The development of a nation begins with a child

Our programmes policy and impact officer, Chris Martin, takes us behind the scenes of our Impact Assessment research.

Chris Martin
Chris Martin
Programmes policy & impact officer

Back to all stories | Posted on 18 August 17 in Blog

Chris recently returned from Zambia, Malawi and Liberia, where he, and our monitoring and evaluation staff, spent time collating data to help us better understand the impact of Mary’s Meals’ work.

In June 2016, we released our first Impact Assessment report looking at the delivery and impact of our work in Malawi.  

The research demonstrates that, as well as attracting children into the classroom and improving enrolment and attendance, school feeding has the power to reduce classroom hunger, and improve concentration and participation in class. It also positively affects children’s overall happiness and hunger-related anxiety. Education acts as an investment in a country’s future and contributes to reducing poverty in the long-run. 

For four months at the end of 2016, our Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning (MEL) teams in Malawi and Zambia worked hard to prepare for the next phase of our impact assessment. (Over the last year, I have worked closely with both teams, training members of staff on the impact assessment process and strengthening the team’s capacity to plan, conduct, and analyse impact data). 

The Malawi team conducted visits to more than 30 schools to complete more than 1,700 individual surveys with teachers, children, and parents. This included visiting schools which recently started receiving Mary’s Meals thanks to the generous donations received during the DFID Aid Match campaign.  

I also spent time in Zambia training and working with our team to complete more than 750 surveys and over 25 focus groups in more than 20 schools.


We’ve been feeding school aged children in Zambia since 2014.

The focus group discussions conducted with children, teachers, and volunteers are essential in our research. Initially, some team members were anxious about how they would maintain natural conversations and balance these with the research questions we ask. However, over the course of the training, I could see the confidence of the team growing.  

It is clear this phase of the research has allowed our staff to listen more closely to the voices of the children, parents, and teachers we work with. One staff member explained that: “The focus group discussions have not only been a learning point, but… an experience that will make me not only work harder here, but develop my life and skills as a person.”  

At the end of these busy few months, the words of a colleague summarised best why we undertake this rigorous research process when he said: “Mary’s Meals is an organisation that looks at the welfare of a child. The development of any nation looks at the child. These are the children who are going to lead. Their future is being created at this stage.” 

Our school feeding programme operates in Chipata Township, in the Eastern Province of Zambia.

In March and April this year, I was also able to work closely with our MEL team in Liberia to conduct further trainings and complete the first year of the impact assessment in Bong County. During this period, the team have worked tirelessly to carry out more than 1,300 surveys and 30 focus group discussions. In the coming weeks, we will be analysing our findings from this first full year of the process to explore in detail how our programme is contributing to changes in the lives of students in Liberia. 

Research on the impact of our work is so important for Mary’s Meals because of our commitment to improving the quality of the school feeding programme. Ultimately, the Impact Assessment aims to ensure the benefits of the programme are maximised for the children and their families and the promise of a brighter future for so many, is possible. The latest research results will be presented in our next Impact Assessment report, which we look forward to sharing with you soon.