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A fellow returns to CEGA: Reflections, learning, and growth four years later

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Maya Ranganath (Associate Director, Global Networks and Inclusion) speaks to Ronald Mulebeke (2019 CEGA Fellow) about his reflections on a return to Berkeley four years after his fellowship. Mulebeke’s fellowship was supported by the East Africa Social Science Translation Collaborative (EASST).

Ronald Mulebeke outside the CEGA office in Berkeley, CA | Maya Ranganath

CEGA invests deeply in our fellows each semester, but the relationship doesn’t end there. Fellows go on to join the Network of Impact Evaluation Researchers in Africa, a network of African scholars seeking to advance impact evaluations of development programs, conduct workshops at their home institutions, and receive funding to pursue the brilliant ideas they develop while at Berkeley. While we reunite yearly at the annual Africa Evidence Summit, staff also keep in touch throughout the year with fellows to follow their professional and personal developments, from new papers to new babies.

It’s a happy occasion when fellows come back to Berkeley for a visit. Recently, 2019 CEGA Fellow Ronald Mulebeke returned to campus to work with his faculty mentor, CEGA affiliated professor Stefano Bertozzi, on his CEGA-funded study “Implementing Supportive Supervision and Behavior Change Communication at Private Health Facilities in Uganda.“ I sat down with Ronald to talk about what originally attracted him to the fellowship, what brought him back to Berkeley, and his advice for future fellows.

Maya: Ronald, it’s great to see you back in Berkeley! It’s special when we have a fellow return after a few years. To start from the beginning, can you tell me about what originally brought you to the fellowship, and what your experience was like?

Ronald: When I joined the fellowship in 2019, my interest was to improve my skills in impact evaluation and cost-effectiveness analysis. The fellowship was an interesting time of learning. I loved the chance to network with people, organizations, and groups involved in diverse research activities. The seminars were so eye-opening; I came from a health background and quickly realized that impact evaluation concepts applied to many different sectors. I loved the opportunity for interdisciplinary collaboration.

It’s great to hear that you expanded your thinking during the fellowship. Did your current projects start at that time? Could you tell me a little more about them?

My work is about helping private health facilities provide better malaria treatment by improving their ability to “Test, Treat, and Track” malaria (a policy established by the World Health Organization). I submitted a concept note on this for the fellowship application and developed that into a full proposal with my mentors while at Berkeley. In 2020, I received a research grant from CEGA to conduct a feasibility study of our randomization process. We wanted to see if supportive supervision would work effectively in private health facilities owned by different individuals with varying capacities. We also wanted to test the best way to randomize. After the pilot study, we are planning to apply for a second grant. We implemented the project — with some disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic — — but, overall, it has progressed well.

So what brings you back to Berkeley now?

My current visit is primarily to finalize the initial results of the study and strategize with Stef [Stefano Bertozzi] for the next phase of the project. We needed the time in person to work together. This time around, the focus has been on collaborative work and building a strong research team. I have connected with other faculty members at Berkeley for their expert input on the project’s future applications. This visit has been more study-focused and didn’t involve coursework.

Can you talk about the major changes in your life and career after the fellowship? How did the fellowship impact your work?

After the fellowship, I maintained contact with CEGA staff and faculty and continued working with them on my main project. I also collaborated with CEGA researchers on a project to increase mask use in Uganda during the COVID-19 pandemic, and on the new initiative “Impact Evaluation for Evidence in Decision Making (IEED).”IEED is a joint program between CEGA and Makerere University in Uganda to improve capacity for impact evaluation within Makerere and connect with policymakers to start demand-driven studies. I have been able to ingrain impact evaluation in three institutions, working with the Office of the Prime Minister and two other government agencies. Because of the expertise I gained through the fellowship, I was also appointed a board member of the Mildmay Research Center, Uganda.

Additionally, I have been involved in mentoring and training activities as a member of the Network of Impact Evaluation Researchers in Africa (NIERA).

Did you learn anything specific during the fellowship that you are passing on to junior researchers?

The fellowship emphasized the importance of networking, learning from mentors, and working in teams, which I’ve been able to apply in my career. I learned the importance of networking with policymakers and other stakeholders right from the beginning and involving them in a project’s design, implementation, and dissemination stages. I have maintained a good working relationship with my mentor Stef, and I believe learning from experienced researchers and establishing collaborations is crucial for growth. When I work with junior researchers, I really emphasize how important this is.

I have also mentored junior researchers and helped one successfully apply to the fellowship: I’m excited that Nneka Osadolor from the University of Benin in Nigeria is a resident fellow this fall.

What advice would you give someone just starting their fellowship?

I would give four key pieces of advice. First, be clear about your goals. Next, be open to new ideas (and to receiving constructive criticism!). Third, make sure you network proactively: connect with mentors, other fellows, and professionals, seek advice, have conversations, and build meaningful relationships. Last, keep in mind that it’s important to balance technical skills and conceptual understanding.

Looking ahead, what are your career goals?

First and foremost, I aim to complete my PhD in Medical Sciences at the University of Antwerp this year. Beyond that, I’m passionate about doing more implementation science research. I want to delve deeper into how policies can be effectively implemented and scaled up through the application of research. I hope to contribute to discussions and make a meaningful impact in this area.

That sounds like an important area of focus. Do you have any specific plans after completing your PhD?

It’s still a little early to say. I envision pursuing opportunities in academia or research institutions where I can continue my work in implementation research and impact evaluations. Ultimately, I want to contribute to improving the effectiveness of policies and their scalability. I’m grateful that the fellowship gave me a great foundation for this.

A fellow returns to CEGA: Reflections, learning, and growth four years later was originally published in CEGA on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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