“It was a tremendously exciting meeting. The energy and the level of engagement were just terrific and didn’t let up over the entire three days, as we moved through each phase of discussion.” That’s how Executive Secretary Dr Mark Holderness describes the GFAR Constituent Assembly, which met in Bangkok 24-26 August, to decide the future purpose and governance of the Global Forum.
Dr Holderness describes the meeting as a “landmark” event for the Forum, now almost two decades old. “We now have a renewed ‘community of practice’, a very wide range of people from all sectors, who understand what the Forum is trying to achieve and who fully share its objectives. That’s very encouraging: to see this very high level of endorsement, across the board, of the principles and approach, the role and value of the Forum… It really feels like GFAR has come of age.”
Building that understanding and consensus was challenging, at first. Participants came to the meeting with very different perspectives, knowledge and expectations of GFAR. The first session was invaluable in finding common agreement on the Forum’s role and purpose, to the point where the participants could then redefine its Vision and Mission. “We now have some very clear messages about what the Forum is, why it exists and the value it brings for all.”
Understanding “Collective Action”
Participants were also able to agree on the basis of how they would work together in future to transform agri-food and innovation systems. Along with the new Vision and Mission Statements, a new basis for GFAR Collective Actions will be included in a revised GFAR Charter.
“Many business models are nowadays all about collective action and working together towards common goals,” explains Dr Holderness. “What we are seeing in GFAR is the institutional walls coming down and people finding ways of working together, even where there may have been ideological differences before. That is the real value of GFAR and that was confirmed and endorsed during the meeting. If people are looking for support through the Forum; technical or financial, to help catalyze their initiatives – they now have some clear guidelines as to how to make it work.”
New governance structure
From March 2016, GFAR will have a new governance structure, directly representative of the constituencies it serves. A Partner Assembly, composed of global and regional partners will be responsible for setting strategic direction, and will meet every three years as part of the Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD). The Partners Assembly will elect a new, broader –based Steering Committee, accountable to the Partners in GFAR, which would meet annually for the governance of the Forum’s activities, programmes and budget.
The next steps will be to progress the new governance structure. The current Steering Committee will meet in December to decide how to identify and select participants for the Partners Assembly, which will meet at GCARD3 in 2016 and set the new structures, and a revised Charter, in place.
Focus on communication
Regular communication will be critical to keeping up the momentum now generated among the partners in GFAR, through the transition to the new governance arrangements and in the lead-up to the first Partners Assembly. A revamped GFAR website will provide a more collaborative and dynamic space for GFAR Partners to share information on their activities, as well as the means to “sign up” as a Partner in the Forum.
“The Constituent Assembly has successfully renewed the legitimacy, governance, role and purpose of GFAR. I want to acknowledge the efforts of the Secretariat team in organizing the meeting, the Strategic Governance Working Group for preparing the Discussion Papers, APAARI for managing the logistics on the ground, and our sponsors, particularly the EC, for their support. But particular thanks must really go to each and every participant, for really engaging and contributing such valuable points to the discussion. It was a truly international, multi-stakeholder meeting, where everyone could participate equally. It really exemplified the spirit and value of being part of GFAR.”