Leader Profile: Jackie Frizelle, Director of the Strategy, Advisory, and Evaluation Group, New Zealand Agency for International Development (NZAID)

    Although it may look like a newcomer beside its contemporaries in the industry, the five-year old New Zealand Agency for International Development is nonetheless backed by a firm resolve to eliminate poverty in developing countries and to support them in a more fruitful route towards genuine economic and social progress. Driven by its vision to aim for “a safe and just world free of poverty,” NZAID commits itself to fostering strong relationships with its development partners, most of whom are its very own neighbors in the Pacific region, although it also works to fight poverty in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

    One of the core groups that allow the agency to perform as seamlessly as possible is the Strategy, Advisory, and Evaluation Group led by Jackie Frizelle, who serves as the director of the group. Because she’s also part of the NZAID’s Senior Management Team, however, her work is of a two-fold nature, where she manages her time between her responsibility to the agency’s overall strategic course and to her group’s more specific efforts. “The first dimension of my work is agency leadership, a responsibility which comes with being part of the overall management leadership team,” Frizelle says. “And then there’s the particular group that I’m responsible for, which has a range of functions. It’s a group of technical specialists that provide advisory support to the programs. There are about 30 in the group, and they support the programs around any technical areas that need the input they can offer.”

    Although Frizelle’s group is heavily involved in plotting out the coordination efforts of the agency and developing better policies and strategies, her group’s most compelling task is to find out exactly how effective their aid programs are. “Another aspect of our job is the development effectiveness side of it. We help in developing tools that can be of use in program management,” she points out. “We use our policy development processes to generate learning in the agency, and by doing it in a collective way, we ensure that policies aren’t something that sit on a shelf, but are actually implemented in the end.”

    There are roadblocks to consider, however, difficulties which are part and parcel of her job. In an agency where the organizational structure is more dynamic than most, keeping the lines of communication wide open is imperative. “The Strategy, Advisory, and Evaluation Group works in a way that cuts across the agency, but we have a number of advisers who are experts in certain technical areas, and it’s extremely important for us to maintain the communication between program teams and have a deep understanding of the contexts that our partners work in,” Frizelle explains. ” It’s crucial that there’s a common understanding among everyone involved, that we’re all on the same page, that everybody’s clear about their roles.”

    Recently, too, a worldwide demand for transparency and accountability in development aid has given the agency’s usual challenges a new and more urgent dimension. “There’s bigger public pressure and political pressure to be able to report on results and to account for public funds. The need to balance that with the task of ensuring that aid is as effective as possible in eliminating poverty is an ongoing point of attention that needs to be managed,” she says.

    No matter how demanding her work in the NZAID might be, Frizelle finds that there are more reasons to remain passionate about her responsibilities in the agency. “I feel extraordinarily privileged, to be honest. I work with very passionate people who really care about what they’re doing, very innovative and creative people. My job, in a way, is to help create an environment where they can get on and do what they do best, and help them develop a shared and common purpose,” she points out. It’s rewarding, too, to see concrete results emerge from their efforts. “Occasionally, I actually get the opportunity to see the difference, and that’s extremely satisfying. Development is such a long-term process; it’s very rare to always be able to see the benefits of what you’re working on, so it’s very fulfilling when you actually do see the results.”

    Frizelle had already been working in the field of international development for 20 years before she assumed her seat in NZAID five years ago. In fact, she was affiliated with the agency from the very moment it was established by the New Zealand government, and once served in New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade before she finally became the NZAID’s Director of the Strategy, Advisory, and Evaluation Group.

    Even if it might be easier to give in to despair while working in the field of international development, Frizelle believes that it’s much better to be armed instead with a lively sense of optimism and hope. “It can be very easy to be cynical, I think, when working in international development. It’s always been important for me to never lose sight of the significance of the challenges we have around poverty, and to not allow the big obstacles to seem insurmountable, because ultimately, you cannot simply give up. You need to confront some of the hard issues and think strategically how you can work with them.”

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