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“More than Micro” Milestone 5: Establishment of the GROOVE Learning Network (June 2009)

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Microlinks Team

The milestone.
When the opportunity arose to apply for USAID’s New Partners in Value Chain Development grant, Lucho Osorio, International Market Systems Specialist, recognized the potential for Practical Action to benefit from USAID’s investment. “We could not believe that a donor was talking about iterative learning and value chain development,” Osorio said. “It was the perfect moment to engage.”

USAID awarded the New Partners in Value Chain Development grant in July 2009 to four grantee organizations - CARE, Global Communities (formerly CHF International), Conservation International and Practical Action - in an effort to support a growing cadre of organizations who wanted to improve their knowledge, skills and abilities in the field of value chain development in collaboration with USAID and other major donors.

A core feature of the grant program was the formation of a learning network to generate knowledge targeted at key industry constraints and to capture and disseminate learning to the wider enterprise development and related communities. The New Partners in Value Chain Development grantees moved under the banner of the Growing Organizational Value Chain Excellence (GROOVE) Learning Network.

Over the course of three years, the four grantee organizations not only pursued their individual initiatives, but were encouraged to coordinate efforts with input from each other, to collaborate as a network on group deliverables, and to seek input from other industry and practitioner networks focusing on value chain and market system development. 

The challenges
The grantees faced a common challenge of bolstering their capacity in value chain development programming: How do we take staff that knows very little about facilitation or value chain development and get them to the point where they can make a difference? In addition to building staff capacity, these organizations also faced the institutional challenge of systematically integrating the value chain development approach into existing programming in a variety of technical areas. “There was a lot out there on value chain programming, but practitioners were left trying to understand how to ‘get it off the page’ in a practical sense,” noted Christian Pennotti, Senior Technical Advisor at CARE.

In addition, the challenge of encouraging open and honest knowledge sharing among participating organizations – and with USAID – was evident: “There was a clear need to break organizational boundaries between individual organizations and others in the field who were doing more or less the same thing. We were neighbors physically, but poles apart in terms of relationships and knowledge sharing because, to some extent, we are all competitors,” Osorio noted, reflecting on the early stages of the GROOVE Learning Network. “The idea of a donor creating incentives for us to come together, to learn from one another and create things that are bigger than us and benefit the industry is huge."

Its significance.
The diverse range of activities and approaches implemented by the GROOVE organizations proved to be incredibly valuable for not only the individual organizations, but also for the broader network and their collaborative efforts.

The GROOVE Learning Network’s blend of perspectives, including institutional approaches focusing on gender, food security, ecosystems and participatory market systems development, put the network in a unique position to address this gap.

Nina Ullery, speaking on behalf of Conservation International, stated, “Virtually all of us do integrated programming, and this was an opportunity for us to not only take the lessons learned which have been put out publicly by the large, established organizations doing value chain development, but also a chance for us to look at the different lenses that we all bring to the table.”

The GROOVE Learning Network’s collaborative knowledge products have focused on two key learning components: monitoring and evaluation for value chain projects and capacity building for value chain practitioners.

Looking forward.
In addition to the collaborative products produced by the GROOVE members, USAID is using the experience of this learning network as it continues to understand, learn from and adapt approaches to better encourage learning-oriented activities among implementing partners, spread awareness and understanding of good practice, and catalyze industry-wide change. In particular, GROOVE heavily informed USAID’s practices on learning networks. To learn more, read visit USAID Learning Lab’s Learning Network Resources Center.

Next Up - Milestone 6: "From Microfinance to Inclusive Market Development" Evidence Summit