Irmgard Hoeschle-Zeledon, coordinator of the East and Southern Africa region for Africa RISING, answered some questions following the recently completed annual review and planning meeting for Africa RISING’s East and Southern Africa region and the wider program. She shared her keywords for the next phase and the focus is clearly on the whole project being larger and more meaningful than the sum of the parts…
How would you compare the development of the project in this region with other Africa RISING regions?
West Africa and the East and Southern Africa (ESA) projects are different particularly because they followed a different approach in the first year: ‘Jumpstart’ – or early win – projects in ESA on the one hand and an approach around objectives and outputs defined towards achievement of these outputs in West Africa. In Ghana and Mali to a large extent we can continue with this work plan but the objectives, outcomes, outputs etc. have changed as the research framework was developed. Activities we have started will fit in the two main research outputs from the research framework (see RO1 and RO2 on the research framework graph).
There is a commonality between these two regions: Early activities (jumpstart and outcome/output activities) were largely independent from one another. Despite our agreed objectives, in West Africa some partners worked on sites they had already been working on before; we had to work on those sites because thorough site selection (which would have helped define common sites for all activities) would have taken too long to still allow field work in the current season and achieve results that could be reported by September 2012.
What will be your particular focus (personally) in the next few months?
I have to ensure that in both project research plans are developed, teams formed, lead agencies and lead scientists for the research activities identified, budgets developed etc. to allocate funds to various actors. I have to report to the donor on year 1 achievements.
My focus will also go strongly to partnerships and how they are developed in order to learn lessons from the other two projects and where applicable join hands with their research activities.
What have you learned, looking back at the past year of Africa RISING?
Several changes occurred – some imposed by others. We sometimes agreed on something and then new ideas came in. There has not always been enough consistency. For instance we started the program with three projects (in the three regions) and in ESA we planned for it then worked on maize and rice systems separately and finally had to bring these systems together and the three regional projects under one program; then we launched activities with specific deadlines in the Dar-es-Salaam inception workshop but not all of them were respected. The development of the research framework took a long time as well. We have created lots of expectations this year, within our own organizations and among the partners with whom we started planning at the beginning of the year. Some partners have been frustrated along the way and some things remained unclear e.g. indicators, reporting formats etc.
On a positive note, people have not lost interest. Expectations are also a positive thing. There has been a lot of commitment and interest (with a few exceptions). Despite everybody’s workload we got the contributions that we needed.
How do you see the work get integrated at program level?
We have made good progress towards that objective by having several meetings whereby the Ethiopia, West Africa and East and Southern Africa teams came together, such as the recent Ibadan meeting on the research framework, the Ethiopia meeting on monitoring and evaluation… We have worked together on the program document, the communication strategies apply to the entire program. The job now is to communicate to the outside world. Sooner or later we also need another program coordination team meeting. We had one such meeting in Ibadan but not all members were available.
What are your keywords for Africa RISING in general?
Integration, cross-learning, synergies. We have not fully overcome our institutional borders. We have to learn to think beyond these.