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Integrity Insights: Anthony Ellis reflects on adapting to complex contexts and acting with purpose

In the first in a new series of blogs written by staff and partners, Integrity CEO Anthony Ellis reflects on the importance of adapting to complex contexts and acting with purpose.

In 2020 COVID-19 presented everyone with new challenges. At Integrity we were gearing up to celebrate our first decade and we went into the year in a strong position.

We had recently won $35m of new work including fascinating new programmes of measurement, advice and support to large-scale funds like the UK’s Conflict Security and Stability Fund, the Prosperity Fund and the World Bank’s Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund. This stood us in good stead for what was just around the corner.

In March 2020 I flew to Frankfurt to attend USAID’s small business conference, as part of our growing pipeline of work to the US government, and then struggled to make it home. Seemingly overnight the COVID-19 pandemic broke globally, and the world changed.

The pandemic wreaked havoc on health and economies. Instead of being able to celebrate our 10th year, COVID-19 imposed real stresses on us, as a team, as colleagues and as individuals. It changed much about our working lives and relationships. The parameters for travel, not just internationally but even just into our local offices were radically curtailed. Like many businesses, across the world we moved our staff to routine working from home and grew used to video conferencing and direct messaging. Technically we had great systems in place and our ability to quickly transition and still deliver was seamless. But we were forced to isolate ourselves from friends and loved ones, from each other, and from all the people, clients, partners, consultants and those from the communities where we deliver our work.

People power

For an organisation that recognises the value of social interaction and the need to connect we saw an opportunity for Integrity to help others and we quickly responded. Drawing on our tried and tested responses to crises and epidemics, we were practised in grappling with new and complex contexts, defining the right responses and acting with purpose.

We knew that it is essential to understand the situation on the ground, generate strong and relevant data and then interpret it effectively. Throughout 2020 we worked with a range of clients including governments and health organisations, in over 39 countries to understand the spread and social, economic and political impacts of the coronavirus. You can read more about our COVID-19 response here.

It was Integrity’s people that rose to meet the challenge. The team’s commitment to nurturing, growing, preserving and improving what is an incredible organisation, and their hard work and determination to see it achieve its potential was humbling and inspiring. Hiring and retaining brilliant and talented people has ensured we continue to thrive and grow even during these periods of pronounced volatility.

During 2020 we recruited more than 20 new colleagues including best of sector experts and managers like Alicia Hammons, a senior cost and pricing expert in the US office, Cristin Koebele a senior monitoring, evaluation and learning expert in our Amman office, Randa Snobar a senior project manager in our Amman office and Peter Mason a senior data and knowledge management expert in our London office. The year culminated in our winning a prestigious cross-border risk management award and our Head of Health, Katie Bigmore, briefing British Expertise on our lessons and experiences working on COVID-19 throughout the year.

Future growth

2021 is an exciting year for Integrity. We have successfully launched three new service lines, Risk Management, Advisory, and Communications, that are already delivering for clients. Kelly Shephard joined us in May 2021 as our Head of Communications. Kelly brings more than 25 years’ experience driving knowledge, communicating impact and evolving digital services for both the UK’s Institute of Development Studies and  BBC World Service.

Building on over a decade of international experience we continue to enrich our offer and diversify our client base. We are delivering exciting programmes and projects for organisations such as the Lego Foundation, the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF), the World Food Programme (WFP) and the UK Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG).

Our work continues to be far-reaching but always grounded in our ability to listen and advise. For the Lego Foundation we are helping them develop a Data Management System to measure the impact of their various initiatives and programmes.

As a global organisation delivering complex conservation interventions in challenging contexts across the globe, the WWF sought an expert partner to develop its institutional understanding of political economy analysis (PEA) and its application to inform and improve programme design and outcomes. Integrity was selected by WWF to deliver this strategic institutional endeavour because of our expertise in designing and applying PEA in complex settings and our ability to deliver engaging online learning within large organisations.

Earlier this year Integrity signed a long-term agreement with the World Food Programme (WFP) to help provide a range of evaluations to service the rising demand for evidence of the results of their policies and programmes. This will contribute to accountability and learning for continuous improvement and generate knowledge to strengthen WFP’s contribution to ending global hunger.

In the UK we are working for a wider array of government departments than ever, many of which are focused on domestic challenges like levelling up the economic potential of the UK, regenerating towns and cities and driving green and sustainable economic growth.

I am proud and humbled to share Integrity’s work to support the UK Government’s ‘levelling-up’ agenda through its establishment of two new domestic funds, the £3.6bn Towns Fund and the £830m Future High Streets Fund. Over the next five years, these funds will invest up to £25m per town in a range of education, infrastructure, and commercial transformation projects to encourage wider economic opportunity across the UK’s various towns and regions. Since late 2020, Integrity had been advising the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government, and the Towns Fund Delivery Partner on the design of a joined-up monitoring and evaluation framework for both funds.

In the US our portfolio to USAID looks to grow significantly with exciting pipelines of work, most notably through our winning a prime contract award on USAID’s Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning Services Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity contract (EVAL ME II IDIQ), USAID’s primary vehicle to procure monitoring, evaluation and learning services worldwide.

We recognise that COVID-19 has exacerbated so many existing inequalities in the world and the impacts will last for many years. At Integrity we will continue to tackle uncertainty together and we will use it to grow and develop. At this point, I would like to say a heartfelt thank you to all our staff, partners, project teams, consultants, clients, and the wonderful communities around the world amongst whom we work and learn. Integrity would not mean anything without you all and exists to provide you with the best we are able to achieve.

As ever,

Anthony Ellis