My Mathematica: Ziporah Mugwang’a

My Mathematica: Ziporah Mugwang’a

Mar 12, 2024
Ziporah Mugwang’a
Running in Rift Valley, Kenya

Rift Valley, Kenya

I love to run. On the weekends, you’ll often find me on the roads around Nairobi training for my next marathon or half-marathon. Running keeps me grounded and gives me an important perspective on life. First, running always reminds me to plan for the long game. You don’t win a marathon by sprinting. Rather, you must plan for those moments at the end of the race when you are tired and thirsty and need that one final push to get over the finish line. Second, running has always tied me to a supportive, inclusive community. One of my favorite races I’ve ever run was the 2012 Christchurch Half Marathon. It was only a year after an earthquake devastated the city, but the spirit of camaraderie during the race reflected the resilience and optimism I’ve found in communities around the world.

These are two lessons I keep close in my work. From an early age, I knew I wanted to work in the international development sector—where we must break ambitious goals into achievable stages. My career started in a lab. As an intern with KEMRI Wellcome Trust, I processed samples used in malaria research. We were exploring treatments and preventative measures that could reduce the burden of malaria in communities on Kenya’s coast. But as I processed these samples, I always wondered who they belonged to. Who was the person who gave this sample and what did their life look like? This was the first time I felt the draw to engage directly with individuals and communities to put data into context.

After spending time working on the implementation side of development, I decided to return to school, where I pursued a master’s degrees in health science research and business administration. This might seem like an unlikely combination, but it gave me a foundation in turning rigorous research into practical and meaningful insights. The deeper appreciation of business processes and constraints I gained in my studies helps me keep the real-world needs of policymakers and implementers front and center in my work. Best practices from business administration are also very handy when designing and running complex measurement, evaluation, and learning programs.

After I graduated, my work largely transitioned from implementation to research and evaluation, and this transition felt like a natural one. It gave me the opportunity to answer questions I had been asking for my entire career: Were we making progress? Did our approach to solving the big global problems make sense? As a researcher and evaluations expert, I could now focus on understanding the evidence of our impact and how we could improve our work. It was like pausing at the end of each leg of the race to make sure we were still on course.

When I joined EDI Global (and by extension Mathematica) in September 2023, I was thrilled to have the chance to engage with communities more directly as we further expand our portfolio across the continent. In the lab, we relied on quantitative data—numbers and statistics—to help answer our questions. And don’t get me wrong, quantitative data are vital to track trends and understand the statistical significance of an intervention. But numbers can never tell the whole story. The part of my job I love best is marrying quantitative data with qualitative data to put the numbers in context of the real lived experience of individuals. It reminds me every day why I do this work: to improve the public well-being of communities around the world.

In Kenya, we have a saying: fikiria kama watu milioni moja—to think like a million people. It encourages us to celebrate big ideas and think deeply, as if we had access to a million minds. And that is exactly what my work is: using pieces of data, experiences, and reflections from millions of different people to write a story about the world, and maybe even make it a tiny bit better.

About the Author

Ziporah Mugwang’a

Ziporah Mugwang’a

Senior Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) Consultant, EDI Global
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