Intentional partnership: CRS and CIAT get ready for a more strategic and broader collaboration to increase impact
Written by Simone Staiger. When you try to organize meetings with CRS’ Rupert Best at CIAT, he is probably going to be late as he runs into friends and former colleagues at every corner. Rupert has been working for more than 20 years at CIAT on agro enterprises and rural innovation, in HQ and then for several years in Africa. At Catholic Relief Services, Rupert Best provides now technical support to rural agroenterprise development, strengthening farmer skills for market engagement and developing CRS’ agricultural learning agenda. Together with his former mentee and now leader of the Linking Farmers to Markets group Mark Lundy, we organized a one-day reflection between CRS and CIAT staff Project leaders to confirm, contextualize and agree upon priority areas for partnership in the Latin American and Caribbean Region. CIAT and CRS have indeed collaborated and partnered in projects for 20 years. The main areas of partnership have been in seed systems, agroenterprise development and climate change. CIAT and CRS will sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in October 2015 with the purpose of making collaboration less ad hoc and more intentional. “The MoU is an expression of our wish to deepen collaboration on a range of agriculture and natural resource management related topics in the global tropics. This collaboration seeks to institutionalize lessons learned over the last decade and facilitate the expansion and deepening of our relationship at a larger scale” says Rupert Best. To that end, the workshop, facilitated by Simone Staiger from CIAT’s knowledge management group, aimed at reaching a common understanding of the respective institutional strategies, and building new ideas on lessons learnt from past and current joint bodies of work. CRS colleagues made it very clear that the collaboration with CIAT, as well as other research centers, allows them to pursue their goals with a more solid evidence-base, while CIAT needs a strong development partner for its research to reach intended users. Interestingly both organizations are looking increasingly into policy influence as a way to achieve large-scale impacts and this is definitively a joint interest that will facilitate a more intentional collaboration. CRS and CIAT have identified two regional priority areas, a) Soils, water and climate change and b) Agroenterprise development and value chains. For both, workshop participants shared their theories of change and discussed strategic next steps. For the former, a group laid out ways to include more work on soils and eco-system services; for the latter, the immediate interest is in building a joint toolkit of 4 to 5 critical value chain tools, including LINK, CIAT’s participatory guide to business models that link smallholders to markets, as well as looking more systematically at how policy influence has been working. In addition short conversation bringing in new CIAT specialists meant to explore new options for collaboration, such as gender, forages, site-specific agriculture, nutrition and health as well as knowledge management.