Country office immersion– an innovation mainstreaming initiative

As Photo Editor and Photographer for IFAD, I have had several opportunities to travel to the field over the last 16 years. What was missing from my experience was visiting an actual IFAD country office.  This is why I was interested in participating in the country office immersion initiative. 

 I have a good understanding of how IFAD works and I have been working in the field of communication long enough to know how IFAD communicates and how the Communications Division works with the rest of the house. What I wanted to explore was how this all fits together with the country offices. How do they carry the IFAD brand in their host country? How do they communicate nationally and regionally? How do they work with IFAD headquarters? What can we offer them?  What do they need from us? And the biggest question for me was, how does it feel to work in a country office?

I chose to visit Viet Nam because it is a country office that was established early on, and has a track record in communications. The country office staff was very welcoming but they were a bit perplexed as to what I was actually going to do in Hanoi. Because I also wanted to take some photographs and work alongside the Communications & KM Specialist, and because the Country Director and Country Programme Officer had a busy travel schedule, I ended up with a very interesting itinerary.

I gathered photos while Lam gathered stories in the Ha Tinh province, I spent time in the office in Hanoi getting to know the staff and sharing the Communications Toolkit, and I traveled to the Mekong Delta with Henning and Tung to attend a project completion workshop for the Improving Market Participation of the Poor (IMPP) project in Tra Vinh province. There, I also worked in the field with a local knowledge management officer from the IMPP project. I got to see their knowledge share fair, attend the opening ceremony and witness how the country office staff worked with the local project and province authorities. 

Pham Lam interviews farmers in their home in Ha Tinh province
©IFAD/Susan Beccio

Hong Diep Duong hops over irrigation canal in Tra Vinh province
 ©IFAD/Susan Beccio

My trip to Viet Nam was an incredible learning experience on many levels. I feel I have a deeper understanding of what it feels like to work in a country office. I also have a wider perspective on the meaning of communication for an international development organization. This often includes the quality of human relationships that are built in the field and the necessity for each and every staff member to feel empowered enough to build these quality relationships and communicate IFADs message. The IFAD staff members in Hanoi are very good at relationship building in country. I enjoyed watching them work.

This positive experience has given me clarity on the responsibility that we have as a division to build relationships with the ‘in country’ knowledge management and communications officers.  We can provide communication support and training to supplement the Communications Toolkit distribution, and we can begin to create helpful IFAD communication networks so that all staff, in HQ, in the country offices, and in the projects receive the necessary support to communicate at the level, style and with the tools they feel most comfortable with.

Thank you again to Hoai, Lam, Tung and Henning for welcoming me to the IFAD country office in Hanoi, Viet Nam and including me in your real-time activities.