Since March 2016, I have been working as the programme support manager for the multi-sectorial development initiative called the Invasives programme. Our new Invasives initiative will be undertaking regional, national and local technical and partnership activities to deal with some of the worst biological invasions that are threatening livelihoods in poor rural areas. As we look to leverage the successful Plantwise initiative (www.plantwise.org), the Invasives programme team is looking to build additional partnerships in the private, public and civil society sectors. Needless to say, from a personal point of view, it has been a steep learning curve!
But it has been productive! In 3 months, we have managed to finalise the strategy (the first version of it anyway), develop a logical framework, partnership and budget documents, a theory of change, and link our activities to CABI’s global gender strategy and monitoring and evaluation process.
How did we achieve this, all in time for the CABI review conference in July? Through the excellent combination of concepts, compromise and coffee
Let me explain.
You cannot develop a multi sectorial global programme without a strong conceptual basis.
The Invasives programme definitely has strong roots: as an organisation, CABI has over 100 years of experience dealing with problems species in agriculture around the world, notwithstanding staff’s academic and practitioner knowledge is immense working on projects throughout the globe. This experience is underpinned by a world leading invasive species information database: the Invasive Species Compendium (www.cabi.org/ISC). What is more, the programme’s goals are complementary with CABI’s largest programme to date, the prize winning Plantwise initiative. Indeed, our partnerships with local partners as well as the analysis of plant clinic information will be crucial for the development of timely invasive species integrated pest management interventions in local areas. The approach at a regional level means we can deal with cross border issues, whilst our locally focused activities means helping vulnerable groups out of poverty through job creation and/or better agricultural yields. The core team developing the programme, the technical management teams, composed of 8 senior staff, headed by Dr Sean Murphy, have been given the responsibility of developing the programme’s work packages. Their intimate knowledge of invasive species and international development will be invaluable for the smooth running of the programme in its infancy.
Whilst our experience and knowledge on the Invasive species theme is definitely an advantage, it also means CABI contains some opposing views on how to achieve the programme’s goals. Hence the second “c”: compromise
As a programme manager, the role is principally to keep the programme moving forward. This inevitably means you will have to manage conflict between ideologies. For example, the programme from a marketing or commercial sense might stray far from what a research professional might see as a successful programme. A donor-focused professional will want to see different aims than a development profession working in the field. Indeed, it is the programme manager’s role to listen, analyse and suggest compromises. A degree in psychology would be helpful, let alone one in ecological economics, social dynamics or conservation agriculture (luckily I have one of those!). A programme manager’s role, while content driven, will most likely earn his/her corn by his ability to diplomatically find a solution and move forwards.
It is somewhat ironic that a programme manager’s staple drink is one of the key crops in conservation agriculture and commodities. Indeed, coffee is one of the sole (soul?) constants in a complex management role. Do you think I am overstating it? Try the 3 day workshops to hash out logical frameworks with technical teams, tight deadlines to learn about, and draft, a programme theory of change, organising milestones, integrating gender and monitoring and evaluation strategies, fixing and predicting budgets and partnerships… Oh yes, add a new-born child and the business end of a PhD in the mix, and you can understand why coffee has become a pretty important part of my life!
The programme is in good shape, with strong endorsements from all sides. The programme strategy will be out very soon. That is enough of a reward for now.
That is, until we roll out the initiative and help 50 million farmers improve their livelihoods.