Meet the Expert: Dr. Thomas de Hoop

Illustration of AIR expert Thomas de HoopThomas de Hoop is a development economist, with 13 years of experience designing, implementing, and leading impact evaluations and systemic reviews. His most recent work has primarily revolved around India, East Africa, and the Middle East. His current portfolio focuses primarily on the impact, scalability, and cost-effectiveness of innovation in education and women’s collectives. Before joining AIR, Thomas was an evaluation specialist at The International Initiative for Impact Evaluation (3ie) in New Delhi, India.

POSITION: Principal Economist

AREAS OF EXPERTISE: International health and social protection, economic development, gender equality

YEARS OF EXPERIENCE: 13

Q: Why did you decide to go into international development?

Thomas: I was primarily driven by idealistic reasons, but I also wanted to travel. I still believe that researching the effects of international development programs is one of the most effective ways to improve policy and outcomes for marginalized populations. Over the years, I’ve realized that the travel can be both energizing and exhausting—jet lag is very common for me! At the same time, I really enjoy working with colleagues in many different countries. It’s nice to have friends in so many places.

Q: What has been your favorite project during your time at AIR?

Thomas: I am currently co-leading a research consortium on women’s groups in India, Uganda, and Nigeria for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which is very rewarding. I get to use two different areas of my expertise: economic self-help group programs and how they affect women’s empowerment and well-being, as well as designing and implementing impact evaluations in low-and middle-income countries. These self-help groups occur most commonly in India and are launched by women. Essentially, they serve as group-based, collective savings and lending programs. At first, there’s a collective savings period to facilitate intragroup lending. Groups then gradually take larger loans and often receive training. Self-help groups are massive in India and are increasing in sub-Saharan Africa.

Q: How many countries have you traveled to and how many languages do you speak?

Thomas: I had to do some research to answer this question! It turns out that I have traveled to 38 countries.

I speak three languages: Dutch, English, and Spanish. I tried to learn Hindi when I lived in New Delhi, but I never really did my homework. As a result, my Hindi is only good enough to negotiate with auto rickshaw drivers. I still aim to learn Hindi at some point. 

Q: If you hadn’t gone into this field, what would you have done instead?

Thomas: There were times when I wanted to become an archeologist or a journalist. I don’t think that would have been a success.

Q: What’s your go-to professional resource?

Thomas: The World Bank Development Impact blog is amazing. It has lots of materials on how to run impact evaluations in international development.

At the end of the day, there is no good substitute for field visits. It is very important to continue talking to the populations who are ultimately affected by the programs that we study.

Q: What would you say to someone currently considering a career in social science research and consulting?

Thomas: I have two pieces of advice for anyone interested international development research. The first relates to my earlier comments on field visits: they are necessary to understand the context of the places that we study. This is almost impossible when you only look at quantitative datasets. At the same time, it is critical to learn the technical research skills as well. Learning applied econometrics to design impact evaluations, and how to code in Stata or R (or NVivo for qualitative researchers) is essential when you hope to build a career in international development research.
 

Q: What’s the last great book you read?

Thomas: I am currently reading “Legendary Cycling Champions (Legendarische Wielerkampioenen in Dutch)” by Aart Aarsbergen and Peter Nijssen. I am a big fan of competitive cycling and love to read stories about the history of competitive cycling. My brother, a friend, and I also have a tradition, in which we visit the cycling race Paris-Roubaix every year.
 

Q: If you could have dinner with three people, living or not, who would they be?

Thomas: The first is Naila Kabeer, a professor of gender and development at the London School of Economics. Her work on women’s empowerment has been instrumental to my own research. The second is Gino Bartali, a famous Italian cyclist who used his cycling career as a cover to save hundreds of Jews during World War II. Finally, I would love to have dinner with Ramachandra Guha, author of the fascinating book, “India after Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy.”

Q: Where can we find you on a typical Saturday afternoon?

Thomas: When I am not traveling, I can be found with my wife, having lunch in DC or watching a movie at home. However, I also spend quite a few Saturdays traveling in Africa, Asia, or Europe.