Reflecting on our global alumni community
At J-PAL, developing a global community committed to evidence-informed policy is core to our mission. Over the past twenty years, J-PAL alumni have leveraged their deep technical expertise, passion for fighting poverty, and experience to make change in government, NGOs, academia, and beyond; from starting new organizations committed to changemaking, to helping reinvent older ones.
We celebrate our alumni and their many interests and achievements through an ongoing series of interviews and blogs in which alumni share their work in their own words. Three years into this documentation project, we’ve only just scratched the surface of all that our alumni go on to do. With hundreds more alumni to go, we’re taking this opportunity to highlight the 34 remarkable individuals we’ve interviewed to date and give you a sense of the global impact that J-PAL alumni can and have continued to make.
Alumni in government
At J-PAL, we work with governments around the world to improve the effectiveness of policies and programs. Many J-PAL alums have now gone on to make change in the government sector themselves, often bringing their J-PAL lens to strengthening decision-making and processes.
This can be seen in action through alums like Jasmine Shah ‘14, who was the deputy director of J-PAL South Asia (SA) and now leads public policy design and implementation in the Delhi Government’s Dialogue and Development Commission. Similarly, Irwan Setyawan ‘17 transitioned from researching financial inclusion in Indonesia at J-PAL Southeast Asia (SEA) to a program management role at Indonesia’s National Council for Financial Inclusion.
Our alumni networks in governments extend around the world. J-PAL Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) alumni who have gone on to design and evaluate policy from within the Chilean government include Francisca de Iruarrizaga ‘13, who went on to work with the Government of Chile to design and implement sweeping measures to reform child and welfare services.
Amanda Dawes Ibáñez ‘14 led research partnership development while at J-PAL LAC, and now serves as head of the social policy division at the Ministry of Social Development in Chile. There, she is working to integrate evaluation into program design across Chile’s social policy ecosystem. Ryan Cooper ‘14, the former executive director of J-PAL LAC, went on to lead the Experimental Policy Initiative within Chile’s Budget Office, which conducted experimental evaluations of various government policies.
Many J-PAL alumni in government have driven new research to contribute to evidence-based policy. For instance, Juliette Seban ’12, a former research manager at J-PAL Europe, is now the executive director of France’s new Fund for Innovation in Development (FID), which supports innovators’ and researchers’ efforts to test and scale impactful solutions to reduce global poverty. Axelle Charpentier ‘14 also joined the French government, where she leads education policy and practice research at the French Ministry of Education and continues to follow some of J-PAL’s long-term research projects. In the United States, Kelly Bidwell ‘15 has taken on similar work, leading the Office of Evaluation Sciences within the General Services Administration.
The generation of policy-relevant research also relies on strong government data collection and dissemination—something the Innovations in Data and Experiments for Action Initiative was designed to address. Mary Ann Bates ‘21, the former executive director of J-PAL North America (NA), is now at the forefront of improving US governmental data systems; she leads California’s Cradle-to-Career state data system, which works to connect fragmented state data on children’s education from pre-K through college.
Beyond these examples, government service can take on a variety of additional forms, many of which J-PAL alums have embraced worldwide. For instance, Sweta Suman ‘18, a J-PAL SA alum, trained to be an Indian Administrative Service officer and received her first post in Chhattisgarh in April 2021, and Nana Okozi ‘16, a J-PAL Africa alum, later became a project coordinator in South Africa’s National Institute for Communicable Diseases. Former J-PAL interns like Alejandra Bellatin ‘18 have also gone on to exciting work in government; Alejandra worked as a research assistant in the Digital Economy team at the Bank of Canada, where she gathered indicators on the economic impact of Covid-19.
Alumni in NGOs and the private sector
Beyond government work, J-PAL alums have become involved in a wide range of work in NGOs and the private sector, often at cause-specific organizations. For instance, Patrya Pratama ‘15, a J-PAL SEA alum, founded and now leads the education-focused INSPIRASI Foundation; and Meghan Mahoney ‘16, a J-PAL Global alum, is now Evaluation Director at Educate!, an NGO focused on transforming secondary education in Africa. Samantha Carter ‘20, also of our Global office, is now a research and operations manager at Precision Development, where she works to put innovative ideas, many developed in collaboration with J-PAL, into practice. Shagun Sabarwal ‘21, former director of policy, training and communications at J-PAL South Asia, now leads the work in India at WomenLift Health, an NGO focused on program design and implementation in gender, health, and diversity, equity, and inclusion.
Many alumni have also become advisors and investors in social impact, whether through foundations or consultancies. For instance, Michael Eddy ‘10 co-founded the non-profit advisory firm Instiglio to improve the effectiveness of social services by tying funding directly to measurable results, and also went on to advise major foundations, aid organizations, and social enterprises on evidence use before joining Stanford Impact Labs. Juliette Keeley ‘18 worked at J-PAL NA and as a West Africa policy consultant for J-PAL to scale up Teaching at the Right Level in Ghana, before transitioning to a manager role at Instiglio. Surya Banda ‘19 transitioned from J-PAL SA to a management role at Sattva Consulting, which advises corporations on how to best support social welfare programs. And Rachna Nag Chowdhuri ‘13, a former research manager at J-PAL SA, is now a senior director of analytics at Global Innovation Fund, working to fund the most impactful innovations.
A number of J-PAL alumni have also gone on to international NGOs and multilaterals, working to make change at a systems level. For instance, Bhavya Srinivasan ‘14, a former senior finance and operations manager at J-PAL SA, later became the interim head of network development at Start Network. Caitlin Tulloch ‘13, who was employee #2 in J-PAL Global’s policy team and worked on many cost-effectiveness analysis (CEA), remains centered on CEA as the director of Best Use of Resources at the International Rescue Committee. Laura Abadia ‘19 is using skills honed at J-PAL Europe in her subsequent role at the OECD Development Centre, focused on funding strategies for education and health. And Olawunmi Ola-Busari ’18 joined the World Bank after wrapping up her master’s in global human development.
Climate, too, is an area where we have seen significant focus among alumni. Climate change is perhaps the most significant threat to global poverty reduction, and has been an increasing J-PAL priority under the King Climate Action Initiative. James Turitto ‘20, a former senior research manager at J-PAL Global, now works as campaign manager with the Clean Air Task Force (CATF), traveling across Europe to document methane emissions for CATF and lobby policymakers to strengthen regulations. Abhilasha Purwar and Amber Luong ‘15, J-PAL SA alumnae who jointly helped evaluate a novel emissions trading scheme in India, now work together at Blue Sky Analytics, a climate tech startup that Abhilasha co-founded. Kelsey Jack ‘11, a former J-PAL post-doc, is now an affiliate and co-chair of J-PAL’s Environment, Energy, and Climate Change sector, as well as K-CAI. We are so lucky to have her back.
Alumni in academia
Lastly, a number of alumni continue in the research world though academia and university-based research centers. Beyond Kelsey Jack, now an associate professor at UC Santa Barbara, many of our alumni have joined academia, including Adrien Bouguen ‘12, a former J-PAL Europe research associate and current assistant professor of economics at Santa Clara University, and John Tebes ‘16, a former J-PAL NA research associate who is attaining a PhD this spring and joining the Northwestern economics department.
Other alumni have entered research and academia through a range of diverse venues. Rahma Ali ‘21, a J-PAL Middle East and North Africa alum, is now a data analyst researching the effect of the Covid-19 pandemic on child and parents’ mental health at NYU Abu Dhabi. Andrea Adhi ‘19, a J-PAL SEA alum, now leads a team focused on social inclusion and protection, particularly of children, at the Center on Child Protection and Wellbeing at Universitas Indonesia. Tanya Sethi ‘14, a J-PAL SA alum, later became a senior policy analyst at AidData, a research lab at the College of William and Mary. And Kristen Watkins ‘19, who managed the influential Creating Moves to Opportunity research partnership at J-PAL NA, subsequently became the chief operating officer at Opportunity Insights, a US-based research organization focused on upward mobility.
Reflecting on the alumni spotlight blog series, one thing that our many alumni have in common is their commitment to the development, dissemination, and implementation of evidence-based policy. As J-PAL turns twenty next year, we can’t wait to see where our alums go next.