An interview with Robby Griswold
Adam Fivenson, RC & LSA Communications '07, took a wide breadth of courses like RC intensive Spanish, human rights in Latin America, Russian cinema, and Performing Arts of South & Southeast Asia while at U-M. Little did he know then that he would leverage many of these in a career in international development after leaving Ann Arbor.
Tell us a bit about what you’re doing these days.
I help aid organizations think through, design and deploy new technologies to fight corruption, improve agricultural outcomes, and support entrepreneurs in marginalized communities around the world. Currently I’m Director of Data, Development Technology, and Innovation at an organization called InterAction, which is the largest alliance of international NGOs in the United States. For InterAction, I run a UN-funded initiative that supports advocacy for small-holder farmers around East Africa and help our member organizations think through how to mitigate the pitfalls of using new technologies in their work around the world.
Previously, I was a human-centered design and innovation specialist for the Center for Digital Acceleration at DAI, an international development company where I ran a series of projects—primarily funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID)—related to transparency & accountability for citizens in rural Guatemalan municipalities, user research & iterative design for social entrepreneurs in Cambodia, and access to finance for young farmers in Rwanda, among others.
What are some highlights of your career - or passion side projects - that you’re most proud of?
- I'm an Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, teaching rapid technology design for international development projects
- I designed and launched an award-winning mobile app for budget transparency and citizen participation, active in three municipalities in Guatemala (bit.ly/transparency-apps), and currently under development for five municipalities in Afghanistan including Kabul
- I am a board member and co-host of the Technology for Democracy Happy Hour, which spotlights people and organizations that use technology to strengthen democracy around the world
- I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Dominican Republic 2010-2012, where I taught computer skills and worked to protect and preserve a pirate shipwreck
- I run 'Candid Almond' with my wife Deborah to share her protest art with the world and raise money for Planned Parenthood (www.etsy.com/shop/CandidAlmond)
- We had a baby girl Ellys Pym in January 2019
How would you summarize what you got from your experience in the RC?
The RC helped me develop cross-cultural and language skills. It led me to seek opportunities to travel and learn about other cultures, people and perspectives. Prior to my arrival to East Quad, I had never been a part of a dynamic community of politically-active young people and professors who taught me what it meant to live by my values.
My RC education was critical to my work as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic, at DAI and now with InterAction. Whether I’m interviewing people in rural areas, negotiating with a ministry to access budget data, teaching human-centered design to a local mayor, or running workshops with civil society organizations, I credit my time at the RC with giving me the confidence and skills to do the work I do today.
What is one of your most memorable experiences during your time in the RC?
Finishing Performing Arts of South & Southeast Asia with RC Arts and Ideas faculty member and director of the U-M Gamelan, Susan Pratt Walton, by performing Balinese kecak live onstage at an exhibition in East Lansing.
What advice would you give an incoming RC student?
Recognize that you're stepping into a unique environment and take advantage of it! Get to know your fellow RC students and professors; they’ll open new, unexpected doors to you that will change the course of your life. That was definitely the case for me.