A Whirlwind Experience in DC: IRI’s M&E Scholars Program

  • James Laman

(IRI’s M&E Scholars Program is an intensive course designed to help field-based M&E specialists to better understand, design and apply cutting edge concepts, methods and practices to their work. The program includes a condensed three day workshop in Washington DC, which is what James writes about below. More information about IRI’s M&E Scholars program can be found in these previous blog posts: December 2015; December 2015; November 2015; November 2015; August 2014; April 2014)

My chance at being a part of IRI’s Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Scholars Program was fate and my selection as an M&E Scholar proved that IRI wanted to ensure that I had the necessary knowledge to manage my new position. As part of this program, I traveled to IRI’s headquarters in Washington DC in March 2016 for intensive training.

I previously worked for IRI between 2010 and 2012 before leaving to complete my graduate school education. In November 2015, I rejoined IRI’s office in Nigeria as a Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist. Managing the M&E office in Nigeria is a lot of work and I am delighted that I got the chance to participate in IRI’s M&E Scholars program.  One of the first initiatives I wanted to take on was coming up with new and innovative ways to tell our story and sell the work we are doing in Nigeria.

I was a novice travelling outside Nigeria, and at first attempt, a venture into what is considered the greatest country on earth, left me in awe of what to expect. But once I was able to navigate through the seemingly unending journey across the Atlantic and the blistering cold in Washington DC, the experience provided jaw-dropping, heart pounding moments of pure joy and fulfillment.

Once in DC, we were off to a packed schedule that started with a stroll from the hotel to the office at 8:30am every day. With few short breaks, our days ended about 5:30pm. While in the office, we were tasked with learning about exciting new trends in M&E. Though exhausting, one thing it did do for me was build my confidence in the organization, and expand my knowledge as an M&E Specialist. We were mentored and tutored by IRI’s DC-based staff, who I would consider the best in monitoring and evaluation.  Their approach simplified the most complicated terms like results chain, theory of change, output, outcome and impact, and also introduced us to new terms like the outcome wheel.

Between my tight schedule in the day and necessary sleep at night, I was determined to play the part of a tourist. All these add up to a remarkable experience and a taste of the real America I have seen on TV and read about in books. I took my first train ride, scanned the racks of a TJ Maxx, had a burger from McDonalds and made a visit to the house of the most powerful man in the world. Anyone who met me during the training, probably got tired of me talking of how excited I was at the prospect of a visit to the White House. Some moments you experience end up blowing you away in ways you never expected. The things that amaze you and the people that leave you touched for having been, stay with you forever. The experience of a visit to the White House represented all of that and more.

I’m now back in Nigeria and excited to put my new skills and experience to good use. Throughout the hectic schedule, there was laughter, good cheer and friendship among colleague— key ingredients that made my time in DC worthwhile and qualities I hope to emulate back home when doing my work. And maybe, just maybe I could just succeed in the most unimaginable way.


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