Since Chihenyo Kangara was a young girl running along the shoreline in her hometown of Mombasa, Kenya, she has been inspired by the vast waters and life of the oceans.
Chihenyo is a Program Management Specialist who has been with USAID/Kenya for three years, where she has been influential in steering the Monitoring and Evaluation Strategy for SERVIR, USAID’s innovative partnership with NASA, in East Africa.
“When I was young, I aspired to swim with the dolphins,” Chihenyo said. “All my life, I’ve known I wanted to do something with marine science and ecology.”
Chihenyo, a Nairobi resident, looks fondly on her time in Mombasa, where her career path formed. As a teen in Mombasa, an “era of coral bleaching” affected tourism and culture overall. It was a constant topic of conversation and community concern. This experience inspired Chihenyo ask big questions about the environment and the impacts of rising sea surface temperatures, among other things. She focused her studies on marine science.
Chihenyo’s master’s thesis centered around the human impacts on tidal creeks, on which local livelihoods often rely. This “opened a new world of understanding about how climate change affects various sectors and life in this world.” Chihenyo has since maneuvered a 12-year career in various sectors related to climate change and natural resource management in East Africa.
When the SERVIR-East Africa program launched in Nairobi in July 2016, the team quickly honed in on data gaps, setting out to understand regional challenges in addressing climate change. SERVIR connects space to village by helping developing countries use satellite information and geospatial technologies to manage climate risks and land use.
Chihenyo and others designed a monitoring and evaluation strategy and developed a process to better understand regional needs for strengthening resilience to climate change. Chihenyo describes SERVIR as a critical program in the region that helps collect and integrate data into the decision-making processes.
A key climate decision support tool developed by SERVIR and regional partners is the Climate Vulnerability Index Tool, which supports mapping of vulnerable hotspots within the region. It supports the work of the Regional Centre for Mapping of Resources for Development, helping it transition into a center of excellence that provides technical support in vulnerability mapping.
The tool helped identify seventeen climate-vulnerable hotspots in the region. With this data and information, decision-makers in the Lake Victoria Basin Commission have been able to focus their work on responding directly to the most climate-vulnerable regions.
“In terms of looking at bridging gaps to support decision making, this is really strengthening resilience in the region,” Chihenyo said. From here, she said that the critical role of data and tools is to provide sound technical assistance and track the results (at USAID, this is a standard performance metric or indicator) that enable USAID to tell the full story during and after a project.
Monitoring and evaluation of USAID climate change and development programs are key to accountability and learning. As Chihenyo knows well, meaningful performance and impact tracking rely on consistent data, analysis, reporting and review.
Chihenyo nods to USAID’s international development approach, saying it “operates at the highest level by applying climate science and research directly to development contexts and challenges.” On international development work, Chihenyo emphasized the importance of building regional partnerships for resilience and, most importantly, listening to feedback from these partners and stakeholders.
“They know where they want to go, but they just don’t know how to get there,” Chihenyo said. “Be sure to listen to their priorities, while bringing in state-of-the-art knowledge and innovation.”