The Market Corner: Market Systems Development in Fragile and Conflict-Affected Situations

October 25, 2021


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This post is the second installment in Marketlinks' new blog series, The Market Corner, which explores market systems development (MSD) implementation in fragile and conflict-affected situations (FCAS) during the month of October. The series' first installment contains part one of Holly Krueger's interview with Maha Hayek of the SEEP Network on implementing MSD interventions in FCAS.

In this post, I continue my conversation with Maha Hayek, Resilient Markets Adviser at the SEEP Network and the facilitator of its Markets in Crisis (MiC) community of practice and experienced MSD professional, and ask her thoughts on characteristics of effective MSD leaders in FCAS and the challenges faced in inclusive market development.

Q: What makes an effective MSD leader in FCAS?

MSD guidance is a map, and you have to chart your own journey.

To be honest, you don't need to follow the guidelines or manuals word-for-word to be an MSD expert. For me, they are just a map, and you have to chart your own journey. These resources give you some basics, and I like to refer to the wikis and cases on Marketlinks and other platforms for ideas. But in FCAS, the context is always different. The context of the target group, the scope of work, and the capacity levels will all influence the work, so you can’t use a pre-defined approach. For example, a women’s empowerment program could look very different from a youth livelihoods program. 

Effective MSD Leaders in FCAS have the ability to monitor, analyze, and initiate.

As an MSD leader working in FCAS, you should be aware of the changes that happen in the market and constantly monitor what is happening around you. You should also be aware of what is happening with other donors and other agencies that are working in the area. In FCAS, the actors that are working in the system are not necessarily just the private sector and producers — it is often also NGOs. I find the stakeholder mapping exercise during a market systems analysis to be crucial. I also rely on the skill/will tool to assess and prioritize partnerships with both the private and NGO sectors.

Remember, the market systems conditions could change continuously, especially in unstable situations, so stakeholder mapping should be updated appropriately. This could be done quarterly or after witnessing a significant change in the market system. 

Cooperation is a point of strength in MSD work in FCAS.

You don't want to overlap or duplicate, and sometimes you have to take the lead and think creatively about new interventions. Usually market systems approaches are typically working on longer time horizons. You cannot just say, for example, to malnourished people that they have to wait until the system works for them. In this context, collaboration with NGOs who have a mandate to intervene directly and early is key.

Q: What do you want to hear more about from leaders in MSD?

I would like to hear more about how we shift or influence cultural norms in FCAS. For me, this was not easy work. Telling farmers, for example, that they will have to pay for seeds or fertilizers or negotiating with a partner to provide a matching grant requires a cultural change, because in conflict areas there is a legacy of conventional, direct-delivery interventions.

At the same time, it is not easy to convince donors to change their expectations. If they pay $1, they want to see their intervention have $10 of direct impact. How do you tell them that maybe our intervention will not give a tangible benefit in the short term, but will hopefully lead to more resilient market systems in the medium and long term?

Q: How do you approach inclusion in the context of your work?

We talk the talk, but don’t (yet) walk the walk.

Okay, I'll be honest with myself and with you: we all talk about inclusive market systems. But what we end up doing is just incorporating that inclusion lens in the analysis. For example, we define the constraints affecting women or youth, but when it comes to real life implementation, there is still a big gap.

We continue to measure our impact by the change to the market system, and unfortunately not by the actions of individual firms towards excluded or vulnerable groups. We try to include considerations for vulnerable or excluded groups, like women and youth, in the selection criteria, interventions, and outreach activities, but at the end of the project, we will look at the overall change in the market system.

Yes, I find this to be a challenge in many MSD programs and not just those operating in FCAS. I’ve seen some programs experiment with integrating GESI considerations in their systemic change framework, but it can often be clunky. It does, however, need to be addressed, because as long as GESI goes unmeasured, it will continue to be discarded after the analysis phase.

Positive pressure from donors and governments to do more for excluded groups.

We are receiving stronger signals from donors and non-market actors to positively impact excluded groups regardless of the formidable constraints faced in FCAS. Recently, I was involved in a program working in the potato value chain. We were supposed to mainstream women’s economic empowerment in our intervention, but we couldn't find women who were really active in the sector. At that point, we pivoted away from supporting women leaders in the sector and focused instead on attracting women to the sector and helping them become role models for other women. Through this work, we hoped to challenge gender stereotypes about women’s roles in managing and benefiting from farming activities.

We did this by showing how they could manage successful farming enterprises by themselves. For example, how to rent land, how to farm, how to negotiate with the private sector, where to market their produce, and so on. We couldn’t use a facilitative approach for this work. Because it is not easy to find women in active functions in the market systems (due to social cultural norms), we couldn’t mainstream this within our intervention but had to do it apart. We can’t say at this point if it's the right or wrong approach, but it is how we were able to engage women.

But we must dig deeper to understand the root cause of these exclusionary norms.

Something I am really interested in is what creates these norms. For example, what are the root causes of them? I think we have to work from this starting point. We can see that the change will not be systemic or sustainable if you are working with the symptom and not the root cause. For instance, if the norm is that women are not allowed to travel long distances alone, what is the root cause? Why this precaution? Is it that we have to think about the other perspectives of the community? Is it inside the woman herself? Is it her role as a woman, a wife, a mother, or a sister? By answering these types of questions, we will be able to design inclusive, equitable, and sustainable interventions.

Want more interesting reads, tools, and frameworks on MSD and FCAS?




photo of Maha

Maha Hayek
Maha Hayek is a market systems development specialist with six years of experience in designing and executing development and humanitarian projects in conflict contexts. Maha has contributed to the implementation of leading international development programs in Palestine, funded by DFID, SIDA, and DFAT. She worked as a market systems development adviser with DAI in the Gaza Strip. Maha has worked on applying market systems development approaches to different economic sectors including agriculture, textile, and IT. Maha is now working as an individual consultant helping develop intervention strategies that contribute to pro-poor economic development and promote youth employment and gender inclusion. Maha is also leading the resilient markets thematic area at the SEEP Network and is facilitating its Markets in Crisis (MiC) community of practice.



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Holly Lard Krueger
Holly Lard Krueger is a managing partner at the Canopy Lab and a market systems development expert with over 15 years of experience providing technical advice in the field of private sector development/engagement with a specific focus on applying digital technology, gender equality and social inclusion (GESI), market systems, and Value for Money (VfM) principles to project and strategy design for agriculture, humanitarian aid, business enabling environment reform, trade, urban development, and women’s economic empowerment programs.

Holly is a proven strategic leader, having managed large market systems projects with diverse teams. She is also skilled as a strategic advisor, coach, and trainer in the practical application of systems approaches to market development, and she is currently an advisor to USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance, a World Bank-funded program in West Africa (TFWA), a DFAT-funded program in Indonesia (PRISMA), and a FCDO-funded program in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (Essor). Holly is based in Morocco and has worked in over 15 countries in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East and has implemented projects and conducted evaluations for leading donors, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, DFAT, IFC, FCDO, USAID, and the World Bank. She has an M.A. from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a B.A. from Vanderbilt University.