Home>Aminatou, Policy Associate at Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL)


Aminatou, Policy Associate at Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL)


Coming from Niger, Aminatou Seydou has graduated from International Development and is an alumna of the Mastercard Foundation Scholarship Program. She is currently a Policy Associate at Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) in Ghana. 

What are your main responsibilities?

I am supporting efforts to implement evidence-based interventions and generate opportunities for policy-relevant research around girls' education and empowerment in West Africa.

Part of my work involves project development. I assist in scoping potential opportunities and partnerships for evidence use and generation through desk research, attending events, and targeted outreach. Essentially, I cultivate and support existing relationships with key partners in West Africa and regularly engage with them to identify needs and collaboration opportunities. For example, we are currently expanding our portfolio to Benin. Before initiating contact with stakeholders, I conducted desk research to understand the situation regarding girls' education and empowerment, including enrollment rates, socioeconomic barriers girls face, etc. This desk research also helps me identify the programs different actors are involved in and government policies and programs in place pertaining to girls' education and empowerment in the country. Following the desk research, I engage with government members of relevant ministries and international organizations such as WFP, AFD, UNICEF, World Bank, Plan International, among others to better understand the context and explore potential areas of collaboration. We either disseminate evidence on interventions that might address challenges around gender and education or, where relevant, support matchmaking between government officials and researchers in our network to measure the impact of innovations using randomized evaluations.

As I mentioned, project development also involves attending events. For instance, in December, I presented our portfolio at a workshop hosted by the United Nations Girls Education Initiative (UNGEI) and other partners to promote gender-transformative education sector planning, advance gender equality, and foster collaboration amongst stakeholders in Africa. I emphasized why workshop participants should use evidence throughout their policy planning process and how J-PAL could support them. The attendees were representatives of delegations from eight African countries who learned how to integrate gender equality into education sector policy design.

Another part of my role is developing topic expertise, which is a collective effort within my team. This involves maintaining expertise on evidence and policy priorities in relevant subject areas and critically engaging with existing evidence to identify replicable interventions and policy-relevant research questions. I regularly read research papers around a given topic and consolidate the findings to share with my colleagues (and they do the same). Developing such expertise helps me build confidence around the topics and makes my interactions with stakeholders more fruitful. As they say, knowledge breeds confidence. For instance, I am currently consolidating evidence on school-related gender-based violence worldwide. By doing so, I can identify gaps and relevant interventions stakeholders - in Benin for instance - can adapt to their context or scale up. What I appreciate about this aspect of my role is that it is not limited to interventions conducted solely in West Africa or Africa at large; I review evidence on the topic regardless of where it has been conducted. This also helps me understand contexts and challenges beyond the African continent. My other tasks include supporting content generation on girls' education evidence and policy activities in both French and English for various media platforms and preparing presentations and workshops for internal and external events and training.

Key skills essential for my position include the ability to critically analyze research, effective communication, building and maintaining relationships with stakeholders, and proficiency in French.

What is the most fascinating part of your job?

There are three aspects of my position that deeply intrigue me. Firstly, as I've previously mentioned, expanding my expertise is not just about delving into evidence within Africa; it offers a broader perspective on interventions conducted worldwide. It gives me an understanding of WHAT WORKS, WHAT DOES NOT WORK, FOR WHOM AND WHY. Growing up in Niger, I've often felt frustrated by the ineffectiveness of programs and policies. I've speculated about the reasons behind the shortcomings in my country. However, through my journey at J-PAL, I've come to realize that the lack of robust evidence is a significant contributing factor. Simply gathering data without utilizing it renders it pointless. 

Secondly, I enjoy collaborating with relevant stakeholders and bridging gaps. I perceive myself as a “middle woman”, working to connect research with policies. It is fulfilling to witness governments adopting evidence-based approaches; it always gives me a sense of hope for future change. Moreover, witnessing projects being designed with evidence-based frameworks or witnessing governments and NGOs recognizing the importance of evidence use/generation and committing to it is immensely rewarding. Nonetheless, I have learned that this process takes time and I have to be patient at times.  

Thirdly, beyond fascination, I consider myself blessed to be part of a team where I can grow, learn, and make mistakes without judgment while receiving ample support. Interacting with various J-PAL affiliated professors worldwide, who conducted groundbreaking research and possess a wealth of knowledge to share also enriches my experience. On a more personal note, as a Nigerien and a Mastercard Foundation scholar, working on gender and education in West Africa is also a means for me to give back to the continent.

How did you prepare for this job? 

During my time at PSIA, I enrolled in numerous courses that have proven invaluable to me, both in the past and present. My current role seamlessly blends the knowledge I acquired from two key concentrations: research and project management. Among the many courses I took, notable ones include Development Economics instructed by Professor Golvine DE ROCHAMBEAU and Impact Evaluations led by Quentin DAVIOT and Simon BRIOLE. When undergoing the selection process for my current position, I still recall revisiting my notes before the written test. In the Development Economics course, we read "Poor Economics" by Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee, founders of J-PAL. Each session delved into specific themes such as education, health, and gender, and learnt how to interpret results effectively. The course by Professor DAVIOT and BRIOLE focused on evaluating human capital policies, particularly via randomized evaluations, covering methodologies, rationales, best practices, and challenges. These classes significantly contributed to my readiness for the position and facilitated a smooth transition to J-PAL, as I was already acquainted with their approach.

Furthermore, I benefited from courses such as Architecture of Development Finance taught by Professor James BOND, which provided crucial insights into how finances are used by development agencies and identified existing gaps. Additionally, I improved my presentation and communication skills through courses on public speaking led by Paul V., David J., and Cyril D., as well as the art of argumentation instructed by Christophe V. These courses collectively enhanced my ability to effectively convey ideas and engage my audience.

During my third semester, I undertook an internship at AFD, where I contributed to the design of an entrepreneurship program for women and youth in Niger. This experience allowed me to develop my ability to engage with government officials, NGOs, and civil society organizations. Participation in these interactions significantly enhanced my skills in effective communication and partnership building.

What advice would you give to current students?

I got to know about my current position through a Sciences Po alumna who reached out to me on LinkedIn. Initially, I doubted whether I would meet the qualifications, but she provided reassurance and gave me the confidence I needed to apply. It is often the case that individuals within our Sciences Po network become our strongest advocates. My primary advice, which you may have already heard, is to maintain connections with people in your Sciences Po network. They serve as excellent testimonials for the quality of our education and the valuable experiences and skills we gain throughout our journey at Sciences Po. Additionally, their insights can be invaluable during selection processes, aiding in crafting a strong application.

Furthermore, I want to emphasize the importance of valuing one's unique experiences and not underestimating your worth. Each person possesses a distinct combination of talents, perspectives, and achievements. If you come across a job/internship opportunity that interests you, don't hesitate to apply. Sometimes, all companies or teams seek is someone with potential, someone who is collaborative, and someone who is passionate about their work.