Framing CLA: Relationships & Networks in Bangladesh
Framing CLA: Relationships & Networks in Bangladesh
This blog post is part of USAID Learning Lab's Framing CLA blog series. Organized according to the subcomponents of the CLA Framework, the blog series features question and answer with development practitioners who submitted cases in the 2016 CLA Case Competition. This blog focuses on: relationships & networks.
USAID Learning Lab: What is your full name, title, and organization?
Ellicott: Alexis Ellicott, Chief of Party, USAID/Agro-Inputs Project in Bangladesh (AIP), CNFA
USAID Learning Lab: What was the development challenge you addressed in your CLA Case Competition submission?
Ellicott: Impact-oriented gender programming is not an easy feat anywhere, but especially not in Bangladesh’s agricultural sector. On AIP, we used an iterative process to design (and improve) our women’s-only matching grants program. We learned along the way that the challenge wasn’t simply finding more than 200 women to take the grant; it was addressing properly and overcoming the societal barriers for them to accept the grant opportunity in the first place. This was where proper communication and relationship building with the grantees’ family and community leaders was critical.
USAID Learning Lab: Your case is a great example of one of the enabling conditions of CLA: Relationships & Networks. Can you tell us about how this aspect of CLA helped you address this development challenge?
Ellicott: Relationship building has been key to success for AIP’s work with women. While many women were found to be “grant ready” and had potential to become successful agro-inputs retailers, the AIP team found that often the grantees’ family or community questioned the need for her to work in a new domain or had reasonable concerns about the time a new business would take away from other responsibilities. Through group meetings in the grantees’ community, the AIP team was able to address these concerns and garner official, community support for women’s new business ventures. Building that relationship—putting names and faces behind the granting agency— paved the way for women accept the grant and open a new agro-business. Local representatives and elders had a say in the activity, which strengthened the likelihood of lasting success for grantees’ new enterprises.
USAID Learning Lab: What advice would you give to another team looking to be more intentional, systematic, and resourced in Relationships & Networks?
Ellicott: Bangladesh - like many countries - is a place where relationships and hierarchy count a lot. Local project staff can help unravel “who is who” in a local community and suggest good ways to garner support for development programming. Sometimes this support may come informally or may require more direct involvement of local leaders. In any case, it is best to spend the required time mapping the community power structure (and addressing geographical differences in cultural mores) before embarking on any intervention.
In addition, grantees were included in a broader group, the Agro-Inputs Retailers Network, also supported by AIP. Inclusion in this professional organization of more than 3000 retailer members availed women support from their male retailer counterparts (informally and through formal mentorship), while allowing women direct leadership opportunities in the Network’s governance. Connection to a broader framework appears to give the grantees more confidence that there are resources in place to assist them in their new business.
USAID Learning Lab: Why did you choose to use a CLA approach?
Ellicott: In fact, the CLA approach chose us. When embarking on the grants program, we did not have a full appreciation of the local societal constructs that would make it difficult to create niche employment opportunities for women in southern Bangladesh. After starting the process, and receiving questions or push-back from women’s families or communities, AIP added several new steps to its “getting to grants” activities, including awareness and acceptance meetings within the community. While we knew that each grantee would require training and capacity building to become a successful agro-retailer, we later realized that formal incorporation of grantees in AIRN’s leadership structure would further their relationships with male retailers and also help ensure sustainability.
USAID Learning Lab: How did your holistic CLA approach influence your organization’s culture?
Ellicott: Knowledge sharing across programs is common at CNFA. While each country context is different, CNFA champions the link between empowering women in the agricultural sector and achieving greater impacts in agricultural productivity, economic growth and nutrition across its programs. As furthered by lessons learned in implementing AIP, responding to the unique societal challenges that women sometimes face – to step into the world of agribusiness – is an important part of the organization’s broader approach to women’s empowerment in the agricultural sector.
CNFA works to integrate CLA and gender on a variety of projects. For example, CNFA implements the USAID Restoring Efficiency to Agriculture Production (REAP) Program in Georgia, which launched a Strategic Platform ‘Gender-Equitable Agricultural Development’ two-years into the project. This platform serves as an effective instrument for dialogue, networking, and interventions related to agribusiness, as well as the promotion of profiles of women agriculture entrepreneurs, young agriculture entrepreneurs, and gender-sensitive or gender-equitable agribusinesses to contribute to behavior change at the executive level of agribusiness industry.
The platform acknowledges that, like in many countries, Georgian women face mobility and time constrains due to their reproductive, community-managing, and productive roles, which was assessed to be limiting their engagement in various activities. Consequently, associated interventions were designed to cater to the needs of women agriculture entrepreneurs – continued education and training, with a number of short sessions (modules) throughout the year that mix theory, business simulations, case studies, practical work, consulting/executive coaching, discussions, demonstration visits and peer-to-peer mentoring.
USAID Learning Lab: How did your holistic CLA approach influence your project’s development outcomes?
Ellicott: AIP’s grants program brought the CLA approach to the fore. Rather than focusing on getting the grant completed, the AIP team used its experience in the field -positive and negative - to build a better, more robust grants approach. This learning-as-you-go attitude also allowed staff to fear obstacles less and to make suggestions or observations more freely about our work. This allowed AIP to engage in continual self-improvement to support agro-retailers (both male and female) and to apply lessons learned to our program at large.