On Wednesday, January 21, TechChange officially launched the Alternative Grad School (AGS) track of our Tech for M&E Diploma Program. The Alternative Grad School track builds upon the Working Professionals Experience, providing a highly personalized experience for participants focused on professional development and career services.

As part of this program, students participated in a three-day in-person orientation in Washington, D.C. with the TechChange team. They worked on portfolio development, planned for their mentorship program, were placed with a capstone partner, and made connections with key players in the industry during site visits. Participants are given an educational foundation to help further these experiences by taking our Technology for Monitoring & Evaluation, Technology for Data Collection and Survey Design, and Technology for Data Visualization facilitated courses, which are ongoing.

Meet the Spring 2016 AGS Participants

Laurie Cooper

Laurie Cooper is a collaborative dispute resolution and governance specialist, with twenty-five years of experience in program management in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. She is passionate about working with civil society organizations, political party and government officials, and international NGOs. She has a solid foundation in rule of law, advocacy and accountability issues. Ms. Cooper worked in more than a dozen African countries on democracy development programs. She speaks French, Portuguese and Spanish.

John Bunnell

John Bunnell is a young entrepreneur who is passionate about the ways adventure travel and technology can make a positive impact in development. He is currently planning the launch of his own foundation, which will combine humanitarian work and the outdoors. It will be an adventure company that helps support and advocate for NGOs, social change movements and environmental sustainability projects.

Grace Profile

Grace Lyn Higdon has over five years of experience working with social change organizations in the US and Africa, most recently supporting an impact evaluation measuring changes in equitable caregiving among fathers in Rwanda. She is passionate about safely incorporating ICTs to strengthen citizen participation and inclusion in the development project cycle, which will be the focus of her graduate work at the Institute of Development Studies in Brighton.


Yakubu Iddirisu has a diverse portfolio of skills, knowledge and experience in Business Development, Water & Sanitation, Gender, Environment and Infrastructure Development. He spent four years as an M&E Specialist for the West Africa Trade Hub, a USAID-funded trade facilitation project for twenty-one countries based in Ghana and Senegal. He holds an MA in Development Studies from ISS in the Netherlands. Yakubu currently serves as Health Promotions Coordinator and Leading Petty Officer in a Dental Clinic in the United States Navy Reserve.

Spring 2016 Orientation

The three-day, in-person orientation was held in Washington D.C. at 1776, “a global incubator and seed fund helping startups transform industries that impact millions of lives every day—education, energy & sustainability, health, transportation and cities.” During this three-day period, participants met stakeholders, went on site visits to international development organizations such as Creative Associates International and DAI, and participated in various career/professional development related sessions.

Want to learn more?

We’ll be featuring each of our students in upcoming blog posts, and they’ll be sharing their experiences with the TechChange community throughout the program. Follow us on Twitter at @techchange to see the latest from our students and the incredible work they will be doing!

To learn more about the Technology for Monitoring and Evaluation Diploma Program – and the Alternative Grad School add-on – head here.

Still have questions? Reach out to us at diploma@techchange.org.



In 2015, TechChange launched the Technology for Monitoring & Evaluation Diploma Program, which combined three TechChange courses (Tech for M&E, Tech for Data Collection and Survey Design, Tech for Data Visualization) into one comprehensive program. The program was meant to give busy working professionals a robust foundation in technology for M&E through the three core courses as well as workshops and office hours with course facilitators. Our first cohort is finishing up the program as we begin 2016, and a new session will launch on January 25.

Today we are very excited to chat with Sonja Schmidt, the Senior M&E Advisor to JSI’s AIDSFree project, who is one of the first participants to complete the Technology for Monitoring & Evaluation Diploma Program: Working Professionals Experience. She discusses her experience with the overall program, how each course influenced her work, as well as how she was able to better understand the use of ICTs in M&E.

How did you come across the Tech for M&E Diploma Program?

A colleague of mine from JSI had sent around some links for TechChange courses. When I clicked the links I noticed the Diploma Program, and thought that this would be a good option to take advantage of the three courses in order to get a wider foundation on the topic.

Have you taken online courses before? Did the program meet your expectations?

I had never taken an online course before, so this was a very new experience for me. I found it challenging in the beginning, particularly with the first course that I took, because I initially felt overwhelmed and struggled a bit with learning how to move around the platform and managing the material.

That being said, the program far exceeded my expectations. I have to compliment TechChange because, being an M&E expert, I look at most material with a critical eye, but I found that the material that was put together and all of the speakers/guest experts were stellar. I was also quite pleasantly surprised by the group dynamics present on the platform. I did not expect this from a virtual group, but in the end there were names that kept popping up, and I actually had the chance to meet someone from the course in person – I am almost said that it has ended.

Are you new to the field of M&E? If not, why did you think this would be valuable to your career?

I have many years of experience in the M&E field. Despite this fact, I realized that the concept of ICT and M&E emerged on the scene pretty suddenly – it did not really exist as an articulated concept even as recently as 3 years ago. I remember meeting someone a few years back who had created his own company around an app meant to improve data collection for surveys, and was surprised because I never thought that that would take off. Now, several years later I find it fascinating how this has become mainstream.

So, my main reason for taking the program was to learn more about this new and rapidly changing field, the intersection of technology and monitoring & evaluation, and get a better grasp of it.

How have you been able to use what you learned in the courses in your work, and how has the program overall been helpful to you?

I have definitely been able to use what I learned in the courses, and the Diploma Program, as foundations for my work. The Technology for M&E course, while a bit repetitive for me sometimes, as I’m an experienced M&E professional, still provided me with exposure to new materials as well as to other people’s perspectives and approaches. The Technology for Data Collection & Survey Design course was not as applicable to my personal work, however it did improve my capacities as an M&E advisor in terms of being able to recommend methods or software, or considerations to take into account, to in-country M&E folks who might be the ones actually designing M&E programs themselves. The Technology for Data Visualization course is the one that had the most impact on my work directly, because a big part of my work is reporting to stakeholders and presenting data. The Introduction to Excel for Data Visualization course was also extremely helpful because it is a familiar software, and Excel is something that I will always use; especially for organizations that do not have much funding, Excel is a very powerful and useful tool.

In general, I think the courses were useful in my work in that when I come across a particular issue, I can now think in a way where I ask myself how I can improve or do something better. I can then go back to the material and target specific areas and continue to use the program material as a tool for learning in my work. I am also currently working on developing a training in Tanzania on data quality, and I plan to discuss with my colleagues ways to use, for example, phones to more quickly submit data from site facilities to our central office.

Interested in the TechChange Technology for Monitoring & Evaluation Diploma Program? Get more information and apply here. Enrollment is open and on-going, but our next batch of courses begins January 25, 2016. It is still not too late to sign up and join this amazing program with participants from all corners of the globe!

About Sonja
Sonja has over 15 years of experience in international public health, with a focus on infectious diseases, including TB, HIV/AIDS and immunization programs. She has long-term country experience in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Ethiopia and has worked for several UN organizations (UNIFEM, UNICEF, WHO) and numerous USAID-funded projects. Currently as the Senior M&E Advisor to JSI’s AIDSFree project, she oversees and coordinates the monitoring and evaluation of the project and guides country projects in M&E planning, data quality assessment, data analysis and use. Sonja has an MA in medical anthropology and an MPH with a focus on policy and management.

TechChange courses are designed for busy young professionals. In any of our courses, you will find yourself taking the course alongside international development field and headquarter staff, university professors and students, freelancers, and so many other kinds of eager learners. Today, we are excited to chat with Amira Elibiary, who is an M&E specialist and works for Tshikululu Social Investments in South Africa. After she submitted an insight piece she wrote about M&E as a result of her participation in our Technology for Monitoring & Evaluation course, we caught up with Amira to talk about her overall experience with the course and how it has impacted her work.

Q: How did you find out about TechChange, and what made you interested in taking a course?
I am a member of the MandE News Yahoo Group, which is a practitioner group for M&E professionals. Someone posted information about TechChange and the course in the group, so that is how I initially found out about it. At my organization, Tshikululu Social Investments, which is a fund manager for corporate social investment, I’ve been grappling with conducting data collection in an efficient manner and the M&E process in general. I decided to take the course to see what tools are out there because I felt that I was getting stuck in terms of thinking of new ideas.

Q: Have you taken online courses before? What did you think of the TechChange course and the style?
I had taken several online courses with other organizations before I took this Technology for M&E course with TechChange. I found it a bit hard at first to get accustomed to and navigate the platform, but once I got used to it I really enjoyed the course and the setup. I liked the TechPoints system, which did not exist in other courses I had taken. The TechChange course was also definitely more interactive than the other courses I had taken. I was able to have discussions with other participants in the course, and most of my problem solving and ideas came from this sort of engagement with other students and from hearing their experiences. The content of the course was also great, especially the guest speakers.

Q: What level of experience did you have with tech for M&E going into the course?
I work a lot in the M&E field but going into this course I knew about some tech for M&E tools, but I didn’t have a lot of exposure to and experience with them. This did not pose a problem for me, however – the material was not hard to understand or to follow, and has definitely increased my knowledge of the M&E field as well as the various tools out there.

Q: How did you use what you learned in the course at your job and in your work?
I would say that the main way that what I learned in the course has been applicable to my work is in terms of bringing in more ideas. At work we get a lot of different service providers that come to us offering us their tools, and I feel that now I am more knowledgeable and better equipped to decide between these tools.

More specifically, the guest expert that spoke about the issue of privacy has impacted my work as well. The insight piece that I wrote for my company’s blog about the issue of privacy and M&E was in part a result of my participation in this course. This presentation made me stress the issue of privacy more with my colleagues. As M&E practitioners, we are aware of this issue but maybe don’t think about it as actively as we should. This aspect of the course brought more attention to the fact that it is people that we are collecting data from, not just numbers.

I also have begun to think more about local contexts. For example, in the course we talked about how most people in the developing world are connecting to the online world via mobile phones rather than desktop or laptop computers, which many still do not have. This has caused me to consider that perhaps we should begin to use some mobile tools for M&E, or at least be choosing tools that are also mobile compatible.

Q: What advice would you give to other participants in order to for them to succeed in the course and gain the most from this experience?
When I was taking the course I didn’t always have time to attend all the guest expert sessions live because I was busy with work; I went back and watched most of them later in the months following the end of the course. I do regret not attending more of the events live because it would have been a much better tool for learning and I would have had the opportunity to ask more questions directly. So, I would probably tell students that they should browse through the course calendar at the beginning of the course and pick a few live events during the four-week period that they are most interested in and plan into their schedules to attend those.

The second piece of advice I would give to students is to actually use and take advantage of the knowledge within each course participant. There are a huge range of participants that all have different backgrounds and areas of expertise and, as I mentioned earlier, most of my problem solving was a result of discussions that I had with other participants.

Interested in taking this course? New session begins January 25, 2016. Apply and sign-up for our Technology for Monitoring & Evaluation course here in order to gain new skills and join an incredible network of professionals from all over the world! For a full list of the courses we offer, feel free to visit our online course catalogue

About Amira

photo (1)
Amira Elibiary is a Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) specialist with 10 years of experience in research, grant-making and program management; over two years of experience in the corporate social investment sector for education, health and social development projects. With a keen interest and extensive experience in democracy, governance, advocacy and rule of law work. Amira holds a Master’s degree in International Affairs from American University and a BA degree in Economics.

Featured image credit: WOCinTech Chat Creative Commons License

The Current Situation

There’s no doubt that there is a glaring gender gap in tech. The widely accepted number of jobs held by women in the industry is 30%, but when you look at the percentage of women actually filling engineering roles, that figure shrinks considerably.

Let’s take a look at some of the giants in tech. At both Facebook and Google, women make up around a third of the company’s payroll, but only 16% of technical jobs at Facebook and 18% at Google are held by female engineers. At Twitter, it’s only 10%. These figures are the norm across the industry – in Europe, only 7% of engineering jobs are held by women!

Now, this isn’t just a women’s issue, a corporate responsibility problem, or a diversity issue. This gap is hurting companies’ bottom-lines and is detrimental to the industry overall.

If you look at any number of metrics, a gender-balanced team outperforms a predominantly male or predominantly female team. The numbers show that gender diversity has big payoffs. Teams with at least one female executive tend to receive valuations that are 64% larger than companies that only have men in leadership positions.

As Toptal Co-Founder and COO Breanden Beneschott put it, “If men and women are equally intelligent, statistically speaking, then out of the smartest ten people in the world, five should be male and five should be female.” Therefore, “if your team is anything less than an equal balance of men and women, then your team is probably not the best it can be.”

What is being done to address this gender gap?

The good news is that leading tech companies agree on this and they’re launching initiatives to get more women into top engineering positions. The solution here is more complicated than just doubling down on recruitment efforts for female engineers, though. There simply aren’t enough female engineers in the job market right now. While there’s no one reason for this, Girls Who Code founder Reshma Saujani explained that popular culture has a lot to do with turning young women away from tech. Girls take cues from TV shows, fashion magazines, and social media that tech is a man’s domain and figure it’s not a path they should follow.

So companies are trying to get involved at the ground level, not just recruiting computer science graduates but also showing girls at a young age that they actively want them to enter STEM fields, both in the classroom and after they’ve received their diploma. Both Etsy and Intel partner with Girls Who Code and Girl Develop it to build a strong educational pipeline that supports aspiring female developers.


In October 2015, Toptal launched Toptal Scholarships for Female Developers, which will award 12 aspiring female engineers $5,000 and a year of one-on-one mentorship with a senior developer from the network. Toptal is encouraging girls of all ages and educational backgrounds to apply by making a meaningful contribution to open source and then writing a personal blog post about it. They’re announcing one winner per month for a year.

Through partnerships with educational organizations and the creation of mentorship programs, these companies are getting at the root of a systemic issue. There’s a long road to gender parity in tech, but they’re at the forefront of a solution that will bring more female engineers into the industry and give their companies a competitive edge.

About Grace

Grace Fish Headshot
Grace Fish is a writer from San Francisco currently working at Toptal. She graduated with a degree in History from Princeton in June 2015, and has been been living as a digital nomad ever since.