Common Denominators – A visit to iMerit

One of the perks of being an AIF fellow is that we each get to take an exposure visit to another fellow’s placement. The purpose of the visit is to get a different perspective of someone working in our field. I interpreted the exposure a little differently, and even though I am working at a primary school, requested to visit a fellow working for a social enterprise that supports livelihoods. Since this was a bit out of the ordinary, I had to make a compelling case for the visit… I have been building a database for the teachers at Sujaya Schools to track their students’ progress and needed some external support. At our mid-point conference Neeraj and I got to talking about databases and I realized that even though our placements are engaged in very different work, our projects themselves are incredibly similar. One of my favorite things about AIF is staff is their willingness to think outside the box and support the fellows in achieving their objectives. My request was approved, and through my visit to co-fellow Neeraj Bachani at iMerit was able to gain valuable insight on database design and implementation. I was able to see the incredible work of iMerit first hand when we visited their skills training center. Located just outside of Kolkata, the center trains and employs disenfranchised community members in digital jobs. In addition to exposure to the skill development world, my site visit with Neeraj and iMerit’s database team taught me that the challenges of creating, implementing and maintaining a database span sectors and industries. During my visit we shared questions over how much is too much data to collect, and how to know whether or not we are collecting the right data. We talked about ways to refine the organization of the data within the database and share it in a meaningful way. And, we commiserated over the ever-present challenge of getting staff buy-in on data tools. I came away from the experience with a renewed sense of excitement and confidence about my project and, more importantly, the realization that I needed to simplify the database I had created. iMerit had gone through the process of paring down its database in order to enhance usability, and thanks to them I was able to learn that same lesson in enough time to implement my project fully.

This was one of the most valuable experiences of my fellowship. I have been afforded many opportunities to share information throughout my career, through conferences, associations, partnerships and relationships. However, I have never received such a thorough tour of an organization’s original tool, coupled with thoughtful feedback on my own, similar tool. These are the types of interactions that are going to drive the development space forward. This is why I truly value this fellowship experience.

With a background in program monitoring and evaluation as well as quantitative and qualitative research, Nora is interested in the development of effective, community-based social service delivery models. While in graduate school, Nora focused government-nonprofit relations and the effect on human service systems. Nora has worked as a consultant supporting the capacity building of social service organizations across the US. She also also has experience in the development and implementation of health and education programs throughout Latin America. Nora joins the fellowship after managing the strategy, research and evaluation efforts of a major social service nonprofit in San Francisco.

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