Maja Wisenberger

Category: Young journalist

Country/area: Denmark

Organisation: Devex

Organisation size: Small

Cover letter:

As a young and aspiring data analyst with more than 4 years of progressive experience in the global development community, I thrive on leveraging data for social impact. In my current position as Senior Development Data Analyst at Devex, which is the world’s largest platform for development professionals and aid workers, I inform 1,000,000+ members and partners to make decision-making and operations more efficient. The global development industry has been suffering from information asymmetry and lack of capacity to use the insights from data for many decades and it is only now that the change to data-driven narratives are encouraged. My day-to-day work involves translating the overwhelming world of data, often trapped in pdf files and massive datasets from a variety of donors and across different locations and sectors, to actionable and well-informed solutions.


My journey with data analysis began already during my university time, where most of my works entailed primary data collection and analysis of quantitative and qualitative nature related to a range of issues, such as gender equality, trade relations and nonprofit scope and role in the society. One of my biggest achievements during my studies was being awarded a prestigious research grant to conduct an 8-week field study around China to collect data on the presence and challenges of the nonprofit sector, which was published to inform future policy decisions of local government entities across a few provinces in China.  


Although data and its dissemination have been at the forefront of my tasks for nearly six years now, it was only two years ago when my data expertise has expanded to a fulltime undertaking. Since the beginning of my tenure at Devex, I have learned to work with many data sources, including from multilateral banks, development finance institutions, European and US-based private foundations, corporate foundations, bilateral development agencies and OECD. As I tackled more complicated datasets, I learned the data visualization tool Tableau in the span of a couple of weeks to build interactive visualizations for the members to encourage others in their discovery of how data can be applied to their particular context.


Prior to my current position, I was working in research and partnership at UN Women, UNOPS, and a number of development organizations locally and internationally. As an avid traveler and trilingual, I have studied and worked abroad in Ghana, Malaysia, Denmark, India, China and the Philippines. I hold a B.Sc. in Development Studies from Lund University and a M.Sc. in Public Management from Chinese Academy of Sciences and Copenhagen Business School (dual degree), for which I spent two years in Beijing, China. My academic experience encompasses five years of research in the fields of international development, political science and public policy.


I believe the Sigma Awards for the category of “Young Journalist” would enable me to continue my journey with leveraging data for social impact and connect with other conference participants to discuss on how to best deliver results for the most impactful solutions. I am still learning and wish to deepen my data analysis and dissemination skills and I could not think of a better setting than that of the International Journalism Festival. While the Sigma Awards pose an incredible opportunity for learning, I wish to raise awareness of success stories in the global development industry. I believe many in the industry struggle to connect data to strategic insights and by showing it is possible and gaining recognition for the efforts might just be the starting point to truly keep the momentum up for the data-driven approaches applied to the development programming in the past couple of years.    

Description of portfolio:

Having experienced how powerful the insights stemming from data can be for development programming, I continuously seek to advocate for data transparency in aid and other funding reporting. For instance, I have been supervising a story written by my subordinates on funding from Japan’s development cooperation agency, JICA, which was the first analysis in the world for this donor (project link 4). The insights from this piece have and will continue to inform people working on the ground, such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), implementing private sector partners and other relevant civil society actors, increasing understanding of Japan’s development priorities and how they play out in the funding data. With time, my analysis became more sophisticated and reaching more prominent members. For example, my analysis of five years’ of climate funding data (project link 1 ) has been referenced during Devex’s coverage on COP25 – the annual United Nations climate conference. My work on HIV/AIDS funding data (project link 2) has also been acknowledged by Ambassador Birx, who is in charge of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which is the largest initiative in the world addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Through my involvement in numerous webinars explaining the data analytics for certain sectors and actors, for instance looking at the development cooperation of Chinese government agencies or discussing the newest changes to PEPFAR data (project link 4), I connect the different parts of the development ecosystem by inviting external speakers validating the reality behind the data. Frequently, the data we analyze and report on concerns sensitive topics and I believe it is the responsibility of the analysts and writers to attach humanity to numbers, especially if they are large. Beyond data transparency advocacy and linking different actors in the industry through dialogue, some pieces I have worked on analyze data for the purpose of business development purposes. Most of data in the industry is highly decentralized and not always readily found, but at the same time many professionals rely on it to bid for opportunities and build up their programming portfolio. In those cases I have for instance analyzed and created interactive visualizations for UK’s development cooperation agency, DFID (project link 5), and ranked top US-based private foundations (project link 6) for improving institutional knowledge and better understanding of donor funding landscape. The underlying challenges across all the coverage I have done has been the lack of timely data as well as incorrect tagging, which not only make the analysis of future trends difficult but also makes certain conclusions inaccurate, if for instance the classification of certain sectors, locations or even funding amounts is faulty. To catch these issues requires substantial familiarity with the data source itself, as well as great attention to detail, but with more experience it becomes easier to navigate. I have also a leading position in generating insights and content for specific research questions, which are solicited by numerous implementing agencies working in development. In one year only, I have successfully finished five major projects with world-renowned clients related to fundraising strategies, donor alignment assessments, and funding pipeline building. An example of a project that I recently finished was a donor landscape mapping, primarily analyzing major US-based foundations, in 22 of the client’s focus countries across Africa and Asia. The insights and findings from this project have helped the organization diversify their donor base and they are soon expecting further engagements with the identified donors. Moreover, the client’s satisfaction led to a series of follow-up projects with Devex, building a long-term partnership. However, due to copyright clauses I am not allowed to share these reports

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