So, you know, one of the things that’s great about doing that kind of research is that you can, it complements the survey work. So, you know, you have the survey work, essentially, is broad and generalizable. And, you know, is typically conducted over a sample that’s been chosen in such a way so that you could make quite generalizable statements. Whereas the qualitative work is done, you know, over a much smaller sample, and is more in depth. So, one of the things that emerged in Nicaragua was that they had been giving out an iron supplement for administration to children, who had been determined to be deficient in iron. They’ve been given this out for three years. And, you know, when they actually did the did the blood tests, they did some blood samples and so on, they found that it didn’t seem to be having the least effect. It didn’t seem to, you know, just was as though it wasn’t there. So, in the next round of community field research, we essentially went into the communities. And I asked, I asked our field research team to go and particularly asked questions about the iron sprinkles. And they came back with these incredible stories, but basically, the iron sprinkles had a terrible reputation because they were alleged to rot your teeth and cause stomach cancer. And so, you know, nobody, nobody was willing to give them to their children. They were just tossing them out. So little things like that, you know, you are examples of the ways that, you know, there’s a complementarity between, you know, the quantitative research findings, and then the kind of explanatory qualitative research findings.
Will Bachman 24:41
That’s amazing. What, tell me some other sorts of those sorts of insights that either on that project are other ones that have come up that were just surprising.
Terry Roopnaraine 24:53
Yeah. I mean, there’s there’s a lot of a lot of I guess a lot of things that you find about how people do things, how people live their lives. So one of the one of the things that comes up all over the world, I’ve worked in quite a lot of nutrition, nutrition, interviews, interventions, where, you know, kind of household research is really important, because the household is where it is where it all happens, but the household is where it all happens. So you really have to, you know, go in, and actually observe people preparing food and, you know, feeding children, and you look at their, you know, hygiene and sanitation practices, you look at their, their dietary diversity, you look at the meal frequency, all of those different areas. And one of the things, which we’ve just found so consistently, and the first place this came into my mind was was in Cambodia, and I was working on an evaluation there, were they, one of the interventions was that they would, this organization would essentially give eligible families a couple of chickens with the idea that they would then be able to, to essentially breed chickens, and they would be able to supplement their diet, which was very meat poor, they would be able to have some eggs, and, and, and chicken, you know, animal protein, of course, his animal source foods are quite important in those in those circumstances. And what we found was that, essentially, people were taking the eggs, and just selling the eggs in the market. And not, their consumption of chicken and eggs didn’t go up at all, they would just take the take the money and buy bulk staples, like rice. And, you know, I’ve seen some version of this, all over the world, right? Most recently, I was working on a project in Rwanda for for UNICEF, and we found the same kind of thing that, you know, for people who are living in extremely resource constrained circumstances, very, very close to the edge in terms of food security, the first thing that, you know, they’re going to be looking out for is sort of the bulk heavy foods. You know, whatever the starch may be, whether that is, you know, maize meal in, in some parts of southern Africa, or whether it’s like sorghum, or whether it’s cassava, or rice, or whatever, but some kind of really filling starch. And that would effectively, you know, whether it’s economically or just in the sort of household food consumption pattern that would displace higher quality foods. So, you know, that was something that we found, it’s just all over the world. And I think it’s a really, you know, key learning for kind of remote area resource constrained, constrained nutrition interventions, because if you are setting up a training to improve the diets, particularly of under two year old children, then, you know, the key is, I mean, they have to have a sufficient diet, and they have to have a diverse diet. And if you’re basically filling them up with carbohydrates, and little else, then you’re going to run into problems of stunted stunted growth. And what really struck me about that was just the universality of it. In that, you know, I’ve worked on, you know, most continents in so many different places. And, you know, one of the things that really comes to me after quite a long time in the field, is that there’s an awful lot in common, you know. And, as an anthropologist, that doesn’t necessarily sit very well, because we spent a lot of time in anthropology talking about relativism, and the importance of specific contexts. But actually, there’s an awful lot of things which are really very universal to the kind of way that human beings manage their household life.
Will Bachman 29:55
I’m curious about how you have experience Just just your own personal safety sounds like you’ve worked in a wide range of countries, typically, well, well off the kind of, you know, tourist safety zone of staying at four star hotels, but, but doing field work? Have you experienced places where you were, you know, felt physically at risk? And how have you managed your own personal safety.
Terry Roopnaraine 30:26
Um, you know, I worked for a over most of the last 25 years, I’ve been an independent consultant, but I did work for a consultancy for a firm in the UK for a couple of years, few years back, and one of the first things they asked you to do was a, what they call the hostile environment training course, where they essentially sent you off to a rural, at some location in British countryside. And we spent, you know, three days with some kind of ex military types, going through all the various unpleasant things that could happen to you. I don’t worry, I should say that I don’t work generally in humanitarian emergencies. So, you know, I am not, you know, just trying to distribute food in Gaza, or, you know, working in a health center in Mogadishu, or any of those things. So typically, the most countries that I work in are not actively war. That said, I’ve worked in very, very rural areas. And my number one sort of, you know, safety safety mechanism, in that is just, you know, shared humanity, because the fact is, most people in the world have no desire to do any harm. And if you are receptive, and receptive and respectful, and you tread lightly in your engagement with people, and you listen, and you watch, and you you engage with people in a positive way, then I think that, in general, most places are pretty safe. I mean, I felt many years ago, I worked in Kosovo, right after the war, that didn’t feel very safe. But again, that was an immediate post conflict situation, there was still a lot of unexploded ordnance knocking around and use a lot of weaponry floating around, it just didn’t feel safe. But in general, my feeling is that if you approach these situations, much as a kind of anthropologists might approach them going into a field work site, then in general, your experience will be good.
Will Bachman 33:06
There’s been some books out that criticize development aid, and philanthropy has not being very effective. I’m curious to hear your perspective about having seen so many programs? What types of programs have you seen that really are effective? And what types of interventions are really making a difference? For the people that they’re aimed at supporting?
Terry Roopnaraine 33:37
Um, yeah, that’s a good question. That’s a really good question. So I think that there’s two things, there’s a couple things that one needs to look at here. So one of them? Well, I’m going to just mention three. I know this may be isn’t the sort of the kind of straight answer you’re looking for. But if you think first of all, about the kind of the, the appropriateness, the relevance of a particular program to an area, so that that’s really important. So it has to be something which is addressing a very specific need in a very direct way. And the more direct the relationship between, you know, needs on the ground, and what the program is delivering, the more direct that relationship is, the more likely it is to succeed, people who come up with very oblique structure as well, this will cause this which will hopefully promote this and that will hopefully cause that, you know, are looking at trouble down the line. Then the other issue is about the kind of design of the program, sort of what, you know, is it is it a program that is parsimony assume it’s designed, efficient, and it’s designed a program that is simple in its design. And again, you know, I think that the most the programs that are most likely to succeed are the ones which are simplest in design. You, I evaluated a program some time ago, in Zambia, and it was had so many components. And in order to deliver impact, you know, a whole lot of those components, maybe not all of them, but most of them had to be functioning perfectly. And that’s a lot to line up. Okay. So, simplicity is really good. I mean, that’s why in many ways, I kind of liked those, those cash transfer programs in Latin America, because basically, you hand people a wad of cash at the end of the month, and you say go to it, you’re not getting into a whole lot of complicated food distribution, that sort of thing. In fact, you’re sort of supporting the local economy. Then the other issue is context, right? The, the more you have a functioning governance context, the more likely your programs are to succeed. I mean, you know, you may, you may or may not be aware that Rwanda is considered to be a kind of development, darling, it’s a, it’s a country in Sub Saharan Africa, which has, you know, been through absolutely ghastly genocide. Actually, I think it’s, what, 30 years ago now. But has come out of it, and, you know, kind of worked quite hard to rebuild, rebuild the society in a way that functions well. So, when I worked there, one of the things that really struck me was just how efficiently everything got done. Right. And that’s something that, you know, I spoke to colleagues at the bank and colleagues at the UN and so forth. And their experience was the same, you know, if you, if you collaborate with the said, government ministry, in Kigali on delivering a health project, or nutrition project or an education project, they are going to deliver that for you that’s going to get, you know, it’s and so it’s just much more likely to produce impact. You know, there are other countries that don’t wash, wish to sort of name names here and shame any country, but there are certainly countries where the governance setup is too weak to corrupt and too incompetent to really be a viable partner in delivering development programming. And in those places, you kind of think, well, okay, what are the options here? Do we go through a church? Or do we go through an NGO? Do we just put in an office and implement a project ourselves. But, you know, ultimately, if you want to scale our project up, so it’s got really big national coverage, you just generally genuinely need to involve the government. So those are some sort of key kind of key issues, which make development projects succeed or fail?
Will Bachman 38:35
What? For listeners that want to, you know, find out more about your work, Terry, or reach out to you, what’s the best way for people to find you online?
Terry Roopnaraine 38:46
Oh, well, that’s a, that’s a tough one. Google, at the moment, I don’t, I don’t have a company website. And I, currently revamping my LinkedIn profile and so forth. But it’s one that kind of brings me to a point, which is that I have tended over the years to, you know, really put a lot of a lot of emphasis on relationships and relationship building, in building my practice and my business and so on. So you know, the way the way that tends to work very much is that, you know, you you do one project for a particular organization. And then, if you’ve done well, and they were happy with your work, they might ask you to do another project for them, or they might recommend you to some other colleagues, a different organization, and so on, and you kind of develop a network and build up, build up a business in that way, which is one way of going about it. I know that a lot of A lot of my colleagues have kind of gone the more formal website route. But anyway, that’s how I’ve tended to work. So you know, I’m happy for you to spell out my name or to do something of that kind. But in general, I guess I would say, kind of watch this space. And I will probably looking at developing a more systematic online presence.
Will Bachman 40:26
Amazing. And I won’t put you on the spot limitary. But if you would like to put together a list of books, or other recommended reading for somebody who’s interested in this kind of technical evaluation type work, or development, economics, or anything related to that. We can include that in the show notes.
Terry Roopnaraine 40:47
Yeah, sure. I’d be happy to you. You’re not meaning right now. Right? Well, no, no, no, wait
Will Bachman 40:53
a second. You just just email to me. We’ll put in the show notes. We
Terry Roopnaraine 40:56
publish this episode. I’d love to. That’d be great. All right. Carrie, this
Will Bachman 41:00
was so much fun. Hearing about work. Thanks so much for joining today. No,
Terry Roopnaraine 41:05
thank you. Well, thanks again for the opportunity. It’s been actually really fun and I hope I didn’t bore anyone to death. I talk too much, but I’m not super accustomed to doing this. So this was an interesting experience for me.