Global Donor Platform for Rural Development
Godesberger Allee 119 | 53175 Bonn | Germany
phone: +49 228 249 341 65
fax: +49 228 249 342 15
Established in 2005, the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development is expanding its activities and gaining a reputation for effective knowledge management and competence in aid effectiveness in agriculture and rural development. Still, the sprawling complexity of agricultural and rural development, the growing numbers of Platform member-organisations and the urgency of many issues place special demands on the organisation. Two senior colleagues, Sonja Bartelt and Miriam Heidtmann, explain how the Platform Secretariat is responding.
Bartelt: The Secretariat is the central service unit of the Platform, the place through which members communicate with each other and, collectively, with external partners. Our main focus is on managing the Platform partnership and providing advice for informed decision-making to the Steering Committee. The Secretariat is also an instrument to help close the communications gap between policy and sector branches of many member-organisations – these guys do not often talk with each other! We’ve started a series of exchanges with the Aid Effectiveness Departments of our member organisations. We try to make sure that they participate in events like the Second European Rural Forum in Berlin and encourage them to share views with sector colleagues.
Heidtmann: All Platform activities originate as ideas and proposals within the Platform membership. They all aim to improve the work of our network, and make investments in the sector more effective. Our mission is to improve aid effectiveness in agricultural and rural development and to help our members to avoid duplication of effort through enhanced coordination, communication and shared learning.
Bartelt: I became Secretariat Coordinator about 18 months ago. I’m responsible for the overall management and annual reporting and ensuring Platform activities are carried out to the defined quality, on time and within budget. I help new activities get underway and serve as the main contact point for our Focal Points, our Steering Committee and the general public. What we try to keep in mind always is the achievement of the Platform’s mission, which is to help members avoid duplication of effort and improve aid effectiveness in agricultural and rural development, or what we call ARD.
Heidtmann: Sonja took over coordination of the Secretariat from me when I went on maternity leave in 2006, and that job has definitely grown more demanding, because it has expanded into thematic advice and orientation, as well. As for me, my job is still about coordination, but now, as Task Leader on Aid Effectiveness, I’m more externally-focused. I coordinate activities at the country level and ensure synergies between the Platform’s analytical studies and its practical, in-country work. We’ve started to pool knowledge on agriculture and rural development, refine it and then pass it on in useful forms. So the Platform’s role is increasingly about knowledge management, which is still a young science.
Heidtmann: It’s informal and people-centred, very much about the good will and efforts of individuals who really are determined to change the way they do business. Our task is to harness the spirit and drive of these people and to provide some workable solutions. For example, if the SC decides that we need a foot on the ground in a given country to gain experience and learn from it, we work out the facilitation service and put it into practice. We’ve got active operations of this sort underway in Nicaragua, Cambodia and Vietnam, for example. When I worked here alone through 2005, it was a challenge to provide both the analytical competence and the technical coordination that this network demands.
Bartelt: Thinking back to our beginnings, I remember the watchword was, “Keep it lean and simple”. That still applies, of course, but it’s a challenge to reconcile this with the growing demand from our members. We’ll soon have five permanent staff members. We’re assisted by a junior professional officer and two interns, and work closely with seven expert consultants in communications and in aid effectiveness in Cambodia and Nicaragua, two of our pilot countries. And we now have 29 member-organisations, many of them very large institutions with global reach. They make themselves heard through the Steering Committee, which meets with us every two weeks by video-conference. Alongside the videoconferencing, there’s growing participation in face-to-face encounters, like our Annual General Meeting or the Second European Rural Forum.
Bartelt: For 45 years, development was about donors saying, “I’m king of my project.” Now, that’s all changed. Donors today are formally obliged to coordinate their activities. Aid effectiveness is now at the top of the development agenda. At least in agricultural and rural development, the donor community is becoming more self-critical, more aware of its shortcomings and more determined to do something about it. There’s a new emphasis on consensus, joint practice and guidelines. And it’s great to be at the centre of this, putting our Steering Committee’s decisions into practice.
Heidtmann: I think the collective work our members have put into the new Code of Conduct for effective management of ARD programmes will mark a new milestone in donor harmonisation and alignment. The CoC is based on a set of joint minimum standards demonstrating how Platform members intend to do business from now.
Heidtmann: We’re handling far more requests from FPs than before. It’s important to make sure that all the activities we launch and accompany are participatory; it means making them really as inclusive as possible for all the FPs. The work of the Platform has to stimulate their intellect and satisfy their professional interests and, at the same time, avoid adding to their workload. The Joint Donor Mission we recently organised to Nicaragua to review progress on the PRORURAL programme is a case in point. It was a huge coordination effort, but we brought along representatives from SIDA in Sweden, the SDC in Switzerland, Denmark’s DANIDA, FINIDA from Finland as well as the World Bank.
Bartelt: Donor harmonisation and alignment is hard work. H&A involves a major shift in thinking and also stamina. It takes time and can mean delays in disbursement. That not easy to accept for members whose performance in the past was measured by the rate at which they spent their funds. So one important message to our Focal Points has been, “Keep the faith and stay the course!” We’re feeling more and more that this message is getting through.
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