Alumni Spotlight

February Alumni Spotlight with Debra Joy Perez, MPA '97

February 17 Alumni Spotlight

An MPA at Baruch College is an incredible way to stay connected to philanthropic endeavors throughout one’s career. Alumna, Debra Joy Perez recalls how her MPA kept her connected, and discusses her work as Chief Measurement, Evaluation, and Learning Officer at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.

What does a Chief Measurement, Evaluation and Learning Officer do?
As Chief, I work closely with the program teams to advance the organization’s mission to create enduring impact in science, environmental conservation, patient care, and in the Bay Area. Our environmental conservation efforts promote sustainability, protect critical ecological systems and align conservation needs with human development.

Patient care focuses on eliminating preventable harms and unnecessary health care costs through meaningful engagement of patients and their families in a supportive, redesigned health care system. Science looks for opportunities to transform—or even create—entire fields by investing in early-stage research, emerging fields and top research scientists. San Francisco Bay Area efforts support conservation and science and technology museums locally, which has provided for the quality of life that Gordon and Betty Moore have enjoyed with their family.

As the chief evaluation, learning and monitoring officer, I oversee a team of central and embedded evaluation and monitoring officers. At Moore, I am responsible for developing and operationalizing a strengthened approach to measurement, evaluation and learning for the foundation. This includes measuring the effectiveness and impact of our strategies and our grant-making. It also includes establishing a centralized accountability system for reflecting on our progress regularly and learning from our work.

What will you set out to accomplish at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation?
The Measurement, Evaluation and Learning Unit is a brand new unit and I am the first Chief in MEL at Moore. My hope for this inaugural year is to establish the MEL Unit as a trusted partner and critical thought-leader in how best to design the structures and processes to measure our impact. In particular, we will be working with colleagues across the Foundation to embed continuous learning throughout the organization.

One important area of growth for Moore is the integration of measurement and evaluation processes within program design, adaptive management and project performance. In addition, as a Unit we are responsible for overseeing the management of independent external evaluations of the foundation’s programmatic work, from scoping and design of the evaluation through dissemination of evaluation results.

The Foundation CEO has taken a strong position on transparency and sharing what does and does not work related to our program investment strategies. This means we have made a commitment to publish all of our external independent evaluations.

How does Moore decide what to fund and what is the foundation’s approach to grant-making?
The opportunity to create lasting change drives our grant-making approach. We establish specific strategies based on input from experts, identify partners who share our goals and measure results along the way—all while making adjustments as needed. We build relationships and fund work in areas where we hope to make a significant impact. We’re okay with failing, as long as we learn from our mistakes. And we know that working together expands our ability to drive meaningful change.

Therefore, we do not accept unsolicited proposals.

As part of our disciplined approach, we consistently and rigorously use four “filters,” or criteria, to determine on what we will focus. Our filters shape our strategic choices and the actions we take. We ask:
1. Is it important: A transformational solution to a significant problem? We strive to choose the right opportunities.

2. Can we make a difference: Will we be a significant factor in bringing about meaningful, durable change? We can play a unique role in driving collective impact, building new fields and approaches and leveraging knowledge. We recognize that our success will depend on our actions and those of many others.

3. Can we demonstrate a measurable change: Can we show quantitative and/or qualitative metrics for what matters most? We set outcomes to be able to measure progress and adapt to rapidly changing external environments.

4. Does it contribute to a portfolio effect: Will it involve a systems approach to a targeted set of strategic interventions? Our strategies are developed based on a broad understanding of the dynamic systems we aim to transform. Integrated actions at the program level drive transformational change.

What do you think would be different if you had chosen another degree or another school?
I don’t think another degree or school could have accomplished what Baruch and NUF did for me. I am a Jersey girl. I never lived in NYC and being there and being engaged with an incredible diversity of the city and the University made all the difference in who I would become. In many ways, the work I do today and my passion and commitment for diversity are attributable to my years in NYC and at Baruch. As a result of my commitment to diversity, I have provided leadership and direction for signature efforts in promoting diversity in the research and evaluation fields. At RWJF I co-created New Connections. At the Annie E. Casey Foundation, I created the “Expanding the Bench” initiative supports evaluators and researchers of color to acquire skills in equitable evaluation practices called “Leaders in Equitable Evaluation and Diversity.”

I have also been privileged to help build the field of Public Health Services and Systems Research. What I learned from Baruch and NUF is that we cannot grow as a nation or advance innovation unless we connect what we do with multiple diverse networks.

How do you feel your MPA at Baruch College enhanced your career prospects?
Honestly, until Baruch, I didn’t know much about the critical role of public administrator in advancing public policy. I also didn’t know much about the world of philanthropy. I was part of the National Urban Fellows (NUF) program at Baruch. And thanks to NUF, my whole worldview about community service, social change and the role of the public sector was transformed. I began to learn and see how philanthropy could have an impact.

I was also exposed to the incredible power and privilege of philanthropy to make a difference in the world. While I did not get placed in a foundation during my mentorship at NUF, I still remember the curiosity I felt in hearing about how foundations were accountable for investing private resources in the public good.

After graduating from Baruch, my curiosity led me to take my first job after my MPA as a part-time Deputy Director of a National Program of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. That part-time job turned to full-time in just six months. I have remained connected to philanthropy ever since. That was nearly twenty years ago and I could not be more grateful to NUF and Baruch for having gotten me here.