Thirty years ago, I started my career in international development by overseeing the sale of a shipload of Thai rice to local traders in Dakar, Senegal. Soon after that I became involved in helping West African countries increase their ability to export food to regional and international markets. Today, my work centers around improving food value chains, both for sale and consumption within country as well as for export. Throughout my professional journey, that first contact with the no-nonsense world of food trade stayed with me, as I tried to reconcile my business-focused background with the typical development project results framework.
In the private sector, experience quickly teaches you lessons about flexibility and being opportunistic. Such behaviors stood out as my colleagues and I implemented projects that involved local farmers, food processors and sellers, and other key market stakeholders to improve their relationships, their practices, and ultimately, their incomes.
But the informal sector’s opportunistic behaviors were often seen as a threat. The expression “side-selling,” for example, implies a counterproductive behavior on the part of farmers who decide to sell outside of a formal contract arrangement. We seldom questioned the contract itself nor the farmers’ true reasoning for doing so. We would rather complain about ineffective litigation laws than seek to align incentives around shared values.
Today, “market systems facilitation” approaches are embracing that complexity and aim to harness the energy and dynamism of the private sector to yield inclusive and equitable growth. Over my career I’ve watched countries build their local and export food supply, introduce game-changing technologies, and better feed their populations, often by engaging individuals and local firms rooted in the informal economy to step up and seize new opportunities.
But along the way, I saw that most development project results frameworks only went so far, and that successful facilitation needs to be more adaptive in its response to continually shifting, complex markets. With my colleagues at RTI, we call these deceptively simple tactical shifts “Market Moves.” We turned some of those moves into three short animated videos.