By: Carmen Hernandez-Ruiz, Summer Fellow 2021 – Harvard Kennedy School

When I heard Isabel’s approach to development at a lecture and the work IMAGO was conducting amid the COVID-19 pandemic, I knew I wanted to be a fellow at IMAGO Global Grassroots. I was excited to join an organization with a multi-disciplinary approach to scaling up impact and its focus on gender equality.

After an exciting summer as an IMAGO fellow, I would like to reflect on the lessons from these past months. Being a fellow meant going out of my comfort zone to learn how a non-profit works with grassroots organizations in a different region than my own and a remote environment. I am grateful for this enriching learning experience that allowed me to have meaningful connections and valuable lessons on teamwork and determination.

I worked with Imago’s India office supporting the MOVE project adaptive evaluation. The project supports women’s social enterprises that are part of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) to become sustainable businesses, enabling women’s economic empowerment. As part of my tasks, I mainly worked with the baseline analysis of the selected social enterprises participating in an Enterprise Support System (ESS).

The adaptive evaluation consistently emphasizes the role of experimentation and learning from others. To this end, IMAGO holds a Bi-Annual Learning Workshop where multiple stakeholders participate, including SEWA, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the evaluation partner – IDinsight. From the workshop, I learned how IMAGO embraces lessons and feedback in their design and experimentation, both from practitioners and SEWA members. This iterative approach enriches both the quality of IMAGO’s work and the relationships with its clients. Through this initiative, IMAGO also serves as an effective platform that bridges grassroots organizations to valuable resources. I learned this is possible due to the standing trust between IMAGO and its clients and the recognition of the organization’s work.

Working with IMAGO, I had the chance to experience first-hand the meaning of co-creation and ownership. Working with multiple stakeholders who are heard, willing to contribute, and focused on a common goal was inspiring. I experienced this during internal discussions of the evaluation team and with meetings with the evaluation partner, SEWA, and donors. Throughout all interactions, I saw a horizontal and innovative relationship based on trust and determination.

Finally, during my fellowship, I was fortunate to join a diverse group scattered across the world that share passion and commitment to make social development a reality. Being an IMAGO fellow showed me it was possible to have meaningful remote connections, ranging from weekly Brown Paper Bag Lunch discussions to conducting technical data analysis with someone thousands of miles away. The team planned for us – the summer fellows – to be and feel part of the organization. They conveyed the same spirit of co-creation and horizontality seen through the work with their clients. I learned how IMAGO has innovated both within the organization and at the grassroots level to face challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Most importantly, I realized that it is possible to feel human closeness and make meaningful contributions to development despite distance and under less than optimal conditions.

Carmen Hernandez-Ruiz

Harvard Kennedy School

Masters in Public Administration in International Development

IMAGO Summer Fellow 2021