Our team is outstanding. Our consultants are passionate about working with social sector organizations, each bringing their own approach to strategy, learning, and evaluation.
Our Meet the Team blog series will highlight our team, one member at a time. We’ll give you a glimpse into their motivations and approach to working with our partners to achieve better results for communities. Through this feature, we hope that you’ll find a deeper connection to the people and relationships that are central to our work.
First up is Sonia Taddy-Sandino, our inspiring and thoughtful co-founder. We hope that you enjoy getting to know her better.
1. What is your role at Engage R+D?
I am co-founder of Engage R+D and excited to be building a collaborative and inclusive team culture with my colleague Clare Nolan. We each have internal and external-facing responsibilities and I’ve really enjoyed operationalizing our vision and developing the infrastructure to ensure we have the systems and supports we need to do great work. I’m fascinated by all the new apps, tools, and technology we now have at our disposal, allowing us to stay connected and focus our attention on working with inspiring clients and partners. On any given day I can be found facilitating a strategic planning retreat, collaborating with colleagues to conceptualize an evaluation design, or making sense of evaluation findings with nonprofit practitioners.
2. What experience do you bring to this work?
I’ve always been insatiably curious about other cultures and understanding how people’s experiences shape who they are and how they live. As a student of international policy, my initial ambitions were to be a journalist - traveling to far-flung regions of the world to shed light on political conflicts, revolutions, and social movements. But a trip to Central America early in my career forced me to confront a startling reality. I struggled to find words to describe the injustice of such crushing poverty and the devastation of decades of war and oppression. It was one of those profound and defining moments in life that sets you on a certain path – a moment when you realize it’s not what you say but what you choose to do that really matters. Simply writing about the experience seemed inadequate and inconsequential. After much introspection, I chose to spend the next five years leading an organization dedicated to addressing structural inequities and improving the lives of Nicaragua’s working poor. With the unrelenting support of donors and volunteers, we provided critical assistance to fledgling women’s centers, mobilized fair trade delegations, and channeled millions of dollars from socially-responsible investors to small businesses and agricultural cooperatives. It was exhausting, gratifying, and transformational work.
Clearly that early “awakening” has shaped how I approach my work today. I come from a human-centered place and believe we can’t solve intractable social problems without addressing structural inequities and engaging those most affected. While it’s important to have resources, tools, and technical frameworks, at the end of the day, this work is fundamentally about people. It’s our collective ability to listen, learn and engage diverse voices – particularly those who have been marginalized – that will drive meaningful social change.
3. How did you discover your passion for evaluation and learning?
It was a confluence of twists and turns that brought me to the field of learning and evaluation. I’ve always loved the art of designing programs and innovative solutions. However, it wasn’t until I took an evaluation course in graduate school that I learned about the science of assessing program effectiveness. I was intrigued by the notion of combining my experience in nonprofit management with the technical skills to test, learn and improve performance and social impact. I had a million questions swirling in my head. How can we systematically collect quality data to make better decisions? How do we know if our efforts are having their intended impact? What if we had better data, tools, and models to solve big problems? Over the years, I’ve learned a great deal about navigating complex environments and supporting collaborative efforts to advance effective policies and practices. I’m committed to building the muscle of organizations to use data for learning and continuous improvement. I’m equally motivated by the need to demystify and democratize data - making it digestible and actionable. There is nothing more awe-inspiring than seeing a Spanish-speaking immigrant mom at a school board meeting, fearlessly sharing suspension data and advocating for change. That’s powerful stuff!
4. What do you love about your job?
I feel incredibly fortunate to have a job I love. It’s gratifying work and I appreciate the opportunity to tackle tough and important issues like health equity, institutional racism, civic engagement, and helping nonprofits build their capacity to deliver better outcomes for disadvantaged communities. I love collaborating with teams of smart and passionate people and the opportunity to support the bold and ambitious work of social sector innovators. Really, what’s not to love?
5. You’re in the Los Angeles Area - tell me 3 places I should go if I visit.
Los Angeles is brimming with cultural diversity, a thriving arts and entertainment industry, and amazing fusion cuisine. It’s like having the world at your door step. From the beach communities to the foothills, there is never a lack of things to do. Here are a few of my favs!
The Arts District is on the eastern edge of Downtown LA. Once a gritty warehouse district, it has since emerged as a hip art and dining scene. I’m a fan of Zinc Cafe and the ice cream at Salt & Straw but don’t forget to check out the amazing murals and graffiti art.
Norton Simon Art Museum is a gem in Pasadena. While the Getty Center and LACMA are an absolute must, this intimate museum is also worth a visit. It has an impressive collection of masterworks. My favorite part is the sculpture garden at dusk where you can sip wine and grab a bite at the Garden café.
La Monarca is a Mexican bakery that originally started in East LA and has since opened locations all over Los Angeles. The pan dulce is to die for. I’m particularly addicted to the chocolate croissants and orejas with a cup of their famous café de olla.