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A case for optimism

Cassandre Pignon 22 December 2021

A dairy farmer in North Senegal ©Viola Fur and Lorraine d’Anglejan, IDinsight

Dear Friends,

In West and North Africa, as in most of the world, 2021 has been another difficult year – especially for the most marginalised people. The COVID-19 pandemic has shed light on the need for data infrastructure that gives policymakers access to relevant, timely, and representative information to inform them. Without such infrastructure in place, government leaders did not always have visibility of what was actually happening in their own countries – the location of outbreaks, individual perspectives about vaccines, or hospital capacity. Instead, they had to rely on metadata to make critical decisions about the pandemic as well as which policies and approaches can best facilitate economic recovery.

In the past two decades, the debate on further grounding policy-making in evidence didn’t materialise as strongly in Francophone West and North Africa as it did in other parts of the world. This could be because of the language barrier – the development economics literature is disproportionately published in English – or perhaps it’s the result of a somewhat more humanistic, holistic approach to policymaking and social programs. In the last couple of years, we at IDinsight watched with interest a growing number of cross-regional debates around this very issue. Originally anglophone programs and actors began to expand into the Francophone region and vice-versa. We’ve also witnessed a growing interest from a wide range of Francophone policymakers in data-driven approaches and evidence methodologies – including impact evaluations.

There are many signs that something truly exciting is happening in the region. From the launch of a new mechanism to finance research on innovative programs (Fund for Innovation in Development), to the growing interest of a number of our partners – including APHRC, Give Directly and TaRL – to operate in West or North Africa, there has been great progress in recent years. We’re following various efforts to embed data collection in community health structures in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Senegal, as well as updated of education policies and programs based on strong evidence, such as the Moroccan government’s efforts to generalise access to free preschool education in rural regions of the kingdom.

In the past twelve months, we’ve had more exciting conversations than we could have dreamt of back in 2018 when we launched our first bilingual office in Dakar.

We’ve talked with governments, NGOs, and development partners, but also with locally-based funders, think tanks, and social enterprises who are going above and beyond to maximise their social impact. Needless to say, we are energised for the year to come.

One such social enterprise is Kossam / Laiterie du Berger, an organisation which provides training and livelihood support to Pulaar dairy farmers in northern Senegal by procuring their milk for value addition and sale in Dakar. Kossam, as a cooperative, provides farmers with convenient milk collection routes, geographically accessible animal feed shops and technical advice and training on leadership and animal health. We’re working with Kossam to provide data and evidence that their team relies on to refine and improve their processes and operations to maximise their impact in the communities they serve.

We’ve responded to this growing demand for evidence tools and services by rapidly increasing our team-size, and by opening-up IDinsight’s newest office in Rabat, Morocco. By the end of the first quarter of 2022, we will have doubled the number of colleagues based in West and North Africa.

Growing at such a pace comes with its own set of challenges, but these are unequivocally good, motivating challenges to face. In parallel, we are exploring partnerships with higher education institutions to build new evidence-based policy curricula for Francophone students given the demand for such talent across the region.

Our outlook for the new year is one of unabated optimism, about the growing demand for evidence-based support to policymaking and social programs in the region, and of excitement for the many policy changes to come. We remain exceedingly grateful for your support as our work in this region is only made possible by your belief in the transformative power of evidence in the fight against poverty.