Earlier this year, Mr. Paul Byatta assumed leadership of our Africa operations as Regional Director, following five years of regional growth in our Deworm the World Initiative and Dispensers for Safe Water programs under Mr. Laliteswar Kumar. Mr. Byatta previously served as Evidence Action’s Associate Director of Monitoring, Learning, and Information Systems for the Africa region.
We took the opportunity to interview Paul to learn more about what makes him tick, including what most excites him about his new role and the one thing he’d want to have with him if stuck on an island (you wouldn’t guess!).
1. Why did you first choose to work for Evidence Action?
I joined Evidence Action at its inception, so there was a lot that needed to be figured out back then. It’s been interesting to both observe and participate in the organization’s evolution - hiccups and all - as we’ve gone from start-up to an organization with over 350 staff globally, supporting or leading program delivery in 11 countries. Initially, it was Evidence Action’s vision of bridging the research-implementation gap in global development that I found most compelling. Also, prior to joining Evidence Action I worked at Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA), the organization that initiated our flagship programs, so I had interacted with the the Dispensers for Safe Water and Deworm the World projects and I was absolutely convinced about the positive impact they were having in communities. Evidence Action has scaled up that impact significantly over the years. When we launched in 2013, our flagship programs jointly reached millions of people. They now reach hundreds of millions of people on a yearly basis, and we now have an in-house incubator, Evidence Action Beta, dedicated to developing and testing new research-backed initiatives with the potential to expand our reach and multiply our impact.
2. What are the two most important things you’ve learned during your time at Evidence Action?
The first would be that you cannot achieve anything meaningful alone. Internally, I have learned the value of honest collaboration, and having the kind of strong, trust-based support system that helps you both achieve professionally and contribute effectively to the greater organizational mission. Externally, I increasingly appreciate the value of our partnerships with multiple governments, non-profit organizations and within the larger ecosystem of evidence-driven organizations. When your goal is large-scale impact it can only be achieved in concert with others - so partnership is a big theme here at Evidence Action.
The second thing? Laugh. I laugh a lot (a very distinctive laugh, some might add). In a fast-paced, results-driven setting, a good sense of humor keeps you grounded.
3. What do you see as Evidence Action’s future in the region?
The two things we plan to focus on are quality program delivery and growth. For Dispensers for Safe Water, quality implementation means ensuring that chlorine is always available at the dispensers and that the hardware, the dispenser itself, is always functional. It also means digging deeper into understanding what drives adoption rates, and effectively incorporating these insights into the program. For the Deworm the World Initiative, success in the region means working with a range of partners, especially governments, to ensure that all children in endemic areas receive deworming treatment consistently and in line with WHO recommendations.
With both programs, there’s ongoing work to think through and strategically execute program expansion to new countries. Consistent with our beliefs, we aren’t forging forward alone. We’re committed to cultivating and maintaining strong and sustainable relationships with our partners, new and old, to help us effectively execute our mission and impact millions of lives.
4. What are you most excited about in your new role?
The first thing is something I have always enjoyed about being involved in Evidence Action: drawing inspiration from a highly-motivated, passionate, mission-driven team. In this new role, I expect to gain an even deeper appreciation for the remarkable people who make our impact possible, and for the enthusiasm, creativity, and dedication they bring to their work every day.
Of course it’s also exciting to work on such impactful programs: three of Evidence Action programs are GiveWell recommended. That is big! As an added benefit, I feel a strong personal connection to both of our at-scale initiatives: the original RCTs on which the programs are founded were conducted in my home county (I probably know people who were respondents/subjects in the studies) and, while I was a student at Harvard (back in the day!), I read the related research papers, and interacted with some of the authors. Now, here I am, contributing to scaling these initiatives! It feels full-circle! I think I will write a memoir on this :-)
5. If you were stranded on an island, what one thing would you want to have with you and why?
Well, being stranded on an island generally has negative connotations so I would have to say hope - the conviction that everything will work out eventually. I think hope is an incredibly important tool for survival. But if you’re looking for something more tangible in a response…maybe a matchstick. With a matchstick I can make a fire and roast fish as I wait for a rescue team.
6. If you could master one skill you don’t have right now, what would it be?
Cooking. It is an important skill, especially if you’re ever stranded on an island.