PHNOM PHEN, CAMBODIA - Cambodia, 2-4 December 2015. Stakeholder engagement is an interesting, challenging and hugely rewarding process – and that’s what Grow Asia has been doing in Cambodia this week. We went to Phnom Penh to speak with stakeholders from the agriculture sector, to share the details of Grow Asia’s model and to listen to their feedback and comments on our proposed plan for a Sustainable Agriculture Partnership in Cambodia. In three days, I delivered three presentations to audiences of 40 – 60 people, had at least a dozen face-to-face meetings, enjoyed numerous ‘sideline’ conversations and, of course, collected hundreds of business cards!
I personally find stakeholder engagement to be one of the most rewarding parts of my role as Director of Country Partnerships. I am required to withhold any preconceived ideas and listen to a huge variety of stakeholders as they share their (often diverse) opinions. At times it can feel that as if people’s comments are unhelpful or critical of our work and plans, but mostly organizations and individuals are supportive, collaborative and are seeking to better understand what we’re doing. And, most importantly, regardless of who we’re engaging, it’s essential that we listen to the comments and respect their expertize. I find that the process of answering stakeholders’ questions improves my ability to explain the rationale to our approach; at least, I hope it does.
The big challenge however is how to process and prioritise the many conversations, opinions and comments that we hear when engaging stakeholders; everyone is an expert in something and has a valid perspective. And this is the implicit complexity of multi-stakeholder partnerships, such as Grow Asia: balancing different interests and keeping everyone engaged. There is no magic formula for processing multiple diverse perspectives, but I do believe that the more valid or relevant opinions tend to be the more enduring or widespread ones. So, with a bit of patience and a lot more stakeholder engagement, patterns emerge and we gradually get a better sense of the consensus opinion. If not, we work on finding a compromise between stakeholders.
Returning to the topic of the meetings this week in Cambodia: the International Business Chamber generously hosted a lunch for its private sector members, who shared their commercial insights and expertise of Cambodia; the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) invited me to their Agriculture and Water Technical Working Group meeting, attended by government, donors and development agencies and at this meeting I learnt a lot about the existing agri projects and investments in Cambodia; and, finally MAFF and the Ministry of Commerce co-hosted a stakeholder consultation meeting, which was attending by a government, private sector, civil society, academia, and donors. Sadly, the farmers weren’t represented at this meeting, although they were invited, so we will follow up with them at a later date. The emerging opinion from the meetings with many stakeholders is that Cambodia is ready and willing to enter into a multi-stakeholder, market-led, value chain initiative with Grow Asia. We are continuing to work together to select the crops and commodities to focus on, and in Q1 of 2016, we will launch the crop working groups at a workshop.
If you are interested in becoming involved in the Cambodia Sustainable Agriculture Partnership, please do let me know and we can share details of upcoming meetings and developments.
Director, Country Partnerships, Grow Asia