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Humans of Duke Sanford

“Inequality at the international level was visible to me early in life. I grew up in Singapore. It’s a unique country, considered a beacon in Southeast Asia because it’s a rapidly developed country surrounded by countries experiencing significant poverty and much slower development. Also, several generations of my family chose to leave their respective home countries to look for better economic opportunities elsewhere. Seeing all of this around me, I started studying and working in international development, and thinking about how it can be done better.

I worked with a couple nonprofits in Haiti and saw the proliferation of nonprofit activity in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. In that time, I learned that good intentions don’t always translate into good work and became really interested in questions of nonprofit sector effectiveness. Why don’t projects go right—is it happenstance? Structural issues within the sector?

In 2016, I began working with ImpactMatters, a startup addressing what we saw as a “market failure” of the social impact sector—dollars not flowing to their optimal use. Trillions of dollars are spent in the social impact sector without enough transparency, accountability, and rigor. We have an obligation to do better, for the sake of justice. I’m curious about how to address this at a meta level—help reform the social sector by aligning incentives and strengthening things like standards and platforms that make the ecosystem work.

I’m grateful Sanford has allowed me to take courses that meet this goal. I’ve been taking classes on methodology, evaluation, causal inference, and the evidence-to-action pipeline. Prior to grad school, I was teaching myself a lot on the job, but nothing beats a classroom setting. I love when a professor talks about an old concept in a new way, and something just clicks for me that hadn’t before. In many ways, Sanford has felt like another chapter of my pursuit of social impact reform, which will hopefully be a lifelong journey.” #humansofdukesanford #MPP

—Tamsin Chen, MPP ‘23