SPIA and ISDC chairs, IAES Director, and IAES’s Evaluation Function Lead were invited to connect in person at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation over several days in late February at its HQ in Seattle, Washington, United States, to build awareness of our work. Though a short visit spanning just a few days, the trip led to a rapid and effective expansion of mutual understanding of needs and opportunities.

IAES, ISDC, and SPIA extend a tremendous thanks to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for making possible our visit.

As Dinah Washington soulfully reminds us, one day can make an enormous difference. This is how visitors from IAES, SPIA, and ISDC perceived our recent visit to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 

The global pandemic taught the world a new way of working, gentler on the resources of time, money, and carbon, engineered around a steady stream of virtual interactions. Yet, on occasion, meeting face-to-face, whether for a day, a couple days, or a week, is an ingredient for successful, long-term partnership. In a survey of thousands of Harvard Business Review readers, 95% attest to the importance of face-to-face meetings in building and maintaining long-term business relationships (HBR 2009). In our visit, face-to-face interactions provided a different way for independent advisory and evaluation entities to engage and understand one of CGIAR’s strongest funding partners, by meeting and talking with many of the staff working on the foundation’s Agriculture Development strategy. 

El Anatsui (Nigeria), Seeds of Hope, 2011
Commissioned for the foundation campus, this work by El Anatsui was inspired by the work of the foundation, particularly the many programs in Africa.

The centerpiece of our visit was communicating the key purpose of independent advisory and evaluation service in CGIAR, and how fulfilling that purpose can benefit CGIAR’s funding partners. We revisited our raison d’être as independent service providers, as well as current and planned activities. The visit allowed a deeper engagement with the foundation’s Agricultural Development and Monitoring, Evaluation, Learning, and Impact Assessment (MELIA) team members, to better understand their need for and use of independently generated advice and evaluative evidence. SPIA presented its plans and homed in on reach studies in countries. ISDC unpacked its commissioned project on megatrends, the project’s implications for the CG portfolio, and outlined ISDC’s approach and criteria for reviewing CG proposals – namely the Quality of Research for Development Frame of Reference. The visit allowed IAES/Eval function to address how process and performance evaluation contribute to assurance mechanisms for CGIAR stakeholders, particularly the ongoing Science Group Cluster Evaluations, and to explain the CGIAR’s Evaluation Framework and Policy

The hosts expressed curiosity about what the independent services can do to boost an investor’s understanding of how and which technologies and innovations will contribute to the Agricultural Development team’s goal “to support farmers and governments in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia that are seeking a sustainable, inclusive agricultural transformation—one that creates economic opportunity, respects limits on natural resources, and gives everyone equal access to affordable, nutritious food.”

As we approach mid-2024, IAES and the external bodies we support are formulating our plans for CGIAR’s next three-year business cycle. Thus, the trip to Seattle was timely, as well as beneficial. Understanding demand and need for our work is rooted in deep and thoughtful conversations with user groups, among them CGIAR’s System Council members. Visits and interactions like this will be among many inputs to formulate our triennial plan. Having a clear and current understanding of the needs and systems of knowledge from funding partners’ points of view is essential for our own planning. 

Four key takeaways from the visit are:

  1. At UNFCCC COP28, CGIAR circulated an ambitious investment case. Funders expect to see the investment case supported by clearer metrics, priorities, and impact reporting – and interlocutors during our visit expressed that they value independent advisory and evaluation services playing a role in defining strategic priorities.
  2. Development funders view success through the lens of change in-country. There is a strong appetite to know more about what are the innovations and bundles of innovation that show the most promising impact pathways for the most people in specific country contexts. 
  3. Our conversations made clear that in addition to visibility on the promising impact pathways, the foundation cares about how evidence cycles back into the way CGIAR engages partners, defines its priorities, and implements these priorities on the ground. 
  4. Communities of practice among funding agencies’ MELIA teams, and IAES and SPIA have the potential to create powerful partnerships to share methods, tools, and approaches.

Artof Popof, Livin’ Popof, 2011
Created by French graffiti artist Artof Popof, Livin’ Popof was displayed with Bill Gates at the Trocadero in Paris on April 4, 2011.

It is the privilege of IAES, ISDC, and SPIA to serve within a multilateral system. We are keen to replicate our deep and meaningful interactions with the Gates Foundation with other investors and CGIAR partners. Soon after the meeting, we were delighted to have the opportunity to meet GIZ’s Fund International Agriculture Research (FIA) colleagues visiting Rome. We will continue to blend online/face-to-face opportunities, and as we prepare for the 20th meeting of the System Council, prepare both for formal interactions as well as meetings on the margins. The teams plan to be well represented at CGIAR’s forthcoming Science Week 2024 in Nairobi, and SPIA has circulated its invitation to System Council members to the SPIA Fest one-day event on 2 August. What a difference a day makes – we look forward to many more days interacting with CGIAR stakeholders. 

Upcoming opportunities to engage:

  • Formally and at the margins of CGIAR’s System Council’s 20th meeting, Brasilia, Brazil
  • Through drop-in calls ISDC hosts with CGIAR System Council members 
  • Through the ongoing real-time learning events associated with Science Group evaluations
  • CGIAR’s Science Week 2024 and the presence of IAES, ISDC, and SPIA colleagues
  • Opportunistic visits in Rome, Italy, where IAES is hosted by the Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT
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