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The Busara Blog

Collaboration builds relations

The butterfly effect of partnership

By Nathanial Peterson

Photo by Tom Rogers on Unsplash

The positive effects of a partnership can contribute to the common good in significant ways. Similar to the influence various parties have in building a house, each organization has a unique role to play in creating a structure that will last, even when the individuals who set it up are no longer on hand. Organizations that deal in social and developmental work often rely on each other to lay the groundwork together and leverage their individual expertise to grow and improve their existing business models. This inclusion of perspectives makes for a great start and also serves to shape and cement the need for collaborative practice. The role and value of relationships simply cannot be ignored, especially in a world where one organization cannot do it all. One such example is, what happens when an organization that focuses on behavioral science bands together with one that deals in high-impact digital solutions for smallholder farmers?

Beginning in 2018; Busara’s relationship with MercyCorps AgriFin program has been particularly deep and enjoyable. AgriFin works with a global network of over 100 partners to support the design, test and scale of high-impact digital solutions for smallholder farmers. Through purposeful bundling of products and services, AgriFin leverages the power of mobile phones to build farmer resilience, boost harvests and incomes, and adapt to a changing climate. We were initially awarded a contract to help implement their learning agenda strategy, which involved analyzing data, assessing knowledge gaps, developing intervention solutions, and measuring impact of the program and its partners. We were assigned to their various partners as needs arose and allowed the freedom to pivot those engagements to create the most success for the businesses. Rather than a typical research contract with measurement as the primary focus, we tested and measured for business success and scale of their partners as the primary focus in line with the sustainability objectives of the program.

Given that we have been working in agricultural business and finance for the past 5 years, almost entirely in Kenya, the insights we gained from these previous engagements proved to be broadly useful to AgriFin partners and the areas of the Kenyan agricultural sector. This demonstrated value to their partners led to further engagements separate from our contract. The flexibility we were given — thanks to the strong focus of AgriFin and its donors on learning and sharing — allowed us to optimize the terms of our engagements and demonstrate the greatest value Busara could provide for any specific client problem or client agenda.

The structure that emerged from these engagements has become a standard model of operation that Busara has used in the majority of our new large-scale engagements with NGO partners who work with private companies. The fundamental arrangement requires us to provide three stages of outputs.

  1. Technical assistance to the specific company that remains confidential and is delivered only to the company e.g in the case of our partnership with Mercy Corps AgriFin, this assistance to their partners excluded them. This is done as a quid pro quo to engage these companies, gain access to their data and practices so as to aggregate them for broader insights. The technical assistance availed gives us an opportunity to build trust in merging research, scale and ROI as a partner to that company.
  2. Developing insights for sector players in the same space. Many of our insights are broad enough to be of interest to a number of companies and implementing NGOs in the field, but too specific to be of interest to a global audience or companies in other areas of the sector. For example, understanding insurance referral incentives and social network effects for farmers is interesting to anyone in the smallholder insurance world or African agriculture platforms, but not much beyond.
  3. Building capacity for primary problem solving. The top-level insights and nuggets gleaned from research carried out has allowed us to extend our work to different partners and areas. For example, measuring farmers’ willingness to pay for information services such as specific soil testing, taught us how farmers think about climate resilience and the risk associated with climate change and their mitigation strategies. This helped build our body of knowledge and capacity on problems facing smallholder farms, as well as, competently extend our work to DfID, Green Climate Fund, and to help develop the research capacity of Green Climate Fund’s Independent Evaluation Unit and BAD-Lab.

In turn AgriFin has been able to build on learnings and insights from Busara to inform its Program learning agenda and its engagement with partners. Laying the foundation for partnerships in the way we do business has been a key component of our work. It creates a ripple effect that builds stronger initiatives, and supports the solution of challenges we would otherwise have been unable to tackle alone. By joining forces and using our diversified resources, skills and perspectives, MercyCorps AgriFin and Busara have achieved a great deal more together than is possible individually. As a result of the relationship forged and insights gleaned, we will continue to do so in the future.

Nate holds a PhD in Behavioral Decision Research from Carnegie Mellon University, which he pursued after earning bachelor’s degrees in Agriculture and Natural Resource Economics and Psychology as an undergraduate. As the Vice President of Partnerships at Busara, his primary interest is in how people perceive and manage agricultural risk. His current portfolio includes behavioral and psychometric segmentation to promote financial inclusion, understanding how SMEs can overcome behavioral supply chain issues, and communicating improved agricultural practices.

If you are interested in partnering, building the research capacity of your organization to ensure a positive business outcome or gleaning insights into your sector, reach out and connect with us on our social media platforms, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn

If you would like to support the design, test and scale of high-impact digital solutions for smallholder farmers please reach out to MercyCorps AgriFin on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube



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Busara Center

Busara Center

Busara is a research and advisory firm dedicated to advancing Behavioral Science in the Global South