I was inspired to join IMAGO Global Grassroots when Isabel spoke in one of my classes in the Spring. After a semester of very technical economics and policy content, it was refreshing to hear her perspective on working both at the highest levels of large organisations and closer to the coalface with grassroots organisations and communities. Having myself had experience in community development in Indonesia and working with small-scale NGOs, as well as large organisations such as the World Bank, I was eager to work with IMAGO – who has a unique perspective on both worlds and importantly on how to bridge the divide between them. 

This is what I was able to achieve through my fellowship – thinking about how high-level government policy and economics interact with community level impact. I applied this approach to understand the impacts of COVID-19 in the developing world, thinking about how community-led innovations, government policies, and resources could be brought together to tackle the health and economic impacts of the crisis.  

Through this experience and my ongoing discussions with Isabel, Michael, and Sandy, I was able to move from a noble idea to a clear proposal for implementing this idea in real world, constrained policy environments. I was inspired to learn about how IMAGO’s clients have been working hard innovating at the grassroots level to solve the many problems communities are facing in India in the face of COVID-19, and motivated to think deeply about how governments could support such ingenuity with policy and resources.  

All this work has come together in the form of a forthcoming policy brief targeted at governments and development practitioners. It presents a framework of communities and states that can create powerful partnerships for tackling the COVID-19 crisis, and details some compelling emerging evidence of countries that are successfully implementing such an approach.  

I will take into my future career an ability to pragmatically harmonise perspectives and incentives from communities at the base of the pyramid with those at the top: governments. The development of high-level policy and legislation in capital cities and the simple but effective ways community members band together to solve problems seem like worlds apart – but there are concrete ways we can bring them together. I will always remind myself that despite all the technical aspects of policy design, it must always be guided and informed by a user perspective – that of the communities we aim to serve.  

By Thomas Brown

IMAGO Fellow 2020
MPA-ID Candidate HKS