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Building the foundation for inclusive recovery and development

Ronald U. Mendoza 8 December 2022

IDinsight's Kim Vidal and Dominique Sy conducting a user experience study on a COVID-19 chatbot with barangay health workers in Batangas, Philippines ©Jilson Tiu/IDinsight

Dear friends in development work,

December 2022 marks the fifth year of IDinsight’s operations in Southeast Asia (SEA), based in Manila. It was a hopeful period in many parts of the region as countries began opening up their economies; yet the risks of COVID-19 continue to linger even as we learn to live with the disease. The challenge of post-pandemic recovery has been compounded by food and fuel price volatility due to aftershocks from the conflict in Ukraine and environmental shocks. Forecasts for global economic growth in 2023 are less than half of what they were in 2021. Perhaps more worrisome, almost half of the more than 70 economies monitored by the IMF are expected to face at least two consecutive quarters of growth contraction (a technical recession) during the 2022-2023 period.

The risks of tentative and non-inclusive recovery from the pandemic are real. Public sector budgets and household assets are tight. During the pandemic, total global debt rose by 30 percentage points of GDP in 2020 alone, the largest single-year increase in world debt since the 1970s.

In short, countries must do more with fewer resources.

The political environment is not always conducive to data and evidence-based arguments, and sometimes the pushback against expertise and research hampers the discussion toward more effective solutions. Facts and information are often trumped by disinformation.

This makes data and evidence even more critically important to inform policy and programmatic decisions. This is the backdrop on which our SEA team seeks to level-up– by building strong partnerships with government partners, civil society, and the development community writ large. We are part of an ecosystem that advances facts, data, and evidence-based policy reforms and programs.

In the face of these challenges, IDinsight SEA stands on a strong foundation built by the leadership of our outgoing Regional Director, Meg Battle. Under Meg’s leadership, IDinsight’s presence in Southeast Asia has grown: from four staff in a modest coworking space in 2019, to a thriving team of twenty-four (and counting!) across the Philippines, Indonesia, and Vietnam, headquartered in a beautiful new rooftop office in Manila today.

In the Philippines, we have engaged with partners in eight national government agencies and two local government units. Across the region, we have worked in six countries with multilateral partners, NGOs, and social enterprises, including with regional-scale partnerships. We have also begun the expansion of Data on Demand in the Philippines, bringing a game-changing, innovative service to the country.

Perhaps most significantly, we have begun the journey of building relationships and high-impact partnerships with government, civil society, and other development stakeholders in Southeast Asia. One example here is our partnership with the Philippine Department of Health which was crystalized through several years of consistent, proactive, and high-quality support. We collaborated on an immediate COVID-19 response in 2020 and a vaccine hesitancy learning partnership from 2021-2022, as well as several years of support on the monitoring and evaluation planning of the rollout of universal health care.

As we face the challenges of a post-pandemic world, we will look to many of these data and evidence successes as an example of what is possible for effective governance and social programs. Our own growth is a testament to the demand for deep relationships that nurture a culture of evidence-based decision-making in government agencies, civil society and our broader set of development partners.

In the coming year, we will, through our thought leadership and partnerships, continue to contribute new ideas, approaches and paradigms to a more vibrant ecosystem for evidence-based policymaking in the region.

Real impact is when our work is done and the appreciation for data and evidence-based policies and programs remain as part of the institutions of good governance. It is then that we can affect lasting change towards improving millions of lives.