Ravinder Kumar Agarwal
BFP: What do you do?
RKA: I am Associate Program Director at TechnoServe India. I work with many private sector companies in two ways, viz. a) as part of developing and expanding their supply chains which benefit farmers, bottom of pyramid populations with direct connections and market linkages for their produce…I, along with team here, also facilitate farmers /producers’ entry into primary /secondary processing of their produce to get better remunerative markets, b) facilitating on ground implementation of CSR /food security agenda of the companies who are willing to support business models oriented development, one of which is farmers’ producer companies. I am currently on the forefront to support many producer companies of reasonable built and base to progressively become sustainable and profitable enterprises.
BFP: What is the best part about your job?
RKA: The best and most exciting part of my job is to work with producer companies and support them to overcome many challenges that they face in their internal organisation (governance, shareholder reach et al), in their business model (working capital, operating efficiencies etc.) and in their dealing with the markets (market linkages, leveraging relationships etc.). I think this work is pretty transformative for more than 2000 shareholder members for each producer company. The most exciting part is also the fact that work is currently equally recognised by private sector, policy and development stakeholders as of paramount importance. The intensity, scope and breadth of this work will only increase in the times to come.
BFP: What have been your greatest challenges?
RKA: Economic and social development is a complex phenomenon, requiring diverse actions, at different levels to work in tandem for it to happen effectively, for it to deliver results and so on. Obviously it requires time and patience for the results to happen. We can always watch out on milestones and observable trends and success indicators on the way. Working with corporate, it’s been challenging to work with a long term vision and timeframe. The projects get sometime designed for short duration for delivering kind of results that can only be expected in the long term. The ‘light touch’ models do not work anymore in development. In fact the ‘light’ goes out in these projects when intensity goes down. Long haul, medium to high intensity is probably what can lead to better results and can potentially unleash multiplier effects of the interventions. One more challenge is related to maintaining the thrust on bottom of pyramid populations. The challenge is more pronounced in corporate supply chain led projects than in corporate philanthropy driven ones.
BFP: How have you overcome these challenges? / What advice, would you give to others?
RKA: Well, constant education, interactions, and conviction building is important. The other ends of the spectrum i.e. corporate are also similarly sensitive to the issues of practicality of results and ‘inclusiveness’ of the development agenda. It takes enormous vision on behalf of a development organisation to work with private sector effectively i.e. in a win-win sort of way. The companies get what they are looking for and development organisation ensures that its own mandate is served well through businesses of the private sector organisations. The maintaining of balance and achievement of twin objectives (of both corporate and development) is easier said than done but is not impossible to think of and achieve. It does take resourcefulness, dynamism and courage of conviction for the development organisation to ensure high degree of corporate satisfaction and medium to high degree of development results.
BFP: If someone wants to do what you do, where should they start?
RKA: Well, ideally start where it all begins, i.e. at the design stage of the projects. Herein resourcefulness of ‘you’ should come into full play as you sometime have to use the power of persuasive words and sometimes have to put your foot down in terms of what is possible and what is not going to be possible. Corporate by their very nature are quite ambitious breed (which explain their passion and success in their business). They are similarly ambitious for the development results to follow in their two dimensional logic (input-output type logic is used very coherently in some of these discussions, e.g. if water-melon farmers are trained for growing seedless variety, how is that productivity and income can not improve). It’s a process of joint discovery, learning together and enriching the project design, that we need to facilitate. Corporate have brilliant minds and if harnessed well, and if they are on your side, then a great project and development outcomes are sort of guaranteed.
BFP: Finally; what do you hope to get out of being part of the BFP community?
RKA: It’s where I belong. After having spent more than one and half decades in social and economic development space, I am firmly convinced about the role of businesses in fighting poverty. It can come not only from inclusive businesses angle (where poor are either producers or consumers) but also from corporate philanthropic initiatives. I have been fortunate to be part of delivering team on both sides. There are enormous adjustments to be done to the agenda and initiatives of ‘business fighting poverty’ so as to make it effective and transformative. They are truly challenges to this process which can only be addressed through reflections on one’s and other’s experiences. The BFP community provides an opportunity to ‘plug in’ whenever required…in times of success and when you are ‘down’, kind of looking for doable solutions…
Thank you to Ravinder Kumar Agarwal for taking the time to do this interview.
Read previous Member of the Week interviews here.