A nurse and midwife since 1978, Jenny holds two doctorates, the first in Education focusing on program evaluation, and the second on teenage pregnancy and antenatal needs. Volunteering with Rotary is a big part of Jenny’s life — she contributes as a Rotary Foundation Cadre, the Secretary for the Rotarians Against Malaria-Global Rotary Action Group, and the National Manager for Rotarians Against Malaria (RAM) Australia. View Jenny’s LinkedIn profile »
This story was collected by Barb Knittel — a Senior Advisor with JSI — as part a Rotary International Strategic Initiative to generate actionable data and learning from Rotary service projects. View more stories in the Rotary collection »
Can you tell me a bit about how you’re involved with Rotary?
I’m from the Rotary club of North Hobart in Tasmania, Australia. I’ve been with Rotary since 2011, so not very long in contrast to many people. It’s been an amazing journey.
I’m a nurse and midwife and I used to work in international development. I was a midwife consultant in West Timor in Indonesia, and I have also worked in Timor-Leste. I was in West Timor for about eight years. My husband and I moved over there for long periods of time starting in 1996. In 2008, I returned home to Australia. I felt quite lost. Rotary opened doors — truly. Rotary’s theme in 2021 was “Rotary Opens Doors” and it truly does resonate with me.
When I worked overseas, I did training and policy work that reached thousands of people. Back at home, I was one midwife to four patients and I felt that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I have more skills and felt that I could use those through Rotary. So, in 2010, I went to Bangladesh as a volunteer to help the School of Nursing. I had contacts outside of Rotary who put me in touch with people in Bangladesh. Through my Rotary club and several other clubs in my District, we were able to raise funds to send decommissioned hospital beds to the hospital I was working at in Bangladesh. So through Rotary, I was able to slowly get back to helping on a larger scale.
Rotary opened up more possibilities — beyond what I could contribute working at one hospital.
I was doing volunteer work. I was raising money. I was getting Rotary grants. Rotary opened up more possibilities — beyond what I could contribute working at one hospital. I do Rotary work because it keeps me sane. It is how I can use my skills and my education. Rotary means a lot from that perspective.
You’re currently a Cadre Technical Advisor. What do you do in that role?
Rotary has seven Areas of Focus. Cadre Technical Advisors draw on their specialization to improve project design and implementation. In my case, I also draw on my doctorate training in program logic [theory of change], planning, and evaluation.
The area that I contribute to is disease prevention and treatment. I help Rotarians — and non-Rotarians! — with the design and development of Rotary Global Grants project. That fits well with my previous experience. I love designing projects and getting them to a standard that when submitted there is little need to make many revisions.
I also get involved with evaluating or monitoring projects. I was given one project to look at as a pre-implementation evaluation — it’s like a feasibility study for projects before Rotary approves them. It’s really important to assess whether the goals are achievable, if there is logic within the program design, whether it is sustainable, and whether partners are involved. These are important questions.
It’s really important to assess whether the goals are achievable, if there is logic within the program design, whether it is sustainable, and whether partners are involved.
Beyond that, I can be called on to do program evaluations and monitor program quality through interim visits and reviews. When a project is in the middle of implementation, Rotary conducts an interim monitoring evaluation via a site visit. It’s really a process review. To date, I haven’t done many, but I’m hoping to do more.
Rotary wants Cadre Advisors to contribute in a bigger and more impactful way by joining the District International Service Committee (DISC) in their Rotary District. I heard John Hewko, the General Secretary and Chief Executive Officer of Rotary International, on a video where he spoke about DISCs and he equates the DISC to a ‘consulting firm’ established within each Rotary District. So we work within that framework as well.
This approach makes sense. I’ve worked as a consultant in international development companies for nearly 10 years, and in my view, highly skilled Cadres are integral to DISCs — if DISCs are adequately supported by the Rotary District management team to function professionally.
How do you interact with data in your work with Rotary? Do you tap into information more broadly within Rotary?
Yes, I interact with Rotary resources and information when I work on grants. As a Cadre, the Grants Center on the MyRotary website is really important for me. I go there a lot. I have to do online mandatory training. I also access a lot of their policy documents, like Rotary Global Grants terms and conditions — that’s like the Bible for anyone doing grants.
In regards to the use of Rotary data, the Rotary Showcase is a useful place to get information on Rotary projects. But not all Rotarians know about or want to report through the Showcase because it is time consuming. As a Cadre Advisor, I am not aware of, nor have I searched for databases that could be useful for my interim evaluation work. I think there is a lot of rich information from other Cadres’ work that could be shared.
I’m confident that we will hear more about how to improve our work in the near future. I recently heard a presentation on the Grant Model Evaluation process at a Cadre meeting and was really impressed with the depth of work undertaken by Rotary International to improve our grant-making process. The information on the Grant Model Evaluation needs to be shared more broadly with all Rotarians.
I’m interested in following this line of conversation. Are you given tools to do this work? Where does that information that you collect go? What sort of decisions are made using that information?
The Rotary Foundation conducts a design review and interim monitoring evaluation via site visit for Grants over $50,000. And, for large grants, the Rotary Foundation also does a financial audit, conducted by a Cadre Advisor with an accounting background.
In terms of tools, Rotary’s online form that we are required to complete is an important guide to what Cadre Technical Advisors must collect during the interim monitor visit. I did a virtual interim monitor visit during the COVID pandemic. It was challenging, but doable. Rotary suggested some methods, but provided no tools to conduct the visit virtually.
In addition to the online data collection report, tools to capture other data would be useful and important. A narratives section would be useful. A balance is required, so that the requirements don’t become too complex.
Right now, many Rotarians do feel that the Rotary Global Grants application and approval processes are onerous and lengthy, and many are discouraged.
What sort of things does Rotary suggest?
They suggest communications modes such as WhatsApp and Zoom — ways that we can communicate virtually with project managers and implementers.
In terms of data collection, there is an online form that we have to fill in. I used that form to guide the data collection format for my online interviews. It was a useful data collection tool. I’m just looking at it now to go through very quickly what I had to do.
The representative from the organization implementing the project also took videos of the location of interviews that she conducted with a patient and a nurse. I requested these videos on the day when I organized the virtual tour of the location, which was in a remote town. On the day, we couldn’t conduct the virtual tour due to an electricity shutdown. Later we learned that rats had chewed through the electrical wires!
We also conducted a feedback session with the project manager and implementers. These are important opportunities to document lessons learned that could be applied in similar, future projects and grant applications.
It is important when evaluating to put into perspective the total contribution from Rotary and other organizations. In the recent interim evaluation I conducted, the whole project costs about $1.7 million and Rotarians only contributed about $125,000. The questions we asked for that level of contribution was quite onerous. I felt like I shouldn’t take too much of their time by asking too many questions and making too many demands. Nonetheless, it is important to be accountable for funds we receive.
We need guidance on how to tailor questions for specific projects. For example, when providing a grant to equip a service facility, we need to know the population served in the catchment area and the growth expected so that we can work out the potential use of the facility. In the interim evaluation that I conducted, under-utilization of the health facility was an issue that nobody talked about initially. It wasn’t raised with Rotarians at the start when they were planning the project.
In terms of tools, the online form was okay. It is generic. Each Cadre Advisor is expected to provide their own questions based on their expertise. I developed a customized tool — based on the Rotary Foundation interim monitoring evaluation tool — to capture information relevant to the project’s area of specialization.
As experts, we are given the flexibility to explore and use what we feel would work best and we can always reach out to other Cadres for ideas. Now that the Cadres are in WhatsApp groups and Microsoft Teams, we are better connected.
If you’re asking whether or not the online questions are adequate and should we be asking more, then I think that is another analysis that needs to take place. You also have to refer back to the Rotary terms and conditions, as there are specific questions on grant management that are essential to an interim visit.
If you’re using this form to fill out your observations of what you’re finding during these interim monitoring visits, what’s the process of then sending it on? Do you type up your thoughts and your analysis? Who do you send it to?
The online data collection form does not provide for much analysis. Thus, in the last interim evaluation, I wrote a separate report where I included analysis on the specific area of health service.
The report goes online and I do hear back. I’m quite detailed in my reports. In the recent past, grant project managers received feedback from Regional Grants Officers, and not from Cadre Technical Advisors. This was a top-down approach that I was glad to see changed.
We’re in a really precarious position because we’re all Rotatrians and we don’t want to hurt other Rotarians’ feelings. At the same time, it’s important to be able to say, “Look, these are the issues and perhaps you need to consider these.”
The Regional Grants Officer gets the report and feeds back to me. I really value that he’s open enough for me to be able to talk to. We’re in a really precarious position because we’re all Rotatrians and we don’t want to hurt other Rotarians’ feelings. At the same time, it’s important to be able to say, “Look, these are the issues and perhaps you need to consider these.”
Rotary International now requires all Cadres to feedback following the interim visit. I was pleased that the feedback process was introduced, as it is important and ethically correct that we do so.
So Rotary introduced a feedback mechanism?
Maybe there was a feedback mechanism before. I don’t know. I’ve had three visits for one project that I am managing, and I’ve never received any feedback from the Cadre.
They must have introduced site visit feedback in 2020 because I was asked to give site visit feedback when I did an interim evaluation. It’s so important. It allows the project managers to tell us why if something wasn’t done.
Let’s switch gears and talk about grants that you’ve managed through Rotary. Do you feel like the grants that you’ve managed program metrics and measurement elements? How does monitoring and data collection work itself into the grants that you or other Rotarians manage?
To a large extent, the Rotary Foundation sets the standards in terms of reporting requirements. There is a reporting form online and very little flexibility in terms of what else we want to report and recommend. That’s fine, because a lot of us are so busy. We’re happy to give what Rotary wants and no more.
Once the program measures are set, the program manager works with the implementing organization to collect data. The projects I’ve worked on are with government offices, so I try to identify measures that are already routinely collected by the government. This avoids adding excessive demands on busy government staff. Reporting on output measures is required once a year by the Rotary Foundation.
Monitoring of progress against the implementation plan is undertaken by the project manager regularly to make sure that the project progresses as planned. Any potential delays are reported to the Regional Grants Officer, and proposed changes are negotiated before implementation.
The metrics are mostly around beneficiaries, right?
If you look at inputs, processes, and outputs, I would say a lot of it is about inputs. A lot of it is about the number of people reached and number of beneficiaries. In terms of process, it’s hard to measure. In terms of setting up systems, we’re not asked about that.
We’re asked about the number of people we reach. It could be 250+ and that’s very broad. It’s not about process and it’s not about outcomes.
Outcomes are longer and more difficult to measure. So, it’s usually about the outputs or inputs, like equipment bought and that sort of thing. It’s not about, for example, how many people have passed this exam or how many people have managed to apply this system in their village. Some things are harder to measure.
For your grants, did you track other metrics beyond the number of beneficiaries reached? Or do you focus on implementing the project and limit what you collect to what Rotary asks for?
To be honest, a lot of times it is about that. I’m thinking back to one country because there was a lot of output stuff. We bought bed nets for pregnant women. We trained people, bought sprayers, and looked at the number of houses sprayed. It was difficult to measure the number of malaria cases because they had already reached zero.
We can say we contributed in some way. I never say we actually prevented malaria, but we say we contributed to preventing malaria — within the context of other donors because we don’t work in a vacuum.
I was always wondering about how effective we were, and I can’t answer that. Maybe we helped protect pregnant women. Pregnant women continue to require bed nets because, while the country has zero cases of malaria, there are imported cases coming in with travelers from other countries.
We can say we contributed in some way. I never say we actually prevented malaria, but we say we contributed to preventing malaria — within the context of other donors because we don’t work in a vacuum.
This is why it’s hard to talk about Rotary’s impact. If Rotarians stand up there and say, “Rotary has done this and that,” it’s like no, not quite. Our funding is so small. In comparison, funding organizations like the Global Fund for HIV/AIDS, TB, Malaria donate millions of dollars to a country we support. So, that’s one of the difficulties as a Rotarian, to actually say. “We’ve done this.” Polio is different because we put so much money into polio and we collaborated with many great partners driving to end Polio.
To achieve impact, Rotarians must work together, globally, on the world’s worst diseases and other priority issues — and this has to be driven by Rotary International.
It sounds like the main metrics that Rotary tracks are grants given, money spent in certain areas, and an approximation of how many people have been reached. However, with the Action Plan and the Impact Strategic Initiative, it seems that Rotary would like to be able to say something more. Do you have any advice for Rotary for how they can achieve this measurement for impact? What would you want to be able to say about Rotary and its work outside of polio?
There are two things that Rotary is trying to do with grants — and now that they’re going for Programs of Scale — that will be more impactful.
I don’t think we can talk about impact when we give small grants, say $50,000, $30,000, $100,000. These small grants are really for Rotarians to be heard and to promote their clubs where they are— in their communities.
The Rotary Foundation is very important. All Rotarian clubs donate into the Rotary Foundation. That is the only way we can get funding to do grants overseas. It’s a great system. It used to be better in terms of matching cash donations, but the Rotary Foundation no longer does that. Nonetheless, the Rotary Foundation gives Rotarians opportunities to be more visible. Small grants may make a difference in the area of water and sanitation, for example. You can see results almost immediately.
Maybe we can look at the number of people who join Rotary as a result of grants. And we could continue to look at the number of people reached through a grant.
I would advise an analysis of what we are doing with grants. What are the grants helping to do? For example, grants may help Rotary become better known within a country. They can help local Rotarians gain visibility. Now, how impactful is that? That’s immeasurable, perhaps. Maybe we can look at the number of people who join Rotary as a result of grants. And we could continue to look at the number of people reached through a grant.
Clean water projects are different. They’re measurable. For example, a small grant from our club bought water filters for Bhutan. They were able to say that a number of children in this school benefited from the water and there was like an 80% drop in diarrhea. But for other projects it’s hard to see impact. So small grants may give Rotarians more visibility. That’s always positive. But expectations for impact may not be realistic for other projects.
We generally can’t measure impact for small grants — beyond grants that have to do with water or something like that. One example of a grant that would be difficult to measure impact is a project in Liberia where our Rotary Action Group is funding malaria education. How do we measure that? Number of people who attended? Did they actually listen? Even if you could accurately measure that, it’s only one step to a whole behavioral change process. Have they actually changed their behaviors? To measure those things, there would need to be followed up after the project is over. Perhaps Rotary needs to say, “Well, you need to get back there a month later and include that in your reporting.”
Numbers are always useful when talking about impact like the number of people reached. For example, with the first Programs of Scale project, they talk about 1.3 million beneficiaries of these community health workers being trained and equipped to give basic malaria services. They worked out that that would be a 90% reduction in cases.
It sounds like you’re saying that there is a place on larger grants to do more traditional monitoring and impact evaluations.
I think so. It has to happen if you’re providing a $2 million grant —I want to see more than just 1.3 million people reached. A 90% decrease in malaria is no small measure, if they can actually show the percentage drop that is impactful. In some cases you could actually do it.
For example, Rotarians are doing a project in the Solomon Islands and it’s a small town with a lot of malaria cases. We think we can reduce malaria cases there. We aren’t sure of the exact percentage decrease. We would probably need to do a bit of modeling to know that, but you can see that there is potential for impact even with a small bit of funding. You really have to measure a more traditional type of development grants though.
We need to be clear about what we mean by ‘impact’. In my understanding, we have the following levels of results: outputs, outcomes (more distal), and impacts (longer term).
Also, in Rotary grant projects, we are not ‘evaluating’ as we are only asked to report on project measures at the end of the project. The online grant report form does not require any data analysis. We report. There is no evaluation section in the online report. We could draw a conclusion on whether the project increased services by comparing data before and after — but this is not a requirement. It may be a requirement for Program of Scale grants — I don’t know.
I imagine that with small grants, some Rotarians may not have the skills to do monitoring and evaluation. But I don’t know how larger grants are set up. Do million-dollar grants have the same structure as smaller grants? What are the differences between the smaller and larger grants?
I’m not sure because I’m not as familiar with Programs of Scale. It’s only been around for about two years, and the first grant was approved in 2021. The majority of Cadres Technical Advisors are not currently involved in the Program of Scale grant applications.
The idea now is to be more impactful through bigger grants. Like you said, I hope they do more traditional sorts of evaluation because the more money you put into it, the more governance, and the more we can show the results and the impact. That’s what the Rotarians want.
The malaria project that got the $2 million Programs of Scale grant — all the information about this is online on the Rotary site. I don’t know who they got to assess the design. But this program was actually scaled up. It was $2 million of Rotary funding and they got a match from Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for another $2 million, and then got another $2 million from World Vision. It is a huge project. It would be interesting to know what they’re being asked to do in terms of evaluation.
How do you typically get information about what is going on in Rotary? Do you get information mainly from newsletters — or are there other ways that you seek information?
The senior staff in Evanston is looking into how they can more effectively advise the Cadres on updates to do with the Rotary Foundation grants. All Cadres are now on Regional Microsoft Teams to connect Cadres with each other and to other Rotary groups. There are Regional Coordinators for Cadres and other groupings to help connect Cadres. Since 2019, The Rotary Foundation has been working to improve how Cadres are informed. I think we will be better connected from hereon.
When seeking information about grant design or what is a good standard, it’s a very individual thing. I’m just one of those people who want to pack in as much information as I can, and most times it’s okay but there are information gaps in the Grants Centre [where all key documents are located].
Even for something like how to write a Rotary Global Grant, information seems to be missing. Rotary Cadres probably need to develop skills in program design, and monitoring and evaluation. It’s important to write succinct and measurable goals and objectives — SMART objectives — that are linked to project activities. And it’s important to check if the goals and objectives are feasible — to check your project logic or theory of change.
In terms of accessing information, we have to be careful because you don’t want to inundate people with too many Rotary things. We all know we can go to the Rotary website. Everyone is registered with MyRotary and we can go there to search for information. There is lots of information in the Grant Center, which is pretty public.
I don’t think Rotarians would want to be bothered with a lot of information because it becomes too onerous. They might think, “Oh gosh! This is $50,000 and you’re asking me to do all this?” There has to be a balance.
How do you think enhanced research, monitoring, evaluation, and learning practices could help The Rotary Foundation and Rotary International do its work?
A concentrated effort on some grants of a certain value would warrant really concerted monitoring, evaluation, research, and learning. There is not enough research and learning. We don’t hear much about the learning, maybe because the learning aspects don’t get back into what we’re doing. Or, maybe it does and I’m just not aware of it. Though I do follow what is happening, I occasionally miss some things.
Maybe the Cadre needs to meet more often. Though the problem there, of course, is that things are so USA-centric so the times the sessions are held are like 2 o’clock in the morning for us [in Australia]. It’s just not a good time. I think they do try to hold sessions on two different timelines.
We don’t hear much about the learning, maybe because the learning aspects don’t get back into what we’re doing… Having a different monitoring, evaluation, and learning model for bigger grants is a good start. So, if you want to go for bigger grants, you need to look at that different model.
Having a different MEL [monitoring, evaluation, learning] model for bigger grants is a good start. So, if you want to go for bigger grants, you need to look at that different model. This would also mean more training for Cadres to extend their current skill set beyond their specialization — to include project design, monitoring, and evaluation skills. This could be difficult as many Rotarians are hands-on, practical people who want to do good, but who don’t necessarily want to be involved in the processes of project planning, etc.
We didn’t really get too much of the learning piece, but do you know much about other grants or grants that were similar to yours? Are there any ways to find out what other people have done? You could learn from their challenges or build upon their successes. Is there any way to get that information?
The learning does not take place across countries or zones but at a local level, we have a system — and this was initiated by Rotary, by a District International Service Committee [DISC]. I believe it’s not rolling out that well in North America, but it’s actually quite good in my Rotary District in Australia.
I can share my knowledge with other Rotarians… I’ve got a club I’m working with on project design. I’m helping them through what I’ve learned personally.
In the DISC, as a Cadre and a RAG [Rotary Action Group] member, I can share my knowledge with other Rotarians. I’m doing that now as a Cadre. I’ve got a club I’m working with on project design. I’m helping them through what I’ve learned personally. The best way to learn and be aware of what to do for grants, other than the monitoring and evaluation, is actually to do a grant project.
If you want to be a Cadre, you really have to do at least two to three projects to get a sense of how to help people. So, I’m sharing my understanding in my District, but not in Australia. Having said that, I’m involved in the group Rotarians Against Malaria in Australia, and have assisted with the submission of five grants. I’m using my grants knowledge to help this particular group of Rotarians.
But overall I would say, no — we don’t have many mechanisms for sharing learning. I can ask another Rotarian, a senior Cadre, but that sharing is not broadly available and I’m not sure how that could happen. Sharing may be better now that we have Microsoft Teams.
So as it stands now, it’s a lot of person-to-person sharing through your own network. It sounds like the Rotary Action Groups might also be a good learning resource.
Absolutely. So in the RAG, we have Rotarians with experience in grants. For example, those people who got the $2 million grant are in the RAG — they are people from the Rotary Club of Seattle. And then there are people in the RAG, for example, who have done a lot of grants in South America.
In India, they’ve got a lot of Rotarians doing really fantastic work and have access to funding. They run hospitals, well beyond our dreams really — our wildest dreams.
I’m doing grants in Asia Pacific and we’re trying to get the RAG on board in India. They’ve got a lot of Rotarians doing really fantastic work and have access to funding. They run hospitals, well beyond our dreams really — our wildest dreams. So we hope to work with them to do malaria work. There is a lot of learning to be done there. It’s a growth area for Rotary in India.
Okay. My last question: What do you want non-Rotarians to know about Rotary and the work that you do — and your fellow Rotarians do?
Rotary is losing members. We’re all getting old. I don’t know what is a good format for humanity to go forward and do good. I don’t know whether I think countries are becoming more insular, becoming more nationalistic. All funding has dropped for Rotarians Against Malaria — and work in Asia Pacific dropped by 40% because of national disasters like fires, floods, and droughts in Australia. With COVID, people are looking inwards. They’re not looking outwards for international services.
We do a lot of good… It’s about moving forward, optimizing our space on earth by trying to do good. I think Rotarians genuinely do that…. Rotarians, wherever they are, are professionals and they’re credible. They will do good, locally and internationally.
What do I want Rotarians to know? In Australia, it’s a struggle. I want them to know that we do good. We do a lot of good. It’s about a world with social equality, social-economic equality. I studied socio-ecological determinants of health. That was a framework I used in my PhD thesis. We all know we live in a world of inequalities — if we can make a difference, a small difference, I think we should. There are so many great quotes, like Mother Teresa, she talked about how we might be one drop in the ocean, but we could make a ripple. It’s about moving forward, optimizing our space on earth by trying to do good. I think Rotarians genuinely do that.
I think people need to know that Rotarians, wherever they are, are professionals and they’re credible. They will do good, locally and internationally.
That’s great. It is always inspiring talking Rotarians. If you have any questions for me, or if there’s anything else you want to tell me you can. There will also be other opportunities for us to connect throughout the Impact Strategic Initiative process. This interview is only our first touchpoint.
I have realized for some time that Rotary monitoring and evaluation needed to be boosted. Some Rotarians who run grants need support. I hope that continues to be taken note of, because we don’t want to put off Rotarians doing grants. On the other hand, we also need to have quality. Thank you.
This story is copyright Jenny Kerrison and published on the StoryEngine website under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.