By Stephanie Sullivan
Organizational Development Specialist
Over the past six months I have had the opportunity to work with Counterpart International’s Food for Progress Program in Guatemala. As someone who came out of Counterpart’s civil society division, this program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture was an opportunity for me to see first-hand how the other half of Counterpart’s programming works.
In the project we are using monetized funds (proceeds from sales of USDA crops) to support the Improved Technical Support to Farmers program. There are three main components for this support: 1) revitalizing the agricultural extension agent program that has been defunct for the better part of 30 years; 2) working with a local micro-credit lender to provide low-interest/no-interest loans to farmers; and 3) building the capacity of cooperatives and farmers associations so they can provide support in the most effective and efficient manner to their members.
My initial assignment was in September 2013. During this trip I worked exclusively with our staff to introduce them to Counterpart’s framework for organizational development and adapt the tools for Guatemala.. They will use these tools to build the capacity of cooperatives and farmers associations Over the course of our week together, it was clear that there were other Counterpart Way approaches I could share as a long-time member of the Counterpart family.
The Project Director Ms. Maria-Ester Bucaro recognized this and was quick to throw any and all questions my way. One of her questions was for me to give some advice on the content of an upcoming training session.
I took one look at the design and shared that it didn’t track with what I was hearing from her as the needs of the extension agents.Nor did it reflect the Counterpart Way in delivering training or approaching development. Together we talked though the purpose of the agricultural extension agents at the community level and what, as Maria understood it, are their existing skills.
I shared with her a recommended course for the extensionists so that they can be more effective in the communities they support. Maria asked me to meet with representatives of the Ministry of Agriculture (MAGA) and share with them Counterpart’s general development approach, our approach for engaging women in traditionally male-dominated contexts, and our work at the community level. The Ministry representatives liked what they heard and developed a comfort level with me in particular.
As a result, I was invited to lead a training session for 80 agricultural extension agents scheduled for January 2014. To meet the demands of an 80-participant workshop, I engaged Counterpart’s gender technical specialist Jenn Williamson to co-facilitate the workshop. We were eager to focus the workshop on practical and useful information and tools that the participants could use in their communities and could also easily transfer to other extensionists and community leaders.
Working as a team, we were able to quickly outline the goals and learning objectives and design the training agenda with interactive sessions. The MAGA observers were skeptical at first; their comfort level was with lecture-style training.
They understood all we were doing once the extensionists practiced in local communities. The MAGA observers couldn’t believe how much information participants were able to get from community members and how much knowledge there was in the communities.
Our training approach and the results generated at the community level were exactly what the Ministry had been looking for, without knowing how to articulate it. They also saw that the approach we were using could quickly be transferred to community leaders to facilitate conversations with the community when an extensionist isn’t there.
The workshop was instrumental in helping MAGA understand how they can work with communities to improve agricultural production in a sustainable way.
As a follow up, Counterpart just found out that MAGA is officially integrating this training module into their university-affiliated training curriculum.