Isha Varma

Director of Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning

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As the inaugural MEL Director, Isha steers the Girls First Fund to capture impact and strategically inform effective grantmaking. The research and learning conducted under her direction and in partnership with the GFF grantees will capture how GFF’s grantees are tackling child marriage and gender inequality in their communities.

Having worked at the intersection of monitoring and evaluation and women’s health and rights at both grantmaking and implementing organizations, Isha brings an ability to measure the impact of a large Collaborative that funds small grassroots-led organizations. Prior to working on the Girls First Fund at Geneva Global, Isha worked with large humanitarian organizations such as Relief International, Plan International, and Americares, as well as the Packard Foundation’s SRHR Program. She has also consulted for IYAFP, an entirely local and volunteer-led network of young leaders working on women’s health globally. While her expertise is monitoring and evaluation, she has also held roles in operations and communications. She therefore employs a lens that looks at data capture and analysis as part of a holistic process responsible to multiple stakeholders.

Isha has worked extensively in India, Ethiopia, and Liberia, and has also worked in Tanzania, Nepal, and the Philippines while supporting other global portfolios. She holds a Master’s in Public Health with a concentration in Evaluation and Measurement of Global Health Systems and Development from Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. She holds a B.A. in Psychology from UCLA.

Who or what has inspired you to do the work that you do?

I love my work! I am a strong believer in data-driven decision making. Most people think of working with data as sorting numbers in a spreadsheet, but when working on issues related to social justice, promoting feminist values, and fighting child marriage, capturing data becomes a very creative process. I relish using both sides of my brain every day.

What brings you joy?

Organizing and building furniture. New York City. Arriving in a new destination. The smell of frying onions — it’s a smell that can transport you anywhere since it’s a cross-cultural common denominator. Women who love their life.

What book, film, or quote has shaped the way you think?

Half The Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sherly WuDunn. I read this book early in my career when it was first published. It convinced me that women’s health and rights was where I wanted to focus my career, and that locally-led solutions are most impactful. About 10 years after I read the book, I ran into Nicholas Kristof in rural Liberia at 6:30am in a hotel where we both happened to be staying, both about to start long road trips to reach our work destinations. It was great to talk shop and to tell him that I was there for work on women’s health in part because his book had such a profound influence on me.

What three words would you use to describe your colleagues?

Intelligent, Committed, Bad-a**.