Aminata is an OTT Fellow. She holds a Masters’ degree in public policy from King’s College London and an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Toronto, where she majored in political science and ethics, society and law. She began her career at the Ministry of Youth and Employment of Senegal as a monitoring and evaluation officer. Aminata is currently the Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning lead at IPAR, a think tank that works on agriculture and rural development in Senegal and West Africa. She is an active member of the Senegalese Evaluation Society (SenEval) and the vice-curator of Global Shapers Dakar network, which promotes young social entrepreneurs with motivation and potential to impact positively in their communities.
Enrique Mendizabal: Please tell us a bit about yourself?
Aminata Diop: I am a young Senegalese woman, passionate about questions of development (i.e. poverty reduction) and social justice. I hold a master in public policy and work as monitoring, evaluation and knowledge management officer in a think tank, here in Sénégal: IPAR.
My particularity as a Senegalese citizen is that I left my country at the age of 10 and didn’t stop traveling the globe until I came back in 2013. My experiences abroad have certainly shaped my vision of the world and my approach to the other. I think of myself as a citizen of the world, that cares for global issues.
EM: How did you come to work at a think tank? Why?
AD: During my masters’ degree I interned at the Overseas Development Institute, in London, in the social development unit, and discovered what think tanks were. The organisation’s positive influence on government policy impressed me and so when the opportunity arose here for me to work at IPAR I did not hesitate. To me, that was a sure way to apply my skills to change policy for the better.
Also, I wrote my dissertation on ways to alleviate food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa in which I argued that heavy investments in social protection for farmers as well as in the modernisation of agriculture would help. It made particular sense to work for a think tank that endeavours to contribute to agricultural and rural development of Senegal and west Africa.
EM: What is IPAR? What does it do?
AD: The Initiative Prospective Agricole et Rurale (IPAR) is a think tank based in Senegal but which covers the sub-region+ and which has set out three missions for itself: 1) conduct quality research to inform policy, 2) build the capacity of stakeholders, and 3) convene policy dialogue amongst stakeholders in the sector of agriculture and rural development.
EM: What is your role? How did you get that job?
AD: At IPAR, I am the Monitoring, Evaluation and Knowledge Management Officer. After the project I was coordinating for FAO ended, and through which I encountered IPAR, I sent my resume to the organisation and it turned out they were recruiting. Soon after I was called in for an interview and got the job.
EM: In this role, what have been the biggest challenges you have faced?
AD: At IPAR, I found that there were no M&E systems in place, they had to be built from scratch. Two years into my post, the systems I am putting in place are still not the best fitting for the organisation. This has been hard. But I am hoping that the OTT Fellowship will help me address that.
Also, there was no clearly set out strategy for managing knowledge. This, too, had to be clearly spelled out. This was not difficult, what is hard is to make people change their ways and adopt new practices which facilitate knowledge sharing; especially internally.
EM: Why is M&E important for a think tank?
AD: Monitoring and evaluation is especially important for a think tank because it allows it to measure its progress towards the objectives it has set out for itself. Think tanks develop multiple strategies to positively influence policy and policy makers but at some point these strategies must be assessed to make the organisation more efficient and impactful. Assessments will also highlight results which the organisation reached without necessarily planning for it. Whether these are positive or negative, it is important to know.
M&E is also important because it looks at processes. Are they transparent? Are they effective? Are they known? Are they light/heavy? Indeed, to be most efficient, processes have to be light on the users, clearly understood, transparent and must lead to the desired effects.
EM: What do you think are the biggest challenges that think tanks in general face in Senegal?
AD: The very concept of a “think tank” is not yet clearly understood by stakeholders. In fact, there isn’t a word for them in French. Therefore, it is sometimes difficult for stakeholders to understand our purpose.
Also, In my experience working with IPAR and collaborating with other African think tanks, I realise that financial constraints strongly condition their ability to innovate and their independence. This is to such a point that leadership is no longer held within the organisations but rather by the donors commissioning studies. Thus, very quickly, these think tanks lose track of the targets they have set for themselves.
Indeed, most think tanks under financial pressure think on commission and sometimes arrive at the conclusions expected of them by donors.This reinforces the development patterns which have dominated the 20th century and which have shown very little result: donors dictating the development agenda according to their vision as opposed to grantees expressing their needs and receiving the appropriate support.
EM: And in the future? What will think tanks in Senegal be worrying about in the next 5 years -unless they do something about it now?
AD: Fortunately, the Senegalese political context, as a well established democracy, is permissive of debates and contradictions. Therefore, I see a bright future for think tanks in the country. In my opinion, what they really should beware of, is suffering the agenda of donors to the detriment of the national agenda.
EM: You have joined the On Think Tanks Fellowship Programme. How do you think this will help you and your organisation?
AD: Already, I am getting valuable advice on how to set up practical M&E and knowledge management processes. I am hoping that by the end of the of the year, I will have helped IPAR set up well oiled and functioning M&E and knowledge management systems.