Meet our new executive director

Iqbal presents at the Omidyar Network Executive Forum in 2015.

Iqbal Dhaliwal is the new executive director of J-PAL, succeeding Rachel Glennerster, who has joined DFID as its chief economist. Earlier Iqbal was deputy executive director, and prior to that, founding director of J-PAL's policy group. Before joining the organization in 2009 he was a director in an economics consulting firm and an official in India’s senior civil service, where he worked on policy formulation and program implementation. 

In addition to serving as executive director, Iqbal will continue in his roles as scientific director of our South Asia regional office and co-chair of J-PAL’s Government Partnership Initiative.

What drew you to J-PAL nine years ago?

When I was in government, I loved the opportunity to work in the field on development issues. But as an economist, I was often struck by how so many of our policy choices and program design and implementation decisions were driven not by evidence but by instincts, inertia, and ideology. My experience later in economic consulting was just the opposite—a rigorous data-driven approach, but missing the direct human connection. 

J-PAL was doing amazing work at the intersection of economics, public policy, and development issues in the field, all of which aligned perfectly with my academic training, experience and interest. I was so impressed by the highly policy relevant and innovative research being undertaken by J-PAL’s affiliates; it quickly became clear to me that the organization had incredible potential to grow and truly change the way we approach program design and policy formulation, and do so at scale.

In your view, how has J-PAL evolved over the years?

In the 15 years since J-PAL started, randomized evaluations have become an immensely important tool in development economics to understand causal impacts of programs and policies.

As our network of talented affiliates, their research projects, and the countries and sectors in which they work has expanded, J-PAL has kept pace. Not only has our team grown to 350+ staff around the world and our regional reach extended (with regional offices in Africa, Europe, Latin America, North America, South Asia, and Southeast Asia), but the depth and breadth of our work has grown to ensure this research is translated into action.

For instance, we manage a number of competitive grant funds to spur even more timely and policy-relevant research. Our policy group summarizes research papers into easy-to-access online summaries, synthesizes lessons from multiple studies, conducts cost-effectiveness analysis; and communicates these results at meetings, conferences and on social media. We’ve built incredible partnerships with governments and nonprofits to scale up effective programs based on the results of our affiliates’ research.

Our training group designs and delivers capacity building courses for research staff, executive education courses for program implementers, and customized courses for journalists and civil servants in dozens of locations every year. And our education group, after introducing a number of free online courses, is pioneering an online MicroMasters credential and a blended full master’s degree program in Data, Economics and Development Policy. We’re now looking at how to expand access to online courses and graduate programs to those who might otherwise not have access, like low-income students and refugees.

Our training and education courses have already reached thousands of learners while programs our affiliates evaluated have been scaled up to reach 300+ million people. This tremendous growth and evolution is really exciting, and is a testament to the vision and commitment of our researchers, implementing partners, funders, and staff.

What are some projects or initiatives you're particularly excited about? 

We recently launched a competitive grant fund called the Government Partnership Initiative (GPI) in recognition of the large and important role that governments play in the lives of people, both in developing and developed countries. One of our main goals is to institutionalize a culture of evidence-informed policymaking among governments.

As I recently described in an op-ed, we have seen high demand from researchers and governments to partner to evaluate innovative programs, scale up those that are most effective, and create institutional mechanisms within governments that facilitate evidence-informed decision making. We hope to expand the reach and scope of GPI by partnering with funders who share a similar goal of seeing many more government policies based on data and rigorous evidence.  

What do you plan to focus on in your first few months as executive director?

Listen and learn.

I want to use this leadership transition as an opportunity to meet in person with many of J-PAL’s stakeholders, including our affiliated researchers, implementing partners, funders, and staff. I want to hear what they think J-PAL is doing well, or not, and what we should be doing new or differently.

Everything that J-PAL has accomplished is a direct result of the work and commitment of this strong coalition of stakeholders, and I am looking forward to spending the next three months on the road meeting with many of them.

Learn more about Iqbal.

Posted by Eliza Keller, Policy and Communications Manager, J-PAL Global