Encouraging Nigeria’s youth to engage in agribusiness

Guest blog written by Abubakar Murtala Mohammad

This is a blog series written by the alumni of the Implementing Public Policy Executive Education Program at the Harvard Kennedy School. Participants successfully completed this 6-month online learning course in December 2020. These are their learning journey stories.

The understanding of Public Policy Implementation became a necessity for me after my appointment as the Senior Special Assistant on SDGs to the Executive Governor of Nasarawa State, Nigeria. My career path has, up till then been in the Private sector where the main aim is profiteering as against the Social services for communal purpose of the public sector. My first instinct for success is to equip myself with the requisite Public Policy knowledge. This is with a view to reduce the incidence of Policy failure on all my assigned duties.

There is no better place for this learning process than the IPP Program as offered by Harvard Executive Program which I immediately applied for, and when I got admitted, my excitement was beyond measure.

I have attended quite a few Executive Education courses, mostly as in-person events. I therefore commenced the IPP Online program with a mixed feeling as regards to the content, engagement, and fluidity of knowledge transferability. I discovered, some weeks into the program, that the IPP Online is a well-structured program with engagement as close to an in-person experience, but only better-thanks to Salimah and Amber. The program is intense as well as extensive with a caution for ‘burn-out.’ A good use of feedback mechanism is encouraged throughout the duration of the program. Thumps up Ms Anisha Poobalan, my TA for interactive feedback and encouragement.

Throughout the period of the program, I can identify the following as some key take-aways.

  1. PDIA is the best tool for multi-sectorial, complex public policy Implementation due to its dynamism in providing solutions through Iterative processes that foster learning.
  2. Complex Public Policy successes largely depend on our ability to construct and de-construct problem matrix with a view to identifying entry points, the ‘FISHBONE DIAGRAM’.
  3. Multi-Agents participation is required for complex policy implementation with each agent playing a unique leadership role that encourages engagements, interactions, and taking small steps leading to resultant small wins.

I am involved in planning a Program to encourage youth to engage in agricultural value chain production. The scheme is designed to address the issue of Employment and Empowerment for the growing number of unemployed youths. I therefore adopted the Government Policy thrust on Youth as my Policy Challenge ‘AGRICULTURAL YOUTH EMPLOYMENT AND EMPOWERMENT SCHEME’ (figure 1).

Figure 1: Fishbone diagram. Source: author

One of the focus of the scheme is to provide a sustainable means of income to this ever-growing segment of the population. We started with a pilot scheme on 500 hectares of land to be cultivated by 500 qualified Youths and merged with this training workshops (figure 2 – 5). Sesame seeds is the crop for production because of its marketability, soil suitability and ease of management. It is interesting to mention here that iteration was used in the sorting and selection of the Land for the scheme. By its nature, the policy challenge is a Complex one with a multi-sectorial dimension. Each stakeholder and agent is, therefore playing a unique role whose aggregate will lead to Policy success. 

Figure 2: Training workshop for the Youth Employment and Empowerment Training Scheme.

Figure 3: Land cultivation for Sesame seeds farming under the Youth Employment and Empowerment Training Scheme.

Figure 4: Grown field of sesame seeds plants.

Figure 5: Harvested Sesame seeds plants.

At the commencement of the Program, I had this naïve belief of totally understanding my policy challenge and on course to achieving a successful outcome. An introduction to the concept of complex policy approach changed my initial misunderstanding. At the point of learning the difference between Simple and Complex policies, Team and Teaming, I had a complete re-orientation of my critical path. I introduced this new knowledge to my colloques, and we proceeded to segment the problem, stakeholders to invite for engagement, and their level of participation. This led to problem construction and de-construction wherein we developed the Fishbone diagram as an innovative tool to proceed with. The Fishbone diagram helps to identify the root cause of the problem to customise solutions, how to engage with the problem, and which stake holder/ multi-agent should be contacted and involved in addressing the problem. It highlights the concept of responsibility and ownership, entry points, small steps to be taken and small wins anticipated. The Fishbone Tool brings to bear the different actors in the iterative process, with the authoriser playing a pivotal role to progress, performance can easily be measured, and bottle necks identified and dealt with. In between this technicality is the streamlining of roles, participating stakeholders, connectors, motivators, mobilisers, facilitators, authorisers etc. For instance, the active engagement of the executive governor of Nasarawa state that served to motivate the youth as well as help to keep activities on track (figure 6).

Figure 6: The executive Governor of Nasarawa State on a recent visit to the Sesame seed farm under the Youth Employment And Empowerment Training Scheme.

We identify entry points and small steps taken through the adaptation of PDIA ( Problem Definition Iterative Adaptation) which encourages the process of learning through engagement, adapting and progressing by constant repetition or iteration as progress is made possible and the learning process exciting. We also observed that functionality and legitimacy are equally enhanced.

My key motivating factor is the concept that problems/challenges are opportunities to learn from and further the cause of the policy. The use of Emotional Intelligent as a leadership tool to address the 4Ps excited me because it creates a path of changing advocacy to inquiry, dominants to engagement/caring/listening and humility.

I am constantly engaged with the implementation of one policy or the other by the nature of my current office, at present I am a member of two newly constituted committees which by their names are complex in nature.

  1. Nasarawa State Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs)
  2. Nasarawa State Steering Committee on N-CARES, a Nigeria Government Post- Covid 19 intervention with support from the World Bank.

My practical hands-on knowledge gained will offer me an opportunity to introduce the PDIA approach using the Fishbone diagram to construct and de-construct perceived problems until it is properly defined and refined. I will use the Fishbone as a platform for stakeholders’ engagement, interaction, and roles identification. This way, responsibilities can be shared, and ownership improved. Another pillar in my learning process is proper use of Emotional Intelligent to address the challenging application of the 4Ps of Leadership. It can be used to engage with Authorisers and other participating members in this ‘teaming’ idealogue.

Coming into the IPP program with a near zero knowledge of Public Policy or its Implementation, I am today at a point where I was able to share my learning experiences with senior civil servants in my state when I delivered a presentation title ‘IMPLEMENTING PUBLIC POLICIES TOWARDS ACHIEVING THE SDGs ‘ (figure 7). Overall I have learnt in the Six (6) months of the course the intricacies of delivering a successful policy outcome through learning that encompasses public administration, sociology, psychology, diplomacy/art of listening, emotional intelligent, art of interaction; and above all, through inquiry and the process using Iteration. The program has taught me to view encountered challenges as an opportunity for a successful outcome.

Figure 7: I, presenting paper on ‘Implementing Public Policy towards achieving the SDGs’ to Senior Civil Servants in Nasarawa State at a Senior Civil Service workshop.

Learn more about the Implementing Public Policy (IPP) Community of Practice and visit the course website to apply.

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