For AVC’s 5th Quarterly Portfolio Meeting, all the teams came together for 2 days and had discussions regarding the Project’s performance in the last quarter. The Project operates under the Market Systems Approach and one of the ways in which the Project applies this approach is by finding leverage within the local system that can drive system change from within the system. One of the more important leverage points within market systems is a lead firm. Finding and developing a relationship with a lead firm make for a tricky process and as a result, an important skill for the team.
The Market Systems Team is comprised of technical leaders who work with select market actors from within the market system that have the interest and ability to catalyze change from within the targeted agricultural market systems. For AVC, by working through lead firms, it is better able to effect real and durable change that is leading to increased rural incomes, rural employment, and grow the market systems more inclusively. The theory of change behind working with these market actors is that if they improve their strategies and business practices, making them more inclusive, they will create competitive pressure that drives others in the system to follow suit. An example of such a partner would be an input supplier firm who serves the farmers with quality inputs. Under the Market System Approach, AVC would facilitate the supplier in changing his/her strategies which would lead to the firm adopting a range of new tactics that would eventually drive the firm to be more value-adding and customer-oriented. Ultimately, even when the Project is long gone, the partner continues to serve the market with quality inputs for his/her own revenue-generation incentives, but now more effectively and efficiently with the help of the newly-adopted tactics, and the farmers continue to have better access to quality inputs. Thus, sustainable development is achieved.
The Market Systems Team decided to depict how the technical leaders make use of this the Market System Approach with the help of a simulation game during the Portfolio Meeting, where the audience was split into 5 teams and each team was asked to think from the perspective of a technical leader and make decisions about activities with various partners. The modality applied is explained as follows:
1. Each team was allocated USD 16000 to award to partners as grants for various activities which they (the teams) were asked to choose later on in the game. The game was divided into two rounds, like two modules of contracts that the Project sets up with partners in the real world.
2. Each team was given a piece of paper containing profiles of 5 prospective partners. The teams were asked to choose any 2 partners that they would like to work with.
3. Based on the partners each team chose, they were given choices of activities that they can implement with the partners. The activities were printed on cards which contained information about how much grant money they had to pay to invest in specific activities and how many points they would earn for those chosen activities. Within each set of activity cards for each partner, there was one hidden special activity card which was a System Change activity. This activity, if chosen for implementation during round 1, would give the partners bonus points and reduced costs of investment in round 2.
For e.g., for Partner B, the activity “Establish QMS and acquire certification” is a System Change activity. Implementing this activity would help standardize and elevate the quality of the partner’s supply chain, and would make it easier and more effective for the partner to implement other activities like attracting export clients or branding its produce as of good quality to consumers.
4. Then there was a draw of lucky cards with each team, which either left them with more points/more money or fewer points/deducted money.
5. Round 2 started with the teams being given another set of choices of activities for investment under Round 2. If any team chose the special card for any one partner or both of their partners during Round 1, then they could earn more points for lesser amount of money for the new set of activities. If they failed to choose the special card for their specific partners, then they paid the regular amount of money for fewer points. The two scenarios were distinguished with asterisk marks on the money and points for the special cards, and no asterisk marks for missing out choosing the special cards.
6. Next, there was a round of dart-board game where the purpose was to bring out the ever-present uncertain environment of working in a Project. More often than not, a Project faces a host of external pressures and disruptions. Some are positive and some are negative to the aims of a project. These are beyond the project’s control and can be both local (such as local political unrest, cultural maladjustment, infrastructural barriers) and international (such as shifts in global economy, unpredictable decisions from the donor’s end, disruptions in global/regional political stability). The dart-board game served to represent one such externality related to a donor. One member from each of the teams who had grant money left over at the end of the game was asked to come to the front and throw darts at a dartboard. The dartboard had regions of “WIN” and “LOSE”. If he/she hit “WIN”, then his/her team received a Project extension and so, was awarded extra points. If he/she hit “LOSE”, then his/her team were told that the donor is having a funding challenge, and so they were penalized.
7. Finally, the scores were tallied up, and the winning team and the runners-up team were given awards.
8. The session was wrapped up with discussions explaining the logic and the turning points of the game, and about the message and the key learnings that the Market Systems Team intended to convey through this simulation game.
**Acknowledgments: The modality for the simulation game was inspired by Margie Brand’s Agricultural Input Supply Market System Simulation Training, which she offered at Dhaka in March to an audience of supply chain managers from NAAFCO, one of AVC’s partners. Margie supports practitioners and donors in strategic planning and facilitation, intervention design and implementation, and capacity building and training. She has trained over 4,500 trainers and master trainers, and has developed market systems development, value chain, enterprise, microfinance, and entrepreneurship curricula and tools, which have been translated into over 15 languages and used in over 35 countries.
***Rubyat Tasfia Rahman is an Associate in the Market Systems Team at USAID’s AVC Project. She recently graduated from IBA, University of Dhaka and is passionate about food security. Rubyat’s favorite pastimes are travelling and trying different kinds of food.