“Most persistent problems that call for consultation have no clear right answer.
Packaged consultation or training is faster, more digestible, more visible and predictable, and therefore more saleable…If learning and change are truly our intent, a slower, more demanding, and more deliberative approach is required.
We have to value struggle over prescription, questions over answers, tension over comfort, and capacities over needs and deficiencies.”
-Peter Block, “Flawless Consulting”
During our team’s visit to Nairobi, I was able to witness a stakeholder meeting at the East African Grain Council (EAGC) Headquarters. Sitting at the round table in the midst of truly dynamic facilitators and participants, I couldn’t help but remember the first time I encountered some of the issues we discussed.
Not so long ago, as an undergraduate, I took an intensive seminar of courses in Global Development. Somehow, I managed approval for the seminar – even though I hardly met the difficult prerequisites in economics and political science – and I soon realized I was in the company of extremely intelligent, passionate people. The coursework required an almost inhuman effort on my part, and in most cases, I struggled to keep pace with even the quietest participant. Throughout the semester, we questioned the effectiveness of foreign aid, struggled to find a balance between short-term solutions and long-term societal change, and tackled the theories of major voices in the global development space. I finished the seminar as I would a marathon – pushing through wall after wall of discomfort, constant feelings of ineptitude and inadequacy – and wondered if I would ever be comfortable conversing about issues in an emerging economy.
My interest in global development has only grown with time, and now I find myself one of the lucky participants in Thunderbird’s Emerging Markets program. Back at the round table in Nairobi, I was exhilarated, not exhausted, by the conversations taking place. The facilitators were two U.S. government auditors, assessing the U.S. aid program “Feed the Future” and seeking answers to several important questions. The one that struck me was a question of inclusion: to what degree were key regional stakeholders (for profits, government agencies, donors, implementation partners, and NGOs) included in the discussions about creation and implementation of action plans for Feed the Future?
To clarify their questions, the auditors reminded stakeholders that the U.S. could be either an informative or collaborative change agent – one that tells organizations to simply follow a plan of action, or one that brings stakeholders in for dialogue and brainstorm prior to solidifying a plan for action. Feed the Future was always meant to be a country-run program, so the facilitators had to ask careful questions to ascertain what was really happening.
I’ll keep the specific dialogue of the meeting confidential, but as the facilitators carefully and intelligently guided the stakeholders through a difficult conversation, I took each of their questions to heart in light of our own TEM Lab project: Where we acting as informative or collaborative change agents? Which stakeholders were we consulting before we made recommendations? Were we limiting ourselves to an available Rolodex of contacts, or were we truly acting inclusively, seeking out the unheard voices that needed to influence our counsel to LGHL?
Our team constantly seeks new opinions from new people, even if the perspectives we encounter are wildly different than our own. My teammates visited the Ministry of Agriculture at the U.S. Embassy in Nairobi, spoke with representatives from USAID Compete, engaged with consultants and leaders in the grain industry, and conversed with an extremely dedicated group of small farmers outside Nakuru. We’ve utilized the power of LGHL’s internal stakeholder opinions as we create a brand for the company’s marketing and communications plan. We’ve built a great relationship with our client that’s allowed us to have real, honest conversations that get to the heart of food and economic security in Kenya. The recommendations we’re making to Lesiolo will be actionable because we’ve done our best to acknowledge the challenges and capacities of the Kenyan grain industry and Lesiolo’s business.
The insights we’ve gained so far are varied, challenging, and inspiring:
“Do women and youth groups exist?
Well, they may exist but they don’t know about important stakeholder meetings.
Why aren’t they invited? Why do we hear from the same players over and over again?”
-EAGC Stakeholder Meeting Conversation
“Farming co-op groups will not work in Kenya: mismanagement, stealing,
and a break-up over time prevent their success.”
-Foreign Agriculture Services
“Mwihoko means “hope”. Our motto is “We work together and we sell together.””
-Paul, Mwihoko Farmer Co-op Group
As I remember the hours I pored over books, websites, and development metrics, I realize what was missing from the never-ending search for answers: the chance to engage with people who are directly impacted by projects in emerging economies. This, and the freedom to embrace questions by leaning into the intrinsic tensions of emerging markets, is the true opportunity of a TEM Lab.