A spotlight on IDinsight’s East Africa Regional Director: Frida Njogu-Ndongwe

This week, we share a Q&A with IDinsight’s East Africa Regional Director to find out what drives and inspires her to do this work.

Frida Njogu-Ndongwe: IDinsight East Africa Regional Director

Frida Njogu-Ndongwe is a medical doctor and public health and development specialist. She currently leads IDinsight’s team and operations in East Africa, based in Nairobi, Kenya. Prior to IDinsight, Frida was the Director of Programs at the Center for Health Solutions — Kenya and a consultant at McKinsey & Company’s Africa Delivery Hub. She served most recently as CEO and co-founder of Afyakit Technologies, a Kenya-based start-up that built and operates a health analytics platform for health managers and service providers. We interviewed Frida to get to know her better and understand her role at IDinsight.

Q: Tell us about yourself.

I’m a mom, wife, and health and development professional driven by a personal vision to have people everywhere live quality lives. I’m slightly introverted, though that is often not evident.

Q: What do you tell your children, parents, or grandparents that you do?

One of my kids once came to my office and said, “So you’re not a real doctor!” He didn’t see any medicine, syringes, or other medical paraphernalia because I don’t work in a hospital setting. I think I’ve (somewhat) managed to convince him that I am really a doctor, especially when he sees me tend to a few patients every now and then.

In my public health work, I said that I work to empower governments and other stakeholders to do their work more effectively. For instance, my work ensures that patients can receive effective and timely care — that when they go to health centers, they find all they need — doctors, nurses, medicine, etc.

At IDinsight, I tell people that we provide data to help governments and other organizations make better decisions, help them track and improve their policies.

Q: What is one of your most memorable life experiences?

I led a team that ran a program to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission in Central Kenya, Kenya. We conducted a graduation ceremony for 18–24-month-old toddlers in Nyeri County who had successfully completed the program. Seeing the delight of the parents in having healthy, uninfected children was extremely validating for the team. We all had the opportunity to see the impact of the work we had done and the effort we put in.

Q: What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I enjoy hanging out with family and friends, though due to the current pandemic, I’ve mostly been spending time with my immediate family; I sometimes have Zoom calls with other friends and family.

I like swimming (when the weather allows it) and taking long walks outdoors. I also like playing board games, and these days I play football (I’m surrounded by boys).

Q: Tell us about an event that motivated you to dedicate your career to social impact.

Actually, my career has always focused on social impact, with the scope expanding over time triggered by a series of events.

When I was a young doctor I was working in this very busy, but inadequately resourced, hospital. It was quite challenging. We lost many children to avoidable causes — including one day in which I lost four babies. I realized that while my clinical care for each patient was important, it was equally important to address the systemic issues. We needed a health systems approach: staffing, commodities, training, work scheduling, etc — in order to make any meaningful changes. This led me to public health. I was pleased with our impact at a health system level, but often got frustrated that in healthcare, we are usually addressing issues caused by failures in other sectors. When issues are not addressed in other sectors at a systemic level e.g. nutrition, housing, transport, the environment (pollution), gender relations, etc. the result is often health consequences on a personal level — malnutrition, injuries, respiratory problems, mental health problems, etc. I am motivated to be part of the solution to these systemic problems to promote the health and wellbeing of our societies.

Q: As an experienced healthcare professional, what are your thoughts on how data and evidence are used in Kenya’s healthcare system? What are decision-makers doing well and what areas can be further enhanced?

We need data and evidence to guide improvements across the board. Using data will enable us to make better decisions regarding operational efficiency, investments (what to invest in and where to direct these investments), tracking the evolution of diseases, etc. In my experience, this data is often not available at all. Where available, it’s usually not in an actionable format. With the exception of public health programs (such as immunization, HIV, TB, etc), most health data available at national and sub-national levels is on service utilization. There is very little data on healthcare access, program outcomes, service quality, facility readiness, and other critical metrics that impact decisions made in the healthcare sector. There is a need to provide this data and package it in a useful format for decision-makers and policymakers to make more informed decisions. These are some of the gaps we were helping address while I worked at our start-up Afyakit, and now look to continue addressing at a larger scale at IDinsight.

Q: What do you like the most about IDinsight?

That we are mission-driven: our north star is social impact. And we work hard to ensure our work achieves maximal impact. We are able to influence many sectors, and do so with humility, coming alongside development leaders to support them in their areas of focus. I also just love the team — such brilliant, passionate people.

Q: What does your role as East Africa Regional Director at IDinsight entail?

I provide strategic leadership for the team in East Africa; which means I’m responsible for our team’s health, provide opportunities for professional development and otherwise support them. I lead our client development and fundraising efforts within the region as well as foster strategic partnerships with various individuals and organizations. I also handle administrative tasks to empower our team to deliver the highest quality work to our clients.

Q: What is your vision for IDinsight East Africa?

My vision for IDinsight East Africa is to become the go-to organization for governments and other development leaders needing data and evidence for policymaking and other decisions. To be a trusted advisor. To contribute significantly to evidence-driven policy development and implementation. To have a connected team that feels supported and excited to achieve this vision.

I would like IDinsight to have opportunities to contribute significantly to evidence-driven policy development and implementation within the region. We’re working to build trust and confidence with organizations and partners with whom we have the opportunity to work. I see a great need for reliable, timely, and rigorous data and evidence for policy and decision-making across different sectors in government and social impact spaces. I think we have the opportunity to meet this need. I’m also enthusiastic for the chance to build a connected team that feels supported and excited to achieve this vision.

Q: How will you apply your past experiences at IDinsight?

I look forward to leveraging my networks to build more partnerships and opportunities for IDinsight within sectors such as health, education, and nutrition. I will apply lessons from past experiences to lead the team and develop the organization. Being from East Africa, I believe having a deep understanding of the local context positions me ideally to amplify the impact of IDinsight’s work across the region.

Q: What’s your recommendation on the best approach for encouraging the use of data and evidence in decision-making by policymakers and implementers?

One of the most effective ways to increase the uptake of data and evidence by decision-makers is by delivering high-quality work for every project we work on. Working with government and development leaders also gives us the opportunity to develop deep and respectful relationships with these stakeholders. We have a responsibility, to be honest, to tell the truth, and to be invested in our clients’ success. The more policymakers trust us, the higher the likelihood that they will implement recommendations from our research. Being generous in sharing our findings and learnings from different research projects places us in a position to engage in discourse with other stakeholders within the data and evidence space as well. Hiring local teammates with a depth of local knowledge and context could also position evidence practitioners to gain the trust of local decision-makers.