February 19, 2019

There is significant agricultural research being led and conducted in ASEAN. However, it is difficult for private sector actors to manoeuvre through the complex web of research being produced in the region. Concurrently, there are missed opportunities for knowledge producers to leverage one another’s research and experience. To address this issue, Grow Asia and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) set up an alliance called the Grow Asia Learning Alliance (GALA) that focuses on building an ecosystem to connect knowledge producers and other stakeholders in the value chain while facilitating access to knowledge to the wider Grow Asia network.

Why do we need action-oriented research?

While there is a wealth of knowledge being produced in the region, a lot of this research is not developed with an end user in mind, and thus do not end up being adopted by value chain actors. This results in lost potential in the impact of research in improving the lives of smallholders who could benefit from it.  For this reason, on 24 January 2019 Grow Asia and the Philippines Partnership for Sustainable Agriculture (PPSA) held a workshop to draw out examples of partnerships between academe and the private sector that helped to strengthen agriculture value chains.

Grow Asia invited our private sector and academe partners who have collaborated with each other to share their experiences and the value they obtained through the partnership.

How can we start building trust?

There is still an issue of trust that serves as a barrier to collaboration between knowledge producers and the private sector, as most scientists and researchers still view working with the private sector as “selling out”.  According to Dr. Ma. Carmen Lagman of De La Salle University, this is the first barrier that scientists and researchers need to overcome, as this mindset will limit them from opportunities that could lead to real successes. Dr. Lagman emphasized the need for knowledge producers to do research in areas where there is a demand, but supply is still low – and this will require knowledge producers to partner with other stakeholders outside of academia. Her key takeaway was that real success as a scientist (or any other knowledge producer) can only be realized when your research becomes meaningful to others.

Dr. Lagman sharing her story, which featured the Crabifier App, a mobile application developed to identify the molt stages of mud crabs in the Philippines. This technology is helping smallholder farmers improve their livelihoods by retaining more of their catch.

Another major barrier to action-oriented research is that it is usually not mandated by academic requirements, and thus does not take priority in the agenda of most knowledge producers.  However, as illustrated by Jane Capacio of EMIT C4C, who have successfully conducted action-oriented research in collaboration with the Jollibee Group Foundation, it can be beneficial for knowledge producers to collaborate with the private sector while still meeting academic requirements. For the private sector, working with the right research institutions can reap many benefits – including the provision of frameworks and analysis that could inform more targeted corporate action. Their story clearly illustrates that when both stakeholder groups can align interests and objectives, partnerships between knowledge producers and the private sector also prove to be a cost-effective means of conducting work. The pair highlighted that the key is to find the right partners to enable the type of outcome that you want to achieve.

Most importantly, developing empathy is key in enabling partnerships between different groups of stakeholders. Glenn Baticados of the Technology Transfer and Business Development Office (TTBDO) at the University of the Philippines Los Banos, offered insights from his experiences working in both the private sector and academia. In his current role at the TTBDO, Glenn guides researchers at the university to shift from adopting an “inventor’s perspective” who is tech-focused, to one with an “innovator’s perspective” that understands business development and designing for an end-user in mind. Glenn believes that this shift in the academic mindset is crucial in enabling more partnerships between knowledge producers and the private sector. The reality is that there are still many challenges to overcome, in order to institutionalize more partnerships between knowledge producers and the private sector. But we need to start somewhere, and GALA is serving as a unique platform to start the conversation.

Looking ahead

This workshop is the first out of the GALA programming for the year. It will be followed by a “Pitch Day” in June, which will give knowledge producers an opportunity to pitch their research work to a private sector audience, and have the private sector do a “reverse pitch” to indicate the interests/needs of industry. As with all activities run under the GALA program, a further objective of both these events would be to provide avenues for facilitated networking between knowledge producers and the private sector.

If you are interested in joining the conversation or have relevant insights to share in our upcoming programming – please reach out to Nadia Soerjanto at nadia@growasia.org.

 

(This article was written by Nadia Soerjanto, Knowledge and Innovation Association of  Grow Asia. It was originally published on growasia.org)

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