Nurturing a community of practitioners

JAKARTA, INDONESIA – Last week, Grow Asia held its second Practitioners’ Workshop in Jakarta. The event gathered nearly 80 partners from government, private sector, civil society, and farmer organizations to share their experiences across crops, countries, and culture. From the field trip to PISAgro’s Coffee Working Group project in Lampung to the interactive two-day workshop, partners learned from each other’s experiences, immersed themselves in interactive and in-depth discussions, and strengthened networks with peers.

 

What does it take to build a vibrant community that facilitates learning, insight exchange, collaboration, and leadership development to strengthen the impact of agricultural partnerships? I offer some building blocks from Grow Asia’s experience:

 

  • Cultivating a common agenda – Participants came from a mix of backgrounds and yet they shared a vision of sustainable and inclusive agriculture development. Undoubtedly, everyone has different objectives—profit making, institution building, or societal good—but they understand that achieving the collective goal advances their own interests. One private sector representative stated that sustainable agriculture is no longer simply CSR, but a matter of survival. It is in this arena of changing perspectives that individuals and organizations oftentimes need a nudge to see themselves as part of a bigger picture and having a role to play. Another investment professional shared that the workshop broadened his view of the ecosystem to see agriculture projects not just from a returns perspective, but also their impact on farmers and society.

  • Action and results orientation – Practitioners are more interested in the how; they want to turn aspirations into action and visions into reality. Bringing people together is a means to an end, not the end itself. Collaboration must lead to better results for themselves, their organizations, and their stakeholders. This means actively creating avenues for sharing evidence-based practices (as well as failures), and fostering an environment that can allow ideas and solutions to combine in fascinating ways. A serendipitous conversation at the workshop between a Myanmar agribusiness and the Vietnamese delegation led to the discovery of solutions to a problem of growing crops at high altitude. The most powerful learning always occurs in a context of doing. Engagement and experience are often the most effective teachers.

  • Relationship-building – Last and certainly far from the least is the human element. The day-to-day work of agricultural transformation is difficult but meeting peers in other Country Partnerships is an encouraging reminder that one is not alone. As the workshop concluded, participants shared personal stories of leadership and exchanged words of wisdom from their cultures. New friends lingered while continuing conversations and swapping contacts with the promise of a phone call or a visit. We hope that the participants had concrete lessons, connections, and inspiration to bring back for the journey onward.

 

Underneath all these is an implicit assumption of coordination—a role for Grow Asia and other multi-stakeholder partnership platforms. The goal of such gatherings is not simply to come up with a new strategy or feedback loops of continuous improvement. Instead, we want to create conditions in which collaboration, experimentation and innovation become the new business as usual. Participation in this process is no longer reserved for those designated as leaders; it is within reach of everyone.

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