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About Us


Learning Agenda researchers visited nine countries from May 2012 to August 2013, and in very informal settings, interviewed hundreds of local organizations ranging from nascent civil society organizations and informal community groups to mature local NGOs and capacity development providers and consultants. Open-ended interview techniques were used to encourage people to talk candidly about their challenges, their environments, and current, past, and hoped-for relationships with donors. The 18-month project was funded by USAID Global Development Lab and managed by FHI 360 in partnership with MSI.



Dr. Thomas (Tom) DichterDr. Thomas (Tom) Dichter conceived and designed the project, led the fieldwork in seven of the nine countries and is the principal author of most of the country reports, nine of the mini cases, the main report and guidelines and the Learning Agenda blog.


Principal Associate

Jamie Alissa Beck, the project's principal research associate, contributed to the research and a section of the main report, wrote one of the case studies, developed most of the report’s graphic elements and compiled the library.



  • Dr. Carmen Luca Sugawara conducted field research with Tom in Moldova.
  • Dr. Diane Ponasik conducted part two of the USAID historical study.
  • Dr. Nadia Guessous assisted Tom in Morrocco.
  • Dr. Niloufer de Silva collaborated with Tom in Sri Lanka and wrote part one of the USAID historical study and three mini case studies.
  • Dr. Vivienne Wildes conducted research on the human resources (HR) system within USAID and suggested HR changes the agency could make to better align with a future of donor-local organization partnerships.
  • Dristy Shrestha served as Tom’s research associate in Nepal.
  • Evan Bloom and Claudia Liebler, assisted by Alexis Smart, led the Root Change studies in Nepal and Tanzania.
  • Joan Goodin, MSI, and Dr. Cynthia Sanborn, assisted by Alejandra Villanueva, conducted the field research in Peru.
  • Keith Aulick, FHI 360 technical officer, supported research in Kenya and Tanzania and wrote three mini case studies.
  • Riley Abbott, FHI 360 program officer, managed the project for FHI 360, conducted fieldwork in Jamaica with Jamie and made other substantive contributions throughout the life of the project.


Thank you to all who contributed their time, ideas and feedback to the Learning Agenda research, including Larry Cooley, president of MSI who, along with Thomas Carter of USAID, provided crucial moral and intellectual support for the project from before its inception; also at USAID, Laura Schulz, Joyce Friedenberg, Shohreh Kermani-Peterson and Zufan Mulugeta who served as regular interlocutors as the project proceeded, and at FHI 360, Barney Singer, director of the leadership and capacity development practice in the Civil Society and Peacebuilding Department.

We are grateful for the guidance of the members of the Reference Group, the projects' conceptual advisors, James Adams, L. David Brown, David Ellerman, David Hirschmann, Karen McGuinness and Ian Smillie.

Above all, we thank the hundreds of individuals we spoke with in the nine countries visited. It is the time they took and their willingness to meet with us and frankly share their concerns and ideas that are at the heart of this work.