Josh: Hi, I am Josh Powell, I am the CEO of Development Gateway: an IREX Venture (DG). I’ve been with DG for about 12 years and am based in Washington, DC.
Vanessa: And I am Vanessa Goas, COO of DG. I have been with DG for 15 years, and I am based in Miami, Florida.
This is “Data… for What!?” The Development Gateway: an IREX Venture podcast. We have several seasons on different topics in production, but in our first season, we are going to talk about our new strategic plan. How it fits with our past work, the thought process behind it, and where we hope to go in the next few years.
Josh: In this first episode, we focus on the nuts and bolts of putting together the strategic plan. Vanessa and I chat through where DG is coming from and later we talk to Kristin Lord, President and CEO of IREX about our new strategic partnership, which we formed in the fall of 2021. We also talk to Aleks Dardeli, Executive Vice President of IREX. Aleks is our board chair, so he has an interesting perspective into the process of putting the plan together.
But first, Vanessa, what can people expect from this podcast series?
Vanessa: I think it's a really exciting podcast series because I don't think you often get to see kind of the behind the scenes process for creating a strategic plan for an organization like Development Gateway or any other kind of nonprofit organization. So you're going to get into a little bit of the guts of the process. You're also going to touch on some of the sectors that we're working in and our new geographic focus. And I think a lot of really interesting context and subtext from a lot of the people that had a lot of input into the process of creating the strategy.
Who do you hope listens to this podcast?
Josh: I think first and foremost, peer organizations, other non-profits who are thinking about their own strategic plans and how it positions them for success, whether that's growth or whether that's, you know, more effective programing. A lot of our partners, I think, will certainly be interested in this. And the government perspective as well. And hopefully folks who are maybe interested in careers, in international development and curious about what type of programming takes place and what it's like to think strategically within an international nonprofit.
Vanessa: Can you share some background on this new strategy with us? Where are we coming from in terms of the previous strategic plan?
Josh: So the last strategic plan that we had, at DG was unique. It was the first time that we ever actually narrowed down our focus. DG has a long history of being kind of a technology generalist and we would apply our skills to any sector, any theme, any geography. And the last strategy we made a really intentional decision both to focus in on specific sectors, health and agriculture, as well as our work in public financial management and to focus in on geography specifically in West and East Africa.
The other thing that was unique is that, in addition to our work as implementers, we added a workstream of data strategy and policy. That was really advisory, almost consulting and strategy work for development actors. And so I think that narrowing really helped us to focus in and to really understand our core value and our offerings and set us up really well into what became this partnership with IREX. And it's a unique moment for us now to start to expand back up from that consolidated base in a way that's really kind of new and exciting for us.
Vanessa: Something that I've noticed also is that in the past we've done some business planning and had some plans that are more about business development. But this feels like the first time where we're really pushing the envelope on kind of our mission and our vision and what we want to achieve.
Josh: I think that's definitely fair to say. I think achieving a strategy is more than just mobilizing resources. It's also having the right talent, the right processes, and the right methods, and that all of that should be really in service to kind of a mission and a vision that's coherent and that's really relevant to the world that we're facing.
Vanessa: I think it's definitely a refinement and a consolidation of what we've been doing and also expanding into new areas. Just as you said, in terms of sectors, we're taking a look at what we've been doing for the last several years and what's been working and is doubling down in a lot of the places that we have been and with our new strategic partnership with IREX, we were looking to explore some new sectors that they have expertise in and they have lots of experience in where we feel like we can bring our own expertise to bear, where we can have even greater impact together with them.
The other thing that I think is interesting about this strategy is that for the first time, DG has a really clear geographic focus. In the past, we've definitely made some investments here and there in particular places hoping that the investments would pan out. But this time we're making a very clear effort to focus into parts of the world that we've already been working in and one new part of the world for us.
Josh: Yeah, absolutely. And I think in terms of new sectors, you know, for example, working in education, that's a space that we've looked at for a number of years and really have been looking at what's the best way for us to be able to bring the work that we do in digital and in data and add value to the sector.
One of the things to me that's really exciting about the partnership with IREX is it allows us to really closely combine our expertise and our skill set with a really deep thematic and sectoral knowledge and expertise of their team in terms of geography. It's been interesting that in the last strategy we kind of winnowed down. We used to always talk about, you know, the fact that we've worked in more than 75 countries globally, which is a great history. But I think we found that as we worked in fewer geographies, more intentionally and more deeply, that we were able to deliver better change. And I think now, as we think about growth as an organization, we think that we can scale what we've been doing and add some additional geographies and be able to kind of replicate that model. And I think that's something that I'm really excited about.
Vanessa: Absolutely. It feels really good this time to be making some really bold bets.
Josh, We've been working on the strategy for a while and I know that you've been thinking about it for a really long time. Talk to me about the process of getting it out of your head and kind of into paper.
Josh: I think it's interesting because we started this strategic partnership with IREX and then a very shortly after that, I went on parental leave. So a lot of how it formulated in my head was at two or three or four in the morning walking circles around the dark room. And I think a baby screaming at you can help you focus. But honestly, I think, you know, there's a lot of time for kind of it's an interesting moment to step away from the organization a little bit, have a little bit of space and distance and have a lot of ideas that you're already excited about. And to be able to kind of percolate and refine in a bit of an isolated fashion. And then as I came back from leave and reengage with the team and with the board. I think there was a lot of resonance and, you know, the things that I was thinking, which was really had started with the team and kind of bubbled up and then to be able to kind of reflect that back, get feedback from the team and then really understand the way that we should go forward.
And for me, the more painstaking and less exciting process is the actual writing of the strategy compared to kind of the time of really discussing and making tradeoffs and identifying where you want to go. And so the last few months have been more about how do we frame it, how do we form it, how do we message it? And so now I'm excited for it to be out in the world and for us to really be able to focus on implementation and learning.
Vanessa: What are you nervous about?
Josh: I think we're really living in a moment of a lot of uncertainty globally. And I think, you know, any time you write down the strategy, you kind of try to crystallize your understanding of the world as it is today and your expectations of where we might go. And, you know, I think it's just hard to project. I mean, one of my one of my grad school professors said the first rule of forecasting is don't forecast. And then the second rule is, if you must forecast forecast often and I think the real way to mitigate that is, is that we look at the strategy as an overall guideline that we that we have set out our objectives, we set out our homes, but we really focus on organizational learning and adaptation as we go.
And so certainly in prior strategies, there have been things that we were really excited about that we thought were going to really take off and be the next big thing that didn't pan out. And also there were emergent things that ended up being really exciting and ended up being our next big thing that we couldn't have possibly kind of detected at the time. And so I think just being kind of open and adaptive is the best way to navigate, you know, the uncertainty that we're facing.
In chatting with Kristin, I think it was really interesting how IREX and Development Gateway have been approached by a lot of different partners to ask about the partnership itself, how it came to be, how we designed it, what the negotiation process was like, how it's going in the early stages and I think both kind of smaller organizations and larger organizations have had a lot of interest and appetite for these types of partnerships and haven't had a lot of good models for what it can look like. And I think it's exciting that we can serve as a little bit of a test case or an example to observe how you can pursue in partnership like this, do it in really good faith and have something that's a win-win for both sides.
Vanessa: Actually, I wish that we had had maybe something like this to follow and to learn from when we were doing our own process definitely felt like we were sometimes doing something in like uncharted waters. But still, I'm glad that we can help other organizations out. They can learn from us and we can continue feeding our audience into the community.
Josh: Let's jump into the conversation with Kristin.
Kristin: Hi, I'm Kristin Lord, President, CEO of IRA. I'm really so happy to be here with Josh today as we talk about the launch of development Gateway's new strategy. This has been the culmination of a huge amount of work with our colleagues, and we really thought so hard about how to leverage our access capabilities and development Gateway's capabilities in order to promote more just prosperous and inclusive societies together, leveraging data and digital technologies. And I can say that from our access perspective, we've been through two major strategic plans since I joined directs, and it's been absolutely instrumental in achieving all kinds of important goals, including, I would say, this partnership with Development Gateway, since we had so prioritized data and evidence in our own strategic planning processes.
Josh: So Kristin, as we're launching this new strategic plan, what are some of the areas that you find most exciting where we can work together?
Kristin: Well, I mean, I think we've identified so many, but I'm just going to talk about three. One is better serving youth. We've got the largest youth population in human history alive and on the planet. They are leading today, but they also need opportunities. They need educational opportunities. They need employment opportunities. They need ways to engage in their civic fora and data and digital technologies can really help maximize the contributions of these very talented young people around the world.
I'd say also in the area of education, what matters at the end of the day is certainly how we teach children and young people. But what they learn and are we really holding ourselves accountable for creating those effective learning environments, for producing those learning outcomes, and for making sure those classrooms are as inclusive as possible? And teaching students values as well as hard skills and data and digital technologies are of course so key to that.
And then the third is really leveraging data and digital technologies to ensure that our public institutions are really delivering services for people the way that we all want. We need public serving institutions to be trustworthy because they're fulfilling their promises to citizens. And data and digital technologies can be leveraged to help public institutions achieve those goals, but also to help citizens see whether those institutions are delivering in the way they're intending to.
Josh, I have a question for you. I know I've been asked by so many colleagues in the international development sector about our partnership because it does stand out. It is a bit unusual. I'm wondering, have you been getting a lot of inquiries also?
Josh: Absolutely. I've had at least seven or eight different leaders of nonprofits approach me and have asked me to break down, you know, how we went about it and what works. You know, who talked to who first and what did the negotiation process look like? How were boards involved really every element of it. And I think there's a real hunger for more partnership and collaboration within our space as opposed to competition for resources. And I think there's a growing recognition that we all need to be working more closely together to leverage each other's strengths. So I do think that this is something we'll see a lot more of.
Kristin, I'm curious to hear more about conversations that you've had.
Kristin: Yeah, I think I've just had a lot of interest. I've had interest from smaller organizations. I've had interest from much, much larger organizations. A lot of people want to know was was one of the organizations in trouble, because that's often how these conversations start. And I always tell them, no, this was completely a strategic, completely mission driven from a point of strength in both organizations. And we just decided we could do more together than we could alone. And each of us could try and replicate some of the other's capabilities. And it would take a long time, or we could just join forces. The other thing that comes up a lot is the question of doing something that's not a foam merger or doing something that's just, you know, cooperating to bid or propose together for a particular grant.
I think we found a really fantastic space in between them. I think we've been able to devote so much of our energy so far to the work and the mission. And we haven't had to all at once look at our systems and our financial systems and having people switch on to the same tech platforms all at once. That's a lot for organizations to deal with, all at once, especially when everyone is grappling with so many other issues in the world and on returning to work and other work life balance issues for staff. I just think I feel really grateful that we've been able to do this at a more steady pace and also in a way that allows us to put the mission first.
Josh: So Kristin, when you have these leaders approach you, is there any advice that you give them?
Kristin: Yeah, there's one clear piece of advice. And I always say don't start with the mechanism of partnership. Start with what you want to do together. You know, is it a merger? Is it an independent subsidiary? Is it a strategic partnership? Is it just working together more diligently on some joint projects? You know, there are actually so many different ways for organizations to work together, and I always think that the conversation can risk devolving into merger or no merger, and there's a richer variety of choice at the end. So I encourage them to think about what they're trying to do and then pick the the way of collaborating that best meets that need rather than starting with the form the partnership is going to take. How about you, Josh? What do you tell people.
Josh: Really exactly that, that form follows function. And over my time at DG, over the past 12 years, we've had a number of different strategic partnerships. We've incubated organizations that have gone on to be independent, and we've really done kind of a variety of structures. And I think the biggest thing that I learned was exactly that, that if you start with the question, if you start with the mission, then you once you have a ”why,” you can figure out the how, the when, and the what.
And I think I couldn't agree more that that's something that I'm really proud of, that we found a structure that really works for both organizations and more importantly, that works for our collective mission.
Kristin: And one of the things I like about it, too, is that it's not engraved in stone. I think the form of our partnership can also keep evolving as the needs of both organizations change, but I think we're also clearly bound together and clearly committed for the long term. So I don't know if I feel lucky or proud or… I don't know how to describe it. I just feel really fortunate that we ended up with this structure that we did, because I do think that while most organizations fall apart over when they're trying to form these kinds of partnerships.
Josh: Kristin, thank you so much for taking the time to chat today and really excited about all the work ahead of us.
Kristin: Thanks, Josh. And I just have to say, it's been such a pleasure working with you and Vanessa and everyone to dig our team just loves working with the DG team and it's just so exciting to see the rich collaboration across the whole organization. And I don't have anything to do with most of it. It just happens and that's just beautiful. So thank you.
Vanessa: Something that was really interesting from the conversation that I was a part of, in particular with Aleks, was how important of an inflection point this is for our planet and our world. And as you mentioned, we're seeing a lot of change. Aleks walked through a lot of the things that are going on that I think can be very overwhelming for folks and as organizations, really with missions to improve the world and to impact people, I think it's really important that we rise to the occasion to meet these challenges together with our partners.
Josh: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's why now is the time for a more bold, ambitious strategy from DG.
Let's turn now to our conversation with Aleks. Aleks, can you go ahead and introduce yourself?
Aleks: Sure. Aleks Dardeli, I have the privilege of being the Chair of the Board of Directors of Development Gateway. Otherwise, my day to day job as Executive Vice President of IREX.
Josh: Aleks, can you share a bit of your thoughts of where we are now and where you hope we'll be going together over the coming years?
Aleks: So I think context is paramount. And I say that because any mission driven organization is about solving a problem and it is monumentally difficult, if not impossible, to understand the problem without understanding the complex trends, whether they are political, social, economic, cultural that affect the mission of the organization and how it goes about solving that problem. I see at least eight major trends.
One is about the decline of democracy and a rise in authoritarianism. This is big. It's been going on for the past 16 years and now we're seeing an alignment. The forces that directly attacks democracies worldwide.
Two: conflict. We've seen only in the year the invasion of Ukraine, conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, the fall of the regime in Afghanistan and the rise of the Taliban. And massive food insecurity right now in Afghanistan and other kinds of conflicts ranging from Sri Lanka to El Salvador.
Three: The COVID 19 pandemic. Frankly, this was a big thing because it wiped away gains in prosperity, especially for marginalized communities. But there is also another aspect of this. It has also made us break a barrier. We have reconfigured the work environment. Virtual work is here to stay, and I don't think this is temporary. We have to think big and hard about talent and how we drill down into mission driven organizations. Complexity, it seems to be proliferating with each passing day. We're all overwhelmed with how we do things, how we react to crisis, how we deal with internal issues, funding money, locations, working from home or working in the office.
These are aspects of complexity. I also think that there's something about our sector as a whole. We're all deep in a search for relevance, enduring relevance. You've seen the discussions about localization. It used to be called forward your journey to self-reliance. So what at an inflection point do we do what we used to do? Basically drive solutions and deliver services through western or northern experts or northern and Western organizations.
Or do we think about our value add five years, ten years, 15 years from now? And I really think that this is an interesting discussion. And the major trend in our sector that effects Development Gateway directly. I also think that our business model is under duress. We can no longer rely on grants or context through official development assistance. We have to look for a combination of factors, some funding and revenue lines to be able to deliver impact globally, not only in one location.
And also an important trend. And this relates directly to data that is so central to the mission of Development Gateway. Big data or small data is becoming part and parcel of our life. But under the hood, under the veneer, there are some massive problems. Talk about data deserts, communities that just don't have the data to make critical choices that affect them, even in places where that exists. Often it is the monopoly of elites who use it for pecuniary benefit, for narrow interests and I think in a very worrisome fashion we're seeing that are being abused by authoritarian governments who seek to manipulate people to establish the superiority of themselves, visibly democracies, and perpetuate power.
So all of these trends affect us, affect the mission of Development Gateway. And I do think that this new strategy makes us think more boldly about the future, about where we want to go and how we want to get there. This new strategy takes us to the problem, but with a bolder ambition about the scale and the depth, both our delivery and our impact with better talent, better tools, and a re-energized sense of purpose and mission.
And I'm hugely excited that Development Gateway through this new strategy has chosen to be three rather short years. Catalytically and greatly move the needle in four major directions. One: Improve service delivery for those who need them most in typically poor or resource deprived environments. Two: radically improve the quality of governance by making public institutions more transparent and combating manipulative information. Three: by taking data and its intersection with digital technologies to how public institutions advance their mission. And four, very important: to approach all of this with a lance of inclusion, which allows them to use the lens of youth and gender to bring typically excluded voices to the table of decision making.
Vanessa: Okay. So pulling back the curtain a little bit, Josh, in your role as CEO, maybe you can describe to us a little bit about the process for developing the strategy. And then after Aleks shifting from your position as chair of our board, it would be great to talk about how the board has been involved and how they've contributed to the development of the strategy as well.
Josh: So we actually intended to release this strategy well over a year ago and it was early in the strategy process that our conversations with IREX about this strategic partnership emerged. And once they became serious and once we became quite excited about the possibilities, we decided to just press pause and to see how it all played out. And so as we reached the agreement last October and established a new board and created this new strategic partnership, we also were ready then to relaunch our strategy process.
We knew some of the areas through the collaboration with IREX's in the negotiation of the partnership, we knew some of the areas that we wanted to expand in. We were excited about education. We were excited about youth. And as we went through the strategy process and as the world around us changed quite rapidly in the beginning half of 2022, we also looked at areas like media and disinformation. We thought that this was going to be increasingly relevant and increasingly important for us to take into the strategy.
So from a nuts and bolts perspective, we worked quite closely with the board.
Obviously we also opened up both in the early stages of development, a lot of conversations with team members to understand what were we seeing in our programing, what was working well, what was not, what were people excited about both personally and professionally and also in their existing programs?
And then later in the process opened up to the full team for a couple of weeks to be able to provide any comments, any questions on the strategy itself, and a lot of different touch points with team members throughout the process as well. I'll hand over to Aleks to talk about it a little bit. From a board perspective.
Aleks: The strategy in many ways is about choices. The challenge is how you make those choices in a wise way that can be sustained and impactful over time. And I think there's a few elements that could address this. Now, one of them is inclusion of different perspectives to help the organization avoid blind spots and see as comprehensively as it can.
And I would like to congratulate the Management Team of Development Gateway for truly running an inclusive process in which senior leaders in the organization, as well as staff globally had an opportunity to provide feedback and be involved even in the process of developing the strategy. And do I think significant research went into the preparatory efforts that drove ultimately the strategy document, which Josh and Vanessa consider as a canvas more than a step by step guide to life for the organization over the next three years.
So I think these are two hugely important points and the Board has been particularly pleased to see that what I call the legacy members of the Board of Development Gateway that predated the partnership with IREX and the new members of the development report that joined after the formalizing of the partnership with IREX were very much excited and on the same page about the contours of the broader strategy and their own participation in this new strategy, because they saw value in this process and we created the task force that comprised three members of the Board of directors.
So Development Gateway, that work evolved quite organically in the drafting of the document in partnership, clearly with Josh, Vanessa, and the senior leaders of the organization. But that involvement I think matters a lot. First, because it gave the board insights into the process, the thinking, some of the nuances that frankly are difficult to spot by simply convening a few times a year.
And second, because I hope and believe that it also conveyed to the broader team of Development Gateway the commitment of the board and its enthusiasm for this new strategy document. Clearly, it's not only the task force that I referenced, other members of the board have provided feedback and ideas and critique and thoughts, and they all have been kept talking to this final document that the team and the external parties can see.
I think that the process was fairly well organized. I always say that the strategic process drags on too long tends to be a bit dispiriting. This wasn't one of them. This was a fairly rapid strategy development process. But not too rapid. So the sense of rhythm was almost perfectly chosen when we're talking about the process here.
What are some of the challenges that you faced or lessons learned, do you drew in this process, including about the participation of the board?
Josh: Having a newborn? No, I don't think that there were any particularly unique challenges. I think the engagement with the board was really more seamless than I had anticipated as a new board. There were new board members who I didn't have as as close of a relationship with, who were really incredibly generous with their time and their advice and were also, I think, really respectful of the line between the role of the board and in advising and guiding on strategy and the role of management and kind of making some of those final determinations and mapping the route for how to then implement the strategy.
I think within the team, it's always a challenge to identify what are all of the right ways to to invite feedback and to invite engagement from team members and really try to adopt a number of methods. So for example, we had an all hands meeting where 45 minutes of the time was largely open for people to ask questions and provide feedback.
That was in February or March. So that was quite early in the strategy process. We also had a written feedback process where people who might have been less comfortable speaking up in a meeting setting could come in and provide edits. I reach out one on one to a lot of people I know Vanessa did as well. For people who might have been even increasingly shy about providing comments in a public forum, and folks, I think, knew that they could reach out to us as well. So I felt quite good about the balance and the different methods that we use to be able to invite feedback from team members.
Vanessa: And I think from my perspective, the most challenging part is always trying to balance finding the time to think so forward when you're so mired in the issues of today. So I really appreciated the idea of having our, you know, kind of strategic retreat with the board, with a few members of the board that you mentioned, Aleks, that were able to work with us because it really allowed us to focus in and spend a few days really putting our our brains in the right space to think about what it is in the future that we want to be achieving what's been working now and really to think about what hasn't really worked until now and where are the adjustments that we want to make in the coming years. So I really think just finding that time to focus is really critical and really important, and I'm sure other organizations struggle with finding that time too.
Aleks: Well, I was also pleased with the fact that not only Josh and Vanessa, but the entire senior leadership team of the organization gave particular attention to some of the operational aspects of the strategy because ultimately the success of the strategy hinges on execution. And so it was fantastic to see thoughtfulness and attention to detail and some of the what you might call skeleton in the cupboards of the history of Development Gateway, as well as some of the hidden gems and talents in the organization. They all fed into this process and I think have been captured into the final document.
Josh: I actually will add one challenge. I think for me the challenge was less getting the right content and the right vision, and there was more than taking all of that thinking, all of that research, all of those conversations and distilling it into something that would be readable and accessible and that would keep people excited without having all of the internal context that we all benefit from. So that final drafting process for me is always more of a challenge, but I'm really excited and happy about how it's come out and really excited to be sharing it with the world.
Aleks: Just as the question about growth, growth as a strategy, agreed to it. And as we talk about the problems, I think that an important ingredient locating this problem geographically and we both meaning pirates and Development Gateway and the strategy team agreed that a focus on sub-Saharan Africa, both Western Francophone as well as Eastern Africa, would be hugely important because that's where some of the problems we're trying to solve exist, and that's where our strengths are. And we see also opportunities, strengths and a need in Central America. And we see this as sort of a stretch growth area for Development Gateway. But I'm fairly confident that we will be successful in growing Central America.
I cannot ignore the events in Ukraine, frankly, this is a massive event that will cause a lot of turmoil into financial markets, into donor activities and donor thinking. And I do think we have to stay vigilant and astute as we look at the events in Ukraine and look for opportunities to advance our mission there, too. It may not be consistent with thinking that happens at the outset of the process, but the world around us moves very fast and we have to be responsive to the problems that we are seeking to resolve. And some of them exist in this environment, Ukraine and its vicinity.
Josh: So Aleks, within this evolving and complex context, what do you see as the value add of Development Gateway?
Aleks: Well, a good part of the value add of Development Gateway resides in the fact that it's a rather unique organization that focuses almost exclusively on data and its intersection with digital technologies and how both can be used for good to improve tangibly the lives of people outside of the United States. I also think that this value it has been greatly enhanced by the partnership with Iris in which to Development Gateway because it leverages the larger institutional platform over here and it uses Iris's expertize, whether that's to combat manipulative information or empower use or strengthen public institutions to help the problems that Development Gateway seeks to solve.
It is also important when I would look at the future of Development Gateway, to think a bit about the bigger picture. I strongly believe, Josh, that there is a battle going on about how data will ultimately be used for good on the one hand, to improve the lives of people, to advance reality, or alternatively, for evil, to keep us in repressive environments, to control those who flood us with manipulative information. I think that Development Gateway through this new strategy has chosen to add its weight to the battle to make that ultimately be counted for the good of humanity. And and I think, importantly, developing Gateway has chosen to become a catalyst for the entire development sector in pointing to concrete pathways as to how it can use data and digital technologies to expand our collective impact.
Josh: I couldn't agree more.
Vanessa, you and I have worked together for a long time. We've seen recessions, we've seen pandemics. We've seen many different crises. And the world has changed quite a bit over the 12 or so years that we've worked together. Developing Gateway is approaching 22 years. What are some of your thoughts in terms of how we as an organization stay relevant in an ever changing world?
Vanessa: Yeah, great question. I think that most important for us is to really always put our mission and our values in the front. I think both you and Aleks have alluded to this when it comes to the labor market that people are really looking for something in their job when it comes to finding some meaning and finding some some interest in what we're doing. And I think the same is true for our organization. We don't always have the flashiest work. We don't always have the hook that brings a lot of people in. But I think people really understand what we're trying to achieve and our mission, and they really resonate with our values of serving people first and foremost.
Josh: I really agree. I think the other thing that's been really critical is that DG has always tried to be a learning organization. We've never overindexed on. We did this in the past, so it must be the right way to do things. And we've always tried to take a look at what's going well, what's going poorly, what are the areas in the world around us where we feel like our skills and our capabilities are really relevant, can be applied? And so, you know, I've seen Development Gateway go through several really distinct iterations just in the decade plus that I've been here. I think this is another example of that. In 2020, early in the pandemic, as we were celebrating our 20th anniversary, I think I wrote that maybe a global pandemic isn't the right moment to be thinking about a growth agenda, but it was what we were pursuing anyway.
Vanessa: Josh, I happen to have that quote handy. So you wrote in 2020 that "a global pandemic may not be the ideal business environment to pursue a growth agenda, but we believe that now is the time for DG to be bolder and that this boldness will require that we also be bigger." So can you talk a little bit more about this strategic plan fits into that statement.
Josh: Absolutely, I think it was because we saw that there is a lot of change happening in the world around us. The role of data and the role of technology, we're changing even more rapidly than they had in the decade before. And that if we didn't step up our ambition, if we didn't take some really aggressive strides, that we risk not having the type of impact on our mission that we really wanted to have.
But I think that's really where the partnership with IREX came in, and the openness to doing something a little bit more audacious, a little bit less traditional and joining forces was that we thought that we could do a lot more together and that we thought with this changing landscape that we needed to do a lot more. And I think it was really a great opportunity and this strategy really flows from all of those decisions over the past several years.
So we are quite explicit in the strategic plan that we intend to double the size of Development Gateway over the next three years. And that sounds really audacious. Or perhaps if you're from the private sector, that sounds quite slow. But for a nonprofit, I think that's a really substantial goal. And there's a lot of change management and a lot of tasks that have to take place for that to happen.
But I think we've really spent the last couple of years pre positioning ourselves for that, looking at our processes, looking at our programing, looking at our revenue and looking at this partnership with IREX's and saying what are the things that we need to do to prepare ourselves to be able to grow while preserving our culture of innovation, learning and kindness, while preserving the quality of our work and our outputs, while remaining a really strong and good partner, particularly to our locally based organizations that we traditionally work with and through.
And I think we've really done a lot of that preparatory work. And this strategy is not the starting point of a growth agenda. It's the midpoint we've already been growing in recent years and we're really in a position to be able to accelerate that growth and to do it in a way that's really responsible and that's really impactful.
Aleks: Josh, just a couple of thoughts. Actually, I'm intrigued by what you said. I very much love the fact that Development Gateway as a team has embraced this growth mindset. And frankly, even if you take the terrible pandemic that we all experienced, look at some of the problems that arose during the pandemic manipulative information, misuse, abuse, sometimes absence of data.
So growth is not simply a meaningless pursuit. It's about a problem and solving this problem. And I would venture and say that doubling of an organization talking in terms of growth is doubling the organization. That's pretty significant because whether you compare it with the public sector or not, it's about what you grow. And if you look at some of the outcomes that we have in mind, it's about the quality of public service. It's about transparency of public institutions. Well, these are not widgets you sell. These are difficult things to grow. So doubling your impact, so hopefully doubling the revenue would be monumental. That's A great thing to do and I feel quite excited about this.
Josh: Thanks, Aleks. We're excited too. And could you actually talk just a little bit about the ways in which you see the partnership with IREX and your team at IREX supporting that growth?
Aleks: So I actually think that one of the engines of growth is business development. And I think that IREX has a fairly steady and established business development machine and machinery and processes which can be easily harnessed by the partnership and Development Gateway specifically to catalyze further wins by a range of different donors. Conversely, IREX is hugely excited by the fact that Development Gateway has relationships with some donors that have escaped us in our history and who are, we think, critical to our ability to advance impact.
I also think that when we talk about the growth, we have to speak little bit about how we project relevance to the problems we're trying to solve. But the intersection of data and some of the problems I seeks to resolve, whether underperforming educational institutions or underperforming public institutions writ large or manipulative information, can be greatly enhanced by better data. And involving this data in the programs that we offer to our communities, our partners and our donors. I also think that growth is about visibility and self leadership.
This is not self-serving leadership. So leadership this is soft leadership that advances across the goals of our sector for improving what we call in our jargon development, outcomes. Well, data can be hugely catalytic to this, and I see growth being also measured by how Iris and Development Gateway are able to catalyze conversations in our community that bring this newer thinking, bolder thinking, more imaginative and forward leaning positions vis a vis what we can do in terms of data and development outcomes and whether they relate to health or mobility of information or the quality of governance in an environment, or building peace and sustaining long term.
I think we also have to look creatively at combined talents, how we match our expertise with your expertise in ways that are not simply one plus one makes do, but one plus one makes three. And so I think that if we're talking about goals and ambitious goals, we have to be as transformational and as catalytic as possible. And this catalytic transformational aspect comes about if you look at some pretty hairy and ambitious goals and opportunities, it's been hugely elucidating for me personally. And I think the entire need to look at the creativity of your team that discerning problems and looking for opportunities, how to solve those problems.
Frankly, we also need some others to believe in us. And so this is about donors and the community of partners believing in our strength, trusting our abilities and the fact that we mean well and that we all are about solving those problems that matter to them. And so building these relationships over time matters and enhancing how we cultivate these relationships matters too. I'm very, very excited to see that Development Gateway has a fairly nimble, almost organic way, both harnessing its program expertise and its global workforce in its business development efforts. I think this is great and this is something that can be expanded and taken further.
Vanessa: Following up on something that Aleks said, how do you draw talent and mission driven organizations in the job market like today?
Josh: It's a really key question. I think it's an evolving context, right now. And we're looking, you know, in the U.S. at high levels of inflation, you're looking at potentially downturn in the economy. There's a lot of disruption happening in the technology space, the private sector. And so it's potentially a unique moment of being able to bring in some talent who might want to work in more mission driven organizations after kind of cutting their teeth in the private sector.
But it's also really the case that in a lot of the digital and data skills that are needed, there's a shortage of talent generally. You know, it's a it's an evolving pipeline. It's not necessarily, in many cases, the careers that people were being trained for ten, 15 years ago. And so I think there's a combination of needing to upskill team members who are already within an organization and finding the right ways to be able to take people who are kind of analytically savvy and help them go to that next level of methodological rigor, as well as trying to bring in new talent and growing talent coming directly out of out of universities and graduate programs.
It's definitely a very competitive labor market. Still, one of the things that I think is unique about Development Gateway is that the majority of our technology team have traditionally been outside of the United States. And so over the past five years or so, development Gateway has gone from being about 50% based in the United States to less than 25% today.
And we've grown, particularly in this last strategy cycle. As I mentioned, we've focused in on East and West Africa. We've particularly focused on growing our teams in East and West Africa within the program space. And our technical teams are based in Argentina, Romania, Moldova, Armenia and Kenya as well. And so we have quite a globally distributed team and as we grow the organization in the years ahead, we plan to continue that trend. We plan for the majority of the growth of our team and our talent to continue to take place outside of the US because we think that the best way to solve problems is to be closely proximate to them. And we think that some of the best talent in the world are outside of the U.S. and are working on some of the trickiest issues. And so we're excited to continue to add to the talent of the team and bring in new team members in the years to come.
Aleks: If I may, Vanessa, chime in here. I like very much with Josh said, especially this angle on the inclusion of external to the U.S. expertise and what we do because ultimately these are the people and the experts who are closest to the problems and frankly, their creativity and their understanding of complex matters and enhances our impact. I also think that in the case of mission driven organizations, nothing draws them like a problem that they are trying to solve. And so I call it sometimes a search for meaning and for relevance, but ultimately it's about the passion of people to solve the problem. And I think that's hugely important. And communicating this clearly is hugely important to drawing talent.
Second, we have to think hard about creating a trusted environment where individuals of great talent connect with team and feel they're welcome in this team and together drives towards a solution to the problem that they've joined the organization to solve. And so we have to be realistic and practical in the sense that people have one life and they have to fit all of their goals, including the search for meaning into that life.
And so taking a holistic look at compensation package, benefits imagined and reimagined, and will people get some of the practical aspects of employment out of the workplace? We have to be rather aggressive and I think that at an inflection point where we can't look the other way and say, well, we're part of the nonprofit community, frankly, the lines between the nonprofit communities and for broken communities have blurred, and talent moves freely between one community to the other. And so we have to be realistic about competing with the for profit community in terms of what we offer to them when they join our organization.
Josh: Aleks, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.
Aleks: My pleasure.
Vanessa: Special thanks to all our guests. This podcast was produced by Lindsey Fincham with support from Analisa Goodmann. Our theme music was created by Mark Hatcher. Learn more about Development Gateway on our website, developmentgateway.org or through our social media.