Interviews Detail [ID: 304]

Brian Baldwin on critical networking activity of the Platform and its future focus

The Platform has communicated well with its members, though in the future it will have to learn how to use modern tools to react quicker. – At the point of his retirement, the former Platform co-chair Brian Baldwin summarises in this interview Platform achievements and gives his perspective on where and how the Platform should become more active in the future.

Brian Baldwin, senior policy adviser at IFAD and their focal point since the Platform’s beginnings in 2003, had been guiding secretariat actions for five years (2008 – 2013) as chair of the steering committee. His verve and enthusiasm has been appreciated by numerous co-focal points and the secretariat members alike.

The secretariat took the opportunity to have an in-depth conversation with him about successes and what he recommends the Platform should focus on in future.


Brian Baldwin | IFAD

Brian Baldwin on critical networking activity of the Platform and its future focus. July 2015.

Longtime Global Donor Platform for Rural Development co-chair Brian Baldwin (IFAD) summarises achievements and gives his perspective on where and how the Platform should become more active in the future.


Pascal Corbé (Secretariat): Brian, you have been with the Global Donor Platform since its very beginnings in 2003. You were the Platform Co-Chair, you were a Platform chairman of the steering committee – for five years all together. Your verve and your enthusiasm has been appreciated by numerous Platform co-focal points and the secretariat members alike. We want to take the opportunity of your retirement to speak to you about some of the achievements in the past and also get some of your recommendations for future activity.

What were the key achievements in terms of networking activity?

Brian Baldwin: Thanks, Pascal. Indeed I am leaving IFAD at the end of next week – at the end of July - after many happy years working here. And still remain very much engaged with this activity, so I very much want to keep engaged with the Platform.

What I’ve seen as some of the Platform’s key success areas, has been some of the joint work the Platform has done. For example, the World Bank FAO study on statistics, which the Platform published about 2008/9, a lot of hard work by both FAO and the World Bank went into a very important analysis of rural development statistics, what they signified and what they could be improved. I also think the Platform’s engagement in key tasks, in key areas has been important as an activity. The initiation of the CAADP group stands out, which has basically become self-functioning, run by the donors themselves. But it was the Platform that initiated that group together with members of the Platform, principally the US and the UK. And I then also see the work that the Platform did in beginning to address the issues of climate, leading up to the Copenhagen COP meeting, where we not only had the one-day event in Brussels, but also events in Copenhagen where we highlighted the agricultural and rural development perspectives of climate change. I think those were significant outputs for the Platform in terms of networking and exposure to the Platform.

The annual general meeting is as its name suggests, the annual meeting of the Platform. I’ve once called that the “flagship event,” and indeed it is a flagship event. I wouldn’t say it is the flagship event, but it is the event of the year that members get together. And, it always has a theme that is relevant for the platform members. But, I believe the Platform had its best output from the joint activities it has done together.

And more recently is seen the work done by the land-working group. Again, with strong leadership from the US, from the UK, from FAO and others, where members have put in a lot of work, in networking and developing substantive content on addressing land equity, land transfers, linked to the importance of increasing investment, increasing food production, increasing rural incomes. Those are what I believe to be the key successes of the Platform over recent years.

Pascal Corbé (Secretariat): Was there a particular point that maybe changed the overall debate?

Brian Baldwin: We didn’t change the nature of the debate. One of the important facets of the Platform is we’re not seeking necessarily to change. We’re seeking to add to debates. We’re seeking to extend those debates throughout our membership. What the Platform’s done, if not deliberately, but if you like “intuitively,” is to ensure that these important issues are extended and informed to all of the membership. And that’s allowed the membership to advocate within their own organisations, and advocate outside those organisations.

Pascal Corbé (Secretariat): You don’t think that you changed the landscape? There were a lot of things happening behind the scenes.

Brian Baldwin: The landscape was changed, for example, fundamentally by the World Bank’s 2008 “World Development Report,” which focused on agriculture. Remember, the Platform came into being before that significant publication, when agriculture was not high on the agenda. There was a strong need to advocate agriculture both within international and bilateral aid donors, but also into the wider development group. With the 2008 report that advocacy role of the Platform wasn’t as needed as it initially was. We could concentrate more on the networking of existing knowledge. I said, for example, CAADP, climate, issues of land – and also the importance of the Paris Declaration. What did that mean for the agricultural sector? So it allowed members to look at some more substantive issues of the Platform.

Pascal Corbé (Secretariat): Beyond the networking events which other instruments did you experience as being very effective?

Brian Baldwin:The Platform has communicated well with its membership and to the outside of membership principally through its website. You can’t underestimate the importance of going onto the website to pick up instant information. And that on some extent puts a lot of pressure on the Platform and the Secretariat to keep the website both up-to-date and easily accessible. People have a limited time when they want to onto a site and find essential information. If they don’t find that essential information in the first 20-30 seconds, they tend to switch off and move on. The website has been important. And in that respect, the website has been able to facilitate in many cases, access to information or links to other pages of the website where people can find what they need. That’s the principal tool I think people have found important. And requires emphasis again in the future.

We also find that the eUpdates [are important], the one-two page monthly updates of what the Platform’s been doing. The importance of that was you get a simple A4 page of updates with links or comments elsewhere, focused on events that are important in the agricultural and rural development sector. That remains an ideal tool. It doesn’t need to include so much administration and background on the secretariat, and what’s happening. People don’t really need to know necessarily – although it is in some respects important – the staffing of the secretariat. But what they do want to need is, for example, over the past couple of weeks, what’s the influence of the Finance for Development meeting in Addis on agriculture and what are the issues coming out? Those are the sort of important things, I believe, that members want to pickup on.

So, use of the website and use of the eUpdate.

And I think increasingly the use of Twitter. I think if you realise that Twitter is not just a method by which an individual or an organisation can report on what he, or they, or it, are doing on a day-to-day basis, but it also offers an instant information link. So, for example, what would be useful as we look at the output of the Addis Ababa Finance for Development meeting, would be a small note from the Platform released on Twitter that says what agricultural perspectives have been highlighted by the Addis meeting. And of course, linking into other documents or other sites on Twitter. I think that’s something that some people need to consider how to use. I have found that some of my colleagues here at IFAD are using Twitter to keep abreast of not only journalism – good journalism focused on development issues – but following the World Bank, the IMF, civil society for example, Oxfam. Just picking up on some of these highlights from a day-to-day basis because that’s where they feel like the news is breaking. The Platform has to think about being there to break news and highlight issues as they come “hot off the press.”

Pascal Corbé (Secretariat): Does this mean that the new communications tools actually put pressure onto Platform members to find new ways and means to agree much quicker on information than in the past?

Brian Baldwin : Correct. It means the Platform, in 140 characters, putting something out that is relevant on what is just happened in Addis Ababa, or again, if you were reading the Financial Times last week, the president of Ghana was looking at the issues of cocoa production in Ghana and was saying, “Look, there is a problem with rural youth in Ghana, not seeing that they have a future in the agriculture economy in Ghana, and they prefer to work in the cities.” Then the president of Ghana posed the question, “who therefore is going to harvest the cocoa?”, which is one of Ghana’s principal exports. Now, I think in there there’s a substantive issue about incentives for rural youth to find employment and job security in agriculture. Which exists, and which the Platform could highlight and lead into other documentation. But importantly, lead into where members are working. I think there is an issue, the Platform, an example - a discussion on youth unemployment in Ghanaian cocoa production needs substantively to be taken up by one of its members, or be highlighted already by one of its members. The Platform is saying, “Look, this is an issue, this is how the membership of the Platform are dealing with it.” And it may be that FAO have already initiated a programme, or are aware of that issue, or another donor. Just to – if you like – avoid the Platform taking on the substantive day-to-day work, which I would argue needs to be done by a member itself. And if a member is not doing it, fine, then the Platform doesn’t necessarily need to highlight it.

But the strength of the Platform should be its membership and what the membership is doing. And that’s why I go back to the work that the World Bank and FAO did on statistical analysis, that the US led on CAADP, or the that DFID Germany or the US are leading the land group. That’s significant. That’s a significant model for the way the Platform operates.

Pascal Corbé (Secretariat): Is there need for the Platform to change its modus operandi to be able to respond more quickly?

Brian Baldwin: It means that either Platform members and/or the Secretariat need to have a strategy that says, “Okay, when we know there’s going to be key events that we believe are relevant to our membership, and those key events will be events that we’ve discussed already at the AGA or in other fora, where we’ve highlighted upcoming events, that the Platform and/or its members are ready to be putting out short messages on Twitter or on eUpdates on the Platform website.” So for example, like I said, we just finished the Addis Finance for Development meeting, with the Declaration. I would want to think that that’s available on the Platform website, and I would want to think that one or two Platform members had gone through it and highlighted those issues that were relevant to agriculture. I know for example that IFAD, WFP and FAO are all mentioned to a lesser or greater extent in the Addis Ababa document. That would be useful if those three members were to highlight within the Platform what was significant to agriculture.

Pascal Corbé (Secretariat): So you need to find a way to respond quickly.

Brian Baldwin: It would mean then the secretariat contacting the focal points of the three agencies, and say, right, tell us where the particular pieces within the Addis Ababa final agreement highlighted those members. And we will highlight that either on a Twitter output or the website as well, depending on the substantive nature of the work.

Pascal Corbé (Secretariat): You’ve always pushed for the Platform to take a strong advocacy role. And you’ve continued to do so even after the food price crisis and the succeeding allocation of more budget towards agriculture. Why is important for a Platform of this nature to be more than just an exchanger of knowledge?

Brian Baldwin: The Platform has always said it wanted to do, and saw the role necessary, of both knowledge exchange and advocacy. The two are not linked: one doesn’t go up and the other one goes down. Knowledge exchange is important, and knowledge networking is important. We can talk more about that. I think central to that issue is the desire at any one time of members who want to share knowledge on a particular topic. You’ve seen where we’ve had success in sharing knowledge: CAADP, climate leading up to Copenhagen, more latterly land. I’m always guided by what the members want to lead on knowledge, and to make sure that there is a good number of members, particularly want to share knowledge on a particular topic, because knowledge management takes resources and time. And I think if the Platform is going to add value to the knowledge, not necessarily substantively, but add value to the networking of knowledge, it needs to spend some time and go into some detail on particular topics. And not simply skim over or recycle at a low-key level at some of the existing knowledge. That’s the comment on knowledge.

I would focus on issues of advocacy, of course it is the initial raison d’etre of the Platform was to advocate for agriculture and rural development. We had the successful 2008 Report. I think you’re beginning to see declines in donor financing and ODA for agriculture. I believe that advocacy for rural development is still very much on the agenda. And I think the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals, one has seen the importance of that continued advocacy. Because we now have a SDG, second goal, which focuses on food production, nutrition, in the rural sector. It wasn’t there in the initial drafts. It took some strong advocacy from IFAD, FAO, the World Food Programme, and others to get that SDG into the final list of goals.

So, the advocacy has moved but it is still needed. There are still issues that we need to be alert to advocate for. I think the importance of advocating still for the principals of the Paris Declaration, in terms of country ownership, leadership alignment. And most particularly, for results, managing for results and accountability for results, needs continually to be advocated.

And I think you are going to see as we move into the climate meetings in Paris at the end of the year, again, a strong need for someone to be advocating that agriculture may be part of the problem, but it is also very much part of the solution to climate adaptation and climate mitigation. So the goal posts of advocacy are moved. But I think it’s important for members of the Platform, and this is where the Platform comes into its own, collectively the Platform membership is stronger when they’re pulling together. So, if the Platform is able to produce in the lead-up to the Paris Meeting small pieces that advocate for outputs, that advocate for the role of agriculture in supporting the climate agenda, that would be very welcome.

Pascal Corbé (Secretariat): Originally advocating for the Platform meant trying to change the overall setting on the side of the donors towards more resources for agriculture development. Do you think that there is maybe a new role for the Platform in trying to support the donor governments in their advocacy with recipient governments?

Brian Baldwin: I believe there’s different needs for advocacy. Whether the Platform as it is constituted is a vehicle for advocating directly to governments, I’m personally not sure and not convinced. Some of us have argued this in the past, if there is to be advocacy to government, it’s best done by governments themselves by their own multilateral engagement or bilateral engagement. It doesn’t yet need a third party to attempt that level of advocacy. And to some extent, that also speaks to the credibility of how the Platform is perceived by governments. I would envisage going to an African government, under what basis do you start to advocate on behalf of the Platform? The first reaction would be who are you, where are you from, and who do you represent? Focal points don’t represent the Platform, they represent their institutions. The Secretariat represents the secretariat, it doesn’t necessarily speak for the members, and we haven’t empowered the secretariat to speak for our individual institution. So that level of advocacy, at the government level, is best left to bilateral governments and other institutions.

I think our Platform’s advocacy strength is of a partly academic nature. It is putting knowledge out, knowledge of course that is directed to governments, but directed to other donors, to civil society, to the private sector; to inform, to educate and advocate on agricultural matters.

Pascal Corbé (Secretariat): Why is important to also have a look at the enabling environment and not just stick to the narrower field of agriculture and rural development? And maybe even also have a look at the aid effectiveness, development effectiveness debate?

Brian Baldwin: I think people have realised it was never a narrower field. It was a wide-open plain, if you like. In terms of promoting agriculture, if you take it to its conclusions: you promote agriculture, you promote cultivation and production, and ergo you are also promoting marketing – which means consumers - and it very quickly takes you into the urban environment. Effectively, what you’d be doing in a given Asian or African or Latin American country, is saying a country has the ability to produce, market, and sell its own agricultural production and reduce its dependency on agricultural and processed food imports.

If you see the level of agricultural imports in African countries, many of those imports, for example tomato puree, could easily be produced locally. It’s not the question of pure production, it’s the processing, the marketing, the quality control of good quality agricultural produce. And that means looking at a more holistic picture of agricultural production, investment, urban demand, processing and moving beyond a rather simple, “let’s just produce more tomatoes and hope somebody will buy them.”

And that goes beyond aid effectiveness, I think we’re clearly now talking more about development effectiveness. That was the message coming through from Busan. Development effectiveness is a partnership, led by the country at country level, including donors, but also including civil society and the private sector in a much more collegial, respectful partnership than any one donor seeking to be effective in a particular area.

That also has parallels in how the Platform begins to operate now. It’s talking more to other partners. It’s talking to the private sector, it’s talking to foundations, it’s talking with civil society. It’s also understanding that the Global Donor Platform is in itself not enough to successfully and sustainably promote agriculture. It needs a bigger partnership. You’re almost at the stage of talking about the global rather than donor partnership, just the partnership approach for agricultural development.

Pascal Corbé (Secretariat): Where do you see the Platform going in that regard? Does development effectiveness mean more exchange on what is in the pipeline in terms of programmes?

Brian Baldwin:The Platform is well placed to adapt itself to the way that agriculture/rural development is evolving in close proximity and conjunction with urban development. I was recently working in Sri Lanka with IFAD talking with government and also with young unemployed rural people. They don’t necessarily see this distinction between rural areas and urban areas. They see a much closer relationship, moving from one area to the other. That speaks much more to an issue of partnership between urban and rural areas, private sector working in both areas supported by government, the enabling environment we talked about. It means government recognizing the need for particular incentives, perhaps, for investment in rural areas. Ensuring that there’s a conducive financial environment in terms of tax incentives, or transparency in government procedures, in labour laws, in land transfer laws, and agricultural credit facilitation that will produce that enabling environment for investors, including smallholders, to invest more in agriculture.

Pascal Corbé (Secretariat): 2015 is obviously an important year for development cooperation and especially for rural development. Where would you say should the Platform put its future focus, and maybe also how should it position itself within this evolving landscape?

Brian Baldwin:First of all, the Platform has to be listening very closely to its members. I think this is where the members themselves need to sit down and address that issue themselves. – Here is a process issue coming through first - Recognizing what their own institutions will do and how collectively they may wish to work together in the Platform to facilitate what they do as institutions and how they can extend that to a wider audience. Clearly one of the themes coming through has to be engagement with the private sector, and to facilitate more private sector investment in agriculture. That means engaging with governments, which means the Platform supporting its members, providing the information that will facilitate their institutions in engaging more at country-level with governments and with private sector. Sharing examples of how you do that – there are certainly some donors who have strong experience working with private sector – I think DFID, I think the Netherlands in particular have good experience both in terms of financial services but in marketing arrangements. That knowledge, if we could seek it out from the members and then pass it onto other members, who are perhaps only beginning to enter into this dialogue with their recipient governments at an early stage about the private sector, this is information on approach that would be valuable for them. That is one type of intervention the Platform could facilitate.

The point I’m making is the Platform is only as strong as its membership. It requires the members to take up this particular challenge. You can’t just do it one annual general meeting. It requires a special calling together of the membership, not just the Board. Calling together the full membership and saying, “Members, we’ve just had the Finance for Development meeting, we’ve just had the SDG goals, we’ve just had the Paris Climate Meeting – Conference of the Parties – what do you see your institutions doing in those areas? How can that be enhanced by what other members are doing in other parts of the Platform?

If you have that glue, I take confidence in that that is a possibility in the way that I’ve seen members come together in CAADP, in climate change, in land, in work that is happening now a little bit with the private sector, linked also to trade, that’s coming through strongly. And I believe that the Platform has to make decisions to focus on those key areas. And I believe that dissipating its resources across many many different themes and areas, effectively dissipates its influence and its longer-term credibility. You can’t be putting out Twitter messages and Platform updates if you’re covering many different technical topics. Let’s find three or four topics in a particular two-three year period, and build up some technical expertise, potentially within the Secretariat staff, or perhaps with a stronger linkage with membership. The Platform has four members, at least here based in Rome, it has the Italian Government IFAD, WFP and FAO. Wouldn’t it be an idea at some point to have a Platform Secretariat member based here in Rome that would begin to feed some of this information out into the Platform much quicker than it does at the moment.

Pascal Corbé (Secretariat): Does the Platform maybe need a strong lead theme for each year, in order not to dissipate, not to dilute its resources?

Brian Baldwin:We had the High-Level Forum for Global Partnership for Effective Development in Mexico last year, which began to set the scene of recognizing what came out of Busan, the importance of having a partnership. I think the Platform is well situated to build on its existing partnership of donors, to continue its outreach to the private sector, to civil society and to other foundations and to start to consider how it will absorb the messages that are coming from the Financial Development meeting from the SDGs from New York in September, and from the climate work. And say, what are the two or three key areas, only, that the Platform wants to work in over the next three years? What’s the Platform going to be recognized as? Why will people go to the Platform website? Why will people spend a few moments every morning checking the Twitter account of the Platform? Not for generic discussion about topic X, Y or Z, perhaps. But perhaps they will be going because they recognize that over the last six months or a year, the Platform has consistently reported on climate issues and the role of the private sector, or land and the importance of land transfer or land rights in a particular zone. The Platform becomes a “go-to” site for pieces of information. Because, if you need to find information about agriculture, if you just “google” it, you could find tremendous amount of information. You may not end up always going to the Platform website. You may end up, and rightly so, on the FAO website or the World Bank’s website, or the IFAD website.

So the Platform is going to have to look to really where it brings its comparative advantage and its value added, and potentially focus on two or three hot topics. That means making a choice. And you may not reach, because the Platform is made up of nearly 30 diverse members. There may not be 100% disagreement. But, let’s take the 70/30 rule that says 70% of the Platform members think we should operate in two or three specific areas only, and focus our skills on that. Potentially build relationships with a member. If a bilateral member in Europe, not necessarily multilaterals in Rome, but another member in The Hague, London or Paris, or Bern says, “Look, we want to be the Platform focal point for land, private sector, investment, or climate” – fine. The Secretariat puts in a staff member for 18 months to supplement that bilateral donor’s piece of work and produce the output. That would be wonderful to consider.
That is not saying we don’t need the Bonn centrality, that’s needed. Let’s build on the strengths which are sitting within the institutions of the Platform, and say fine. Let’s find some young professionals, some interns, a senior technician, technical staff, who will work in Bern on topic X, who will work up in London on land, or who work in The Hague on private sector, and channel that work out to the rest of the members. I think that will be a very powerful business process that will allow the Platform to have a very strong commodity, selling point that people will then come to the Platform. If you want to know what donors are doing in the private sector and engagement with the private sector, let’s check out that website that is linked into what’s happening in The Hague. Between 12 and 15 years the Platform has been running. I think we need to slightly evolve that model in the light of the bigger development programme.

Pascal Corbé (Secretariat): If I put it in a nutshell, is it a plea for focal points to commit to a particular area and be active in that area with the Platform?

Brian Baldwin:It’s asking the members, the focal points, to make choices of two or three particular areas that they believe as a development community that we need to work on. And then, within their own institutions channeling their institution’s knowledge into that one topic and if it supported by the Secretariat, by persons potentially in the field as well, or out-posted, not necessarily working with governments but to work with bilateral members. One of our co-chairs was based in Nairobi, perfect. If we actually have one of the members who is working in Asia or Latin America, and is going to be the focal point for a private sector hub, I think that will be an ideal opportunity for the Platform.

Pascal Corbé (Secretariat): So that would go beyond the declaring something as being important. Once you declare something important as a focal point you would have to commit yourself to work with the Platform on it.

Brian Baldwin:Absolutely, we need to move on beyond the last day of the AGA where we all say what we want to do, the real day-after which is saying how we’re going to do it. And how we’re going to do it is not necessarily saying Secretariat, can you do it for us? It’s saying we will individually commit to doing it. And you can see the Platform is able to do that. DFID and Germany have committed to the work we are doing on land. Netherlands has committed to the work we’re doing on the private sector. It is not a big leap forward to say how can you enhance that commitment, how can other members help you enhance that commitment and join you in that commitment. Again, it might not mean the Platform’s classic membership fee is paid directly to Bonn. Maybe some of the financing can go directly to what’s happening with a land group based in DFID London. There’s a little bit of variations on the theme here.

I don’t want to touch on the governance issues too much, it’s just being flexible to respond to events. And I think events are moving faster, sometimes, than the Platform is ready to respond to. I’m just thinking how we can adjust how we operate. Economies are evolving. I was recently in Sri Lanka, which has an evolving economy, it may be a middle-income country in the city, but in parts of rural Sri Lanka it is still a low-income economy. The government is looking clearly at the type of agricultural knowledge and resources it wishes donors to engage with. It needs some specialised support and services. How can the Platform membership exchange and facilitate knowledge on that? We’ve done it in the past. We did some country studies and we looked at issues where the Platform could share its knowledge in a particular country context. That needs very much individual members to take the lead of wanting to do that.

Pascal Corbé (Secretariat): So they all need to become more proactive?

Brian Baldwin:They are already proactive. They have to make choices. And the choices are to move away from a multi-faceted spectrum of activities into a focused and targeted set of objectives which will give the Platform, its membership a credibility, a reputation as the “go-to” platform for knowledge and advocacy on that particular topic.

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