I’m going to Nicaragua!
Greetings. Welcome to my blog. There has been so much talk about systems thinking in the field of inclusive market development yet there has not been much in the way of illuminating how exactly we apply this approach. So I am heading to Nicaragua to work with a group of women who are agricultural producers and members of the San Benito Cooperative to apply systems thinking to market development work. They are very keen on wanting to improve their livelihood options and know that they have to explore and participate in other markets so that they can optimize their income earning opportunities rather than just depend on one crop that is harvested once annually.
So let’s just deconstruct this a bit. What is a market system ?
“A market system is a bounded context that is just broad enough to include all of the actors and institutions that need to be directly or indirectly engaged by a development project in order to make the system competitive, inclusive, resilient and adaptive.” DFID M4P manual
Source of graphic: http://www.technoserve.org/blog/what-is-a-market-system
And what is a complex adaptive system?
“An Entity consisting of many diverse and autonomous components or parts (called agents) which are interrelated, interdependent, linked through many (dense) interconnections, and behave as a unified whole in learning from experience and in adjusting (not just reacting) to changes in the environment. Each individual agent of a complex adaptive system (CAS) is itself a CAS: a tree, for example, is a CAS within a larger CAS (a forest), which is a CAS in a still larger CAS, an ecosystem. (found on: http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/complex-adaptive-system-CAS.html)
In our field of inclusive market development, the value chain approach, which entered our lexicon back in 2004, was an excellent tool to move from business development services focusing on improving the performance of individual businesses to looking at a market system and its discrete activities like input supply, production, processing, trading, wholesaling, retailing and exporting. BUT this approach was weak in tying the discrete elements of the market system to the systems influencing the discrete elements like informal and formal regulations, climate change and geopolitical shifts to name just a few. A linear approach is prescriptive of what should be, while the complex adaptive systems approach is descriptive and allows us to see how things are and then build form there.
This is an exciting opportunity for me, and the women, in Nicaragua. Exciting for me because I get to learn how rural smallholder producers grasp and operationally complex adaptive thinking. How can I present these new ideas so they are easily adapted to the task of analyzing a market and participating in a market system? For the women, they are excited to LEARN and improve their income opportunities.
I leave on November 24 and will be away until May 2015. So stay tuned for our learning journey that we are embarking on!