Tristan Armstrong, Co-Chair of the Donor Platform from August 2021 to December 2023, looks back on his tenure through global crises and a milestone anniversary.

Tristan Armstrong

Senior Sector Specialist, Agricultural Development and Food Security

Climate Integration and Programming Branch
Climate Change and Sustainability Division

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) – Australia

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Michelle Tang (Secretariat): Reflecting on your co-chairmanship, what achievements are you most proud of and how has this positively impacted global rural development?

Tristan Armstrong: First, I would like to say how much I enjoyed my time as Co-Chair. I started at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic which saw enormous disruptions in global supply chains with economic impacts on the poorest and most vulnerable. The effects of climate change and ongoing conflicts further emphasize the vulnerability of the global food system. My role focused on elevating our perspectives amid such disruptions. These include high-level dialogues around the UN Food Systems Summit and helping donors align on key issues.

My pride lies in sustaining conversations and energizing participants around the importance of global rural development in our evolving context. It is clear we need a platform that is below the political radar, that affords us the scope, freedom and support to be honest about what we face as donor agencies designing interventions that are effective in coordinating and making sense of a dynamic and challenging time in history. In our everyday work, we must not lose sight of the significance of our roles.

Michelle: What advice would you offer to ensure the continued success of the Platform? Where are the untapped opportunities for growth, especially from your Asia-Pacific perspective?

Tristan: The success and effectiveness of the Platform hinges on the energy and passion invested by its members, Board and Co-Chairs. The GDPRD can be as big as we want it to be and it has proven itself to have an impactful voice. People are hungry for a platform that allows them to speak honestly about issues, free to some degree from the binding constraints we face in our regular roles and this is the real power of the Platform that needs to be preserved.

In terms of effectiveness, we can do more to harness the resources, networks and influence of our multilateral partners, including IFAD which has played an important role as host of the GDPRD. We can look for opportunities to leverage our thinking and become more involved in the ongoing work.

The Platform has been very effective in building relevance in recent years, with the new Secretariat staff on board and listening to policy priorities that unite key donors and multilaterals and fostering that common space to drive dialogue to better cooperation.

In terms of the Asia Pacific perspective, it's clear this region will become more central with its growing middle class and demand for food and other resources from rural areas. The GDPRD has its origins in the global west and north but I'd like to see us embrace emerging Asian donors as they need to be part of the conversation. I do a lot of work in Southeast Asia and see some dynamic thinking and exciting work happening there. We can be stronger together. The fate of the planet is increasingly tied to what happens in Asia with its fast-growing economies and their global reach.

My pride lies in sustaining conversations and energizing participants around the importance of global rural development in our evolving context. [...] In our everyday work, we must not lose sight of the significance of our roles.

Michelle: Could you share a moment or experience that has reaffirmed your dedication to your work?

Tristan: I draw a great deal of strength and energy from the people I meet through my work and the Donor Platform. Where that resonates most is the interplay between the conversations we have at a global level through the GDPRD and my experience seeing the world through the eyes of poor smallholder farmers in the remote areas of Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Indonesia.

It’s these women, men and children in the village, making do with the little they have to improve their lives and those of the next generation. They inspire me to get up in the morning and go to work to make a difference.

And that's what the GDPRD is all about, how we can, in our privileged and affluent worlds, make the system fairer, more inclusive and less destructive.

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The GDPRD has its origins in the global west and north but I'd like to see us embrace emerging Asian donors as they need to be part of the conversation.

Michelle: Would you like to say a few words about co-chairing with Conrad Rein and the milestone of the GDPRD’s 20th anniversary in 2023?

Tristan: Co-chairing with Conrad was a real pleasure. We worked effectively together. I have enormous respect for him and his fantastic networks and knowledge of the organizations we work with. And of course in a very practical way, being here in Eastern Australia often made it difficult for me to engage in events hosted by the GDPRD with many nights up to the early morning hours. There were times when I relied on Conrad to be the person to stand in for me.

20 years was that moment to reflect and ask what’s next, how the world has changed, and whether our strategies are fit for purpose and addressing key issues. There's never going to be a clear answer but if you stop asking questions, you will become irrelevant.

I feel extraordinarily lucky to have been part of that journey. That’s a long period for a platform like this to survive. If we want to make it to 40 years, we need to keep thinking and challenging ourselves and each other. We need to attract more donors to broaden the conversation and underscore the relevance and timeliness of the activities we lead.

Michelle: What's next for you, Tristan?

Tristan: I've taken a position in the Solomon Islands overseeing key elements of Australia’s development program. This allows me to be on the ground to support one of Australia’s closest neighbours, and to make a tangible difference in a country I know and love.

The GDPRD thanks Tristan for his leadership and engagement as Co-Chair of the GDPRD from August 2021 to December 2023 on behalf of Australia. He has also been an advocate of effective communications and was the Platform’s first podcast interviewee. We count on him to continue being a Platform champion and wish him all the best in his future endeavours.

Photos: ©IFAD/Flavio Ianniello, Tristan Armstrong

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