From the Field: Meet Greg Olson

Our “From the Field” series offers fresh insights and local perspectives of our Q2 Impact staff working on development projects in the field. Here we highlight the efforts of Greg Olson, the Chief of Party for USAID/Egypt’s Services Improve Performance Management, Enhance Learning and Evaluation (SIMPLE) Project.

Greg Olson, who first landed in Egypt during the seventies as a master’s student at the American University in Cairo, was drawn to this role with Q2 Impact, as it gave him the opportunity to head back to Egypt and work across all sectors of USAID with great awareness of the importance of monitoring and evaluation. Compared to his past experiences with several USAID projects throughout the Middle East, East Africa, and South Asia, it is working directly within a USAID mission that he sees as a distinctive feature of the SIMPLE Project.

Greg highlights two noteworthy impacts made by the project: first, the improvement made in the quality of Monitoring & Evaluation plans produced by USAID/Egypt and second, the increased awareness and interest of USAID in the subjects that they have done assessments for. In fact, an ongoing project assessment might have sparked enough interest to result in additional USAID-funded activities, something that likely would not have happened without the project. Says Greg, “SIMPLE is now completing an assessment of the needs of disabled students at universities throughout Egypt, which may lead to future USAID-funded activities. I am not sure that this very complex assessment would have taken place had the USAID Mission not been able to work closely with the Q2 SIMPLE team in the development and implementation of the assessment.”

Like most Q2 projects in the field, there are challenges. Regular hurdles in obtaining authorization from security officials to carry out assessments and evaluations occur due to the evolving security situation in Egypt. To address this challenge, the SIMPLE Project engages local Egyptian staff in conducting visits to rural parts of the country where it is difficult for international staff to gain access. Another simple, yet effective solution is putting in requests for authorization well in advance, but always remaining flexible when delays do occur.

Despite the difficulties, he feels gratitude for the occasions in which he is able to personally meet and speak with individuals who have participated in USAID programs and have seen improvements in their lives as a result. He says, “The most rewarding part of my work here, as in all development work, is when I am closest to the persons who are beneficiaries of the development project we monitor and evaluate.” He enjoys speaking with team members who have met with beneficiaries in order to share their success stories. For Greg, being able to “witness how evaluation teams are able to bring to life the results of their activities to the client and share their understandings and findings” to promote more effective programs is one of the best parts.

Having joined the SIMPLE team in October 2016, Greg has been impressed by the systematic approach that QED employs in improving the quality of planning and implementation of evaluations. He is appreciative of the reliable expertise provided to him by the M&E team at HQ, as well as the support he receives from the IT department in exploring solutions and resolving issues in a timely manner. This seamless cooperation between distant offices has not gone unnoticed but is regarded as a “unique feature [that] is very much appreciated” by USAID staff.

With his long attachment to Egypt, not only does Greg understand the sensitivities of operating a USAID project within a complex environment, but he also has a great team working with him in a country where he feels very much at home.