UNICEF Innovation Team Spotlight: Nelson Rodrigues
UNICEF Innovation Team Spotlight: Mari Nakano


Clemens Gros

Clemens Gros, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist / Innovations Lead, Ghana Country Office, Accra

Tell us a bit about your background.

I’m from a small village in rural Bavaria, a bit like the Shire in ‘Lord of the Rings’ but in South-Eastern Germany… Computers were a teenage hobby of mine so I started working as a software developer straight out of high school. I soon learned that, depending on the project, coding can be quite a solitary activity and I wanted to work more with people. So I quit and went to university to study political science and economics. It turned out to be an interesting combination of “people science” and “computer science”; on the quantitative side you apply algorithms to data to understand why people behave in a certain way, given a certain amount of information. That’s an exciting field to work in.

What do you do?

As monitoring and evaluation specialist in the Ghana country office, I lead the analytical part of our work. I design and oversee research, analyse data, and work with colleagues and external partners and government to shape interventions and policies based on this information. It’s a cross-cutting function that brings people together, thinking about how we can become more effective. I also coordinate the innovation work in our office, helping programmes adopt new solutions and supporting local innovators through our incubator. This involves working across all thematic areas with a lot of different people, and a fairly diverse group of external partners, from the National Development Planning Commission to small start-ups who are trying to grow their ideas for impact.

What’s your working day like?

70% is office-based – analysis, brainstorming meetings, writing, advisory work – and 30% outside for meetings with partners or in the field to monitor interventions. Some of it obviously becomes routine, other parts are quite exhilarating. For example, over the past year we have worked with an inspiring team of international designers and local facilitators to develop a set of games that teach children why, how and when to wash their hands with soap. Over 12,000 children die in Ghana every year from diseases that could be prevented with handwashing. We have just concluded the development phase and are now going into the national rollout and evaluation stage. Handwashing is a ‘do-it-yourself vaccine’ and it’s great to see when children enjoy learning and form an essential habit that could save their lives.

How would you describe your job to a 5-year-old?

Smart decisions are based on good information, that is, knowledge about what the world is like and why people behave a certain way in it. I try to help people make smart decisions.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

If I remember correctly, in primary school I wanted to be a forester or a lumberjack. I guess I wanted to work outdoors. Turns out one of my older brothers became a forester. I got side-tracked a bit.

How/when did you join UNICEF?

After university I worked for the World Bank out of Washington D.C. for a number of years. It was extremely interesting but felt too far from where the core of our work is. So I quit and took up my first job with UNICEF in the Malawi country office. I never regretted that decision.

What are the most satisfying parts of your job?

Putting puzzle pieces of information together that reveal the bigger picture and allow us to chart a new course of action. For example, for the past two years I led our team that worked with the government to determine the real cost of education. Primary education is supposed to be free in Ghana but anecdotal evidence suggested that people pay all kinds of unofficial fees and levies. Once we had determined the actual cost based on a nationwide “citizen assessment”, this data could be used as a conversation starter to inform the reform process.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job?

Getting good data is difficult. We work in a very data-constrained environment; there is limited information on which we can base decisions. This is an obstacle when designing programmes or advising partners, but it is also an interesting challenge to resolve.

What are your passions?

Other than life and work, it’s music and rock climbing. I have played the trumpet since I was 8 or 10 years old and played in Bavarian brass bands as a child (the trauma still haunts me), jazz combos (much better) and now in a band with friends, mainly funk, rock and soul. And I carry my rock climbing gear with me wherever I live. There is good climbing an hour’s drive outside of Accra so that’s a regular Sunday activity when traffic is thankfully manageable.

Who do you look towards for inspiration?  

People who can push me, usually in my immediate work environment and in my network. Everyone needs to hear “good job!” and a pat on the shoulder every once in a while, but you also need someone who makes you stretch and reach further. Luckily I have always been able to find someone like this wherever I go.

My colleagues don’t know that…

I worked on construction sites for many years while still at school, mainly as a roofer. It brought in some extra cash needed for computer equipment and traveling. Those manual skills still come in handy. In Malawi I built my own chicken coop with double swing doors, ventilation flaps and a separate secret access door for collecting the eggs. The chickens never knew…

UNICEF Innovation Team Spotlight: Nelson Rodrigues
UNICEF Innovation Team Spotlight: Mari Nakano