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Community Contribution

From Households to Value Chain Competitiveness: Adapting Life in the Village

Sep 03, 2013

This article is cross-posted from USAID's Agrlinks site.

On July 8-12, 2013, USAID’s Bureau for Economic Growth, Education and Environment held a 5-day training for 83 private sector development officers entitled, “Engaging the Power of the Private Sector for Development.” On Day 3, the training focused on the linkages between private sector engagement and inclusive growth. As Jennefer Sebstad of USAID’s Office of Microenterprise and Private Enterprise Promotion (MPEP) stated, “We know that growth is a key driver of poverty reduction by creating jobs, employment and secure livelihoods for the poor. We know that the private sector is a key driver of growth. But we also know that growth has greater impacts on poverty reduction where income distribution is equal.” Therefore, private sector development officers can play a key role to promote inclusive growth by recognizing and engaging the poor as economic actors who contribute to and benefit from growth.

During the training, session organizers emphasized understanding decision points made at the household level. The poor are more vulnerable to risks and are especially challenged to allocate scarce resources across production, consumption, and investment activities. The context of household economic portfolios affects decisions to participate or upgrade in specific value chains. To illustrate this relationship between household dynamics and the competitiveness of value chains, session organizers adapted Life in the Village, an interactive simulation developed as part of the Bureau for Food Security’s Agriculture Core Course. Lena Heron (USAID/BFS) and Anicca Jansen (formerly USAID/E3/MPEP) originally created this simulation to demonstrate the difficult decisions faced by vulnerable populations in underdeveloped nations, and how certain types of interventions (e.g. financial services) may or may not make a difference. While some basic premises of the simulation were appropriate for our learning objectives, we still had to make significant adaptations to the simulation for our specific learning messages, audience, and setting. Anicca Jansen and Margie Brand (EcoVentures International) led this adaptation process. Collaboratively, we gained several insights and lessons learned that we wanted to share about this process.

Adapting the simulation parameters

The original Life in the Village (available on Agrilinks here) focused on food security. We realized that markets needed to play a larger role in our adaptation. Therefore, we expanded the original role of mangoes and further developed the mango value chain. We made sure each household had at least one mango tree, added opportunities for households to invest in mangoes (e.g. buy pesticide or mango seedlings), introduced a contracted buyer for their mangoes, and developed a scenario in which one household received a juicer and had a buyer for mango juice. We agreed to keep a similar spectrum of poverty as modeled in Life in the Village, along with social ties and obligations. We also kept most shocks (e.g. family illness, death, and theft) and tailored others (e.g. heavy rains to destroy mango trees as opposed to drought). We took out several components in the original simulation that did not add to our learning messages (e.g. the variable of food security and differing levels productivity as a result of that). Throughout this reiterative process of deciding what to add, subtract, and keep, we continuously asked ourselves these questions:

  • What are the critical components we need to convey our learning messages and insights? Do all of these components add to that? If not, what elements detract from that?
  • Are these components grounded in reality?
  • Are these components easy to understand? If not, how can we keep it simple?
  • Do the opportunities (and corresponding monetary values/costs) support the incentives or disincentives we’re hoping to create?

A group sits at a table while working on the simulation

Thinking through delivery

In addition to rethinking the parameters, we needed to adapt the delivery to effectively manage the simulation. From past experience, we knew that the conversations between two participants in a household help generate those ‘aha’ moments. Since eight participants can comfortably sit at one table, we rearranged the trainees and paired two people per household, with four households at each table. We referred to each table as village to give participants appropriate context. Given the number of participants, we adjusted the simulation delivery so that participants could play through the simulation with minimal verbal instructions from the facilitator. We accomplished this by thinking through what kinds of materials would help participants be more self-directed.

  • Every household had a Household Profile card describing their circumstances and assets, with a graphical depiction on the back. They also had an Income and Expense card for easy reference. We eliminated the Balance Sheet to focus participants’ attentions to the circumstances and conversations at hand.
  • We also transferred announcements traditionally given by the facilitator onto message cards for each village. We divided the room among four support staff so that one of us was responsible for 2-3 villages. I was responsible for keeping an eye on three tables in the far right of the room. I periodically lurked by these tables, close enough to listen to their conversations but far away so that participants did not break from their role play. When I felt the village was ready, I handed one villager the next announcement card. He or she would read that card out loud to the other village members. Therefore, our main responsibility was not explaining rules or giving instructions but rather keeping a pulse on the villages. Throughout the simulation, we coordinated with the facilitator to ensure all groups were relatively at the same stage. The facilitator only made a couple announcements to reinforce where villages should be. This made facilitating the simulation manageable for such a large group.

The simulation itself took about 40 minutes. During the remaining 40 minutes, participants reflected on and shared their insights around the realities vulnerable households faced interacting with markets and vice versa. Following this session, three practitioners gave concrete examples of: 1) how private sector engagement helps to create pathways out of poverty for the extreme poor, and 2) how far down the private sector can go in engaging the very poor. The panelists provided examples from the field of three different models for linking the poor to markets. To download materials used for the simulation, click here.

To learn more about the simulation’s creation and refinement, check out this blog post.