New ways of doing business identified and put high on the priority for the future of work in Africa
Representatives from six African countries, ICRISAT and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, from 3-5 June for an open dialogue and to share experiences and lessons learnt over the last four years of sorghum and millet research and development under the HOPE (Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement of sorghum and millets) Project. A key focus of the meet was: how can we do business differently to ensure greater uptake of technologies and have a greater impact.
Scientific achievements were identified along with success stories. However, it was strongly agreed that a much greater emphasis on the delivery of the technologies was critical; while continuing with scientific discoveries. New ways of doing business were necessary to achieve more successful uptake of the technologies as well as ensuring more efficient and appropriate development of technologies.
This was the first consultative forum convened to develop a proposal for a second phase of the HOPE project which has been operating for four years across 10 countries in Africa as well as India. HOPE 2 is expected to focus on six African countries: Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania.
“There must be ownership by the national programs or this will not work. There is no half way,” said Mr Yilma Kebede, Senior Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The HOPE project is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. “Let’s not slip back into the way we worked in the past. We need to get out of routines. We have to elevate our game with new ways of thinking and doing things. The transition may be painful but it needs to be done. Let’s start having ownership. The Foundation is always there to cheer you on with your successes and to guide you. You can count on this,” he added.
Some of the new ways of doing business that were identified included:
More cross-country collaboration
There were very similar issues across all the countries. The issues helped identify the efficiency gains and opportunities for more knowledge sharing, cross country learning and joint solution building. The common issues covered the whole value chain: breeding/crop improvement needs; seed systems; crop management; processing, market linkage and access, supportive policies, technology delivery and uptake. This showed the advantages of a multi-country project.
Rethinking “how” we deal with issues
As countries shared their strategies and highest priority needs, it was recognized that the issues were similar to those identified four years ago. It was agreed that these issues need a commitment longer than four years to have significant impact. It also became necessary to challenge ourselves on “how” we deal with the issues.
Creating a common vision
It was recognized that project partners needed a common vision about the project. This helps them focus on the bigger picture along with each of the areas, and also understand how their efforts contribute to the whole project. HOPE 2 will place stronger emphasis on internal communications to create a common vision and shared understanding.
National systems having ownership of the work and meeting the goals
It was agreed that HOPE 2 must be owned and driven by the national systems to be successful and sustainable. It must be “National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) empowered”. ICRISAT’s role was recognized as essential to bring this together and act as a facilitator and catalyst as well as contributing technical expertise. This also requires strong commitment from the national systems.
Dr Stefania Grando, ICRISAT Program Director – Dryland Cereals, who is also the Principal Investigator of HOPE Project, noted, “I believe in participation and this is the right start. But remember that participation has to continue all the way.”
A greater emphasis on delivery along with monitoring and evaluation
It was recognized that to have a much higher level of impact there should be a greater and more strategic emphasis on delivery of the technologies and processes. HOPE 2 will develop uptake strategies and involve a wider variety of stakeholders along the value chain. Monitoring and evaluation of the uptake will provide continual feedback and enable the team to adapt as needed.
A strong communications element will be included
Communications was identified as an area that needed a lot more emphasis and will mean a new way of doing business. It was recognized and agreed that communications was needed to make contributions towards:
Better internal communications;
To broadly communicate the issues and success stories to as many people as possible; and To help with the uptake of new technologies and practices along the whole agricultural research for development value chain – from crop improvement to market development. Areas along the value chain identified as needing highest priority for communications efforts included seed systems development; crop variety adoption; on-farm technologies and processes (include diversifying on farm); and influencing policy.
It was also agreed that the new approach required the engagement of the communications staff in all the six countries right from the beginning of the project, including at the strategy and project development stages.
New ways to share knowledge
Communities of practice around different challenges were identified as new ways to do business as these would be much more open to and have a strong emphasis on sharing ideas and lessons learnt across the six countries.
An access point provided for integrating different tools in crop breeding
This would follow an integrated crop improvement practice and work across each partner country and ICRISAT. Modern tools, such as genomics, would be used and integrated to speed up the process of developing improved crop varieties.
Capacity building in a wider variety of disciplines
Capacity building was seen as important in overcoming skill gaps not only in traditional science areas but also in areas such as adoption, extension and communication.
Gender integration at each stage along the value chain
It was agreed that gender aspects should be integrated at each stage of the HOPE 2 agenda, to identify how to benefit and empower women at each stage along the value chain.
In his closing remarks, George Okwach, HOPE Project Coordinator, alerted participants to the fact that, “What the project partners have done and achieved this week in Addis Ababa was only the beginning of a long consultative process. A long road still lay ahead. There are more meetings and workshops planned at the national and regional levels. We will maintain the spirit of consultations between different partners at all stages, with the purpose that, in the end, we shall have a proposal for HOPE 2 that every partner can be happy with and proud of. We want the national partners to feel that they own the project, from start to finish. This was an innovative start and we felt very excited about the new challenges in looking at new ways of doing business.”