Through the implementation of a new strategic plan, the Regional Network of Agricultural Policy Research Institutes (ReNAPRI) is forging impactful policy research in Africa with support from the Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Food Security Policy Research, Capacity and Influence (PRCI). ReNAPRI, a consortium of ten African agricultural policy research centers, collaborates on policy research, outreach and capacity building throughout Southern Africa, East Africa and in Ghana. ReNAPRI’s senior program coordinator Dr. Nalishebo Meebelo, who was hired by ReNAPRI with PRCI financial support in December 2019, says three things were clear from the beginning of her time with ReNAPRI: “Firstly, there was an increasing demand for ReNAPRI’s services on the continent. Secondly, we wanted to expand ReNAPRI’s visibility as an agent for policy influence on the continent. And thirdly, we needed to be able to evaluate the impact of ReNAPRI’s work. The best way to organize ourselves to achieve these goals and ambitions was through a strategic plan.”
In early March of 2020, Meebelo traveled to Malawi to begin working with Dr. John Medendorp, the Director of Michigan State University’s Borlaug Higher Education for Agricultural Research and Development (BHEARD) program, along with an institutional capacity development specialist in that program, Cait Goddard, to begin developing the strategic plan. Medendorp and Goddard were leading PRCI’s institutional capacity strengthening efforts and as noted by Medendorp, “We, like ReNAPRI itself, recognized the immense potential in the ReNAPRI network and what it could mean for Africa if ReNAPRI could become a leading voice for food security and agricultural policy.”
Working with PRCI’s Medendorp and Goddard, Meebelo and ReNAPRI adopted a blended strategic planning process that included both online and offline activities; a hybrid approach would allow the planning process to be completed safely during the global COVID-19 pandemic. ReNAPRI used Zoom teleconferencing software to conduct the virtual meetings and used the program Smartsheet to assist with project management. Meebelo credits Medendorp and Goddard with helping ReNAPRI undertake a comprehensive self-assessment and develop a framework and implementation roadmap for the strategic plan and for training her on how to use the necessary technologies to make the planning process possible. Goddard notes that, “Not only has ReNAPRI developed the capacity to create a strategic planning process, they’ve also learned how to work in an entirely virtual environment. In some respects, they are leading the continent in this kind of work.”
Among the plan’s highlights are five pillars or intervention areas including project management, knowledge management, public relations and outreach, process management, and strategic partnerships and resources management. Meebelo says, “Every step of the way we ask ourselves, how do our actions reflect these intervention areas.” In addition to the five pillars, the strategic plan defines ReNAPRI’s five-year objectives and includes an action plan for 2021. According to Meebelo, “In year one, the action plan and objectives have been instrumental in navigating our administrative and hiring needs, and ultimately developing the research and management capacity we need to achieve our policy goals.”
ReNAPRI will officially launch their strategic plan during the 16th ReNAPRI Board Meeting scheduled to take place in May 2021. Now, just over a year from when the team began the planning process the strategic plan is already guiding ReNAPRI’s path toward policy success and its activities and indicators are tracked regularly in close collaboration with the Policy Influence Capacity Advancement (PICA) Team at MSU. With assistance from PRCI, ReNAPRI has begun fostering greater collaborative engagement among its policy centres in research and policy outreach. ReNAPRI centres have established a research agenda for the coming year and have published a multi-country research project on the impacts of policy responses to the COVID-19 pandemic on food systems in sub-Saharan Africa.
ReNAPRI has also begun taking on leadership roles, including its selection by the African Union Commission to lead the next African Fertilizer Summit in collaboration with the Alliance for African Partnerships (AAP) at MSU and the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC). Additionally, ReNAPRI, together with IFPRI, co- Chairs the Task Force on Food Security and Nutrition Data and Hunger Hotspots in Africa during the COVID -19 pandemic and also serves as a member of the Steering Committee under the Regional Food Trade Coalition hosted by AGRA.
In the months ahead, ReNAPRI hopes to engage its individual policy research centres in their own capacity development efforts, including through the use of the PICA process. Additionally, ReNAPRI is looking to enhance its outreach and communications capacity to ultimately enhance the network’s engagement with policymakers, donors, stakeholders, and private enterprises.
For Medendorp, “the most gratifying part of this was the growing sense of ownership of the process on the part of ReNAPRI. A strength of ReNAPRI has been and will always be the initiative of its member centres. Additionally, we are also seeing effective coordination and leadership from the centres. This will generate a really high payoff for the network and its members over time. This strategic plan is now a ReNAPRI process: they’ve taken ownership of it and are already on a path toward policy impact.”