The Private Sector Development Strategy back story

From Mylene Kherallah of IFAD's Policy and Technical Advisory Division:

“Oh no, not again” was my first reaction when asked to lead the preparation and write-up of IFAD’s new Private Sector Development Strategy. I had already been through that experience in 2005 for the old strategy, and it was not exactly a pleasant memory.
A programme in Sri Lanka links smallholder farmers with
private-sector partners. © IFAD/G.M.B. Akash
The purpose of the strategy was clear enough: to help create new markets and opportunities for poor rural people by deepening IFAD’s engagement with the private sector. And it was not the writing that I minded. It was trying to obtain the consensus across the house through the various committees and getting the approval from the Executive Board that was the most daunting task.

Having to go through endless revisions, and incorporating comments that often contradicted each other, was an agonizing process – especially since the word “private sector” was interpreted differently by various people involved.

But how can you say “no” when a senior manager asks you to do something? So, building on my previous experience, I decided that the best way to handle this was to (a) take it one step at a time; (b) seek help and lots of it; and (c) use this occasion to improve my ability to listen, tolerate different views and develop my sense of humour under duress. Not sure I succeeded in applying point (c) at all times, but at least I tried.

Despite my apprehensions, I have to say that it was not as painful as I thought it would be. Despite a contentious informal seminar, a pre-feasibility study that was conducted in an extremely rushed timeframe, and a failed, long-winded attempt to circumvent official procurement procedures for the study (shame on me), the strategy was approved at its first submission to the EB in December 2011. My worst fear was that they would ask us to revise and come back again at another EB meeting, which is what happened for the previous strategy. But not this time!

In retrospect, I think several things made it work:
  • enough lead time – we started work early in January 2011 and therefore had enough time to “take it one step at a time” between organizing a Policy Reference Group, writing various drafts and PowerPoints, getting feedback, seeking consensus in-house and obtaining the various approvals;
  • a Policy Reference Group made up of a diverse mix of committed IFAD staff, which really made it happen – aside from the technical and strategic guidance, it was a fantastic moral support group;
  • communication and consultations with other staff and external stakeholders, which improved our knowledge in this area; and
  • the Senior Manager’s (Kevin Cleaver’s, in this case) constant guidance and support, quick responsiveness and his great sense of humour, which helped keep everything in perspective.