Posted by: mhirdyounger | February 6, 2014

Collective Impact for Inclusive Food Systems

Have you heard of e-extension? If you work in the agricultural sector in Ghana, you definitely have. It’s extension and advisory services that use mobile or online platforms to enhance service provision to farmers. It’s a pretty big ‘development bandwagon’ globally right now. I can name a handful of organizations simultaneously working on e-extension platforms in Northern Ghana alone, and I am sure there are tons more.

But e-extension isn’t actually the point of this post. The point is, the crowd of organizations working in the e-extension system in Ghana is a great example of the often uncoordinated and non-collaborative efforts of development organizations, public services and private sector actors. Rather than work together, we often work on the same things in parallel.

One of the biggest barriers to an effective agricultural system in Ghana is coordination and knowledge sharing – working together and sharing resources for a strong system. Collective impact is one approach to addressing this problem.

Recently, at EWB’s Rethink 2014 Conference, we held a panel on collective impact for inclusive food systems. The panel included a broad array of food systems stakeholders all enumerating the many barriers to better agricultural and food systems globally and locally. The list was extensive, from global trade systems, to lack of pride in indigenous technologies, to understanding where our food comes from. By painting a picture of all of these issues, we were trying to send a message: that to build an inclusive or effective global food system, there are too many barriers for one actor to address, we need to coordinate efforts.

This is where collective impact comes in. Collective impact is an approach introduced by John Kania and Mark Kramar in a 2011 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review.  It is an approach to social change, or development, that addresses the need for coordination. It means that a group of stakeholders have come together to try to solve a problem, recognizing that a) there are a lot of barriers to making progress on that problem and b) that they each have a role to play and c) that they will only solve the problem if they are able to make a concerted effort and work together, building off of each other’s strengths.

To have collective impact, you need five key things:

  1. A Common Agenda
  2. A Shared Measurement System
  3. Mutually Reinforcing Activities
  4. Continuous Communication
  5. Backbone Support organizations

In Ghana, we are trying to bring a collective impact approach to agricultural development by helping establish the Ghana Forum for Agricultural Advisory Support and Services (GFAASS). With its pluralistic mandate (meaning it includes public, private and civil society sectors) and its pan-African roots (it was formed under CAADP, pillar 4), GFAASS has the potential to be the “Backbone Organization” of agricultural development efforts in Ghana. It is a forum, a network, a platform bringing together all stakeholders in the system to ensure that they know each other, share lessons learned and build trust to eventually develop a common agenda and vision and work towards it as a collective, through the strategic direction and facilitation of the backbone organization, GFAASS.

Collective impact is a lofty goal. When you look at the uncoordinated agricultural development projects in Ghana, it may seem like an impossible one. But when you also look at all the barriers to effective agricultural development, it is obvious that there is room for all and that change won’t come unless we work together, as a collective, building a common vision, milestones and strategy. Imagine if we all worked together to build one, highly effective and widely used e-extension platform, rather than five or six different platforms only used in pockets with limited impact?      

To dive deeper into the concept of Collective Impact and examples of its success, I highly recommend reading John Kania and Mark Kramar’s article here.

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