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Times of Change: Organizational Innovation in Nicaragua's Territorial Learning Alliance

(Valerie Poire) #1

Originally published at:
In the center-north region of Nicaragua, local organizations working with coffee, cocoa, and mixed crop-livestock production systems have joined forces under the Territorial Learning Alliances launched by Humidtropics. As this initiative continues to boost networks of collaboration and transcend territories, local agricultural development organizations are participating in knowledge and learning spaces that are empowering them to take on leadership roles to foster organizational and territorial innovation.

“Innovation can only be achieved when we’re clear about the environment, and what the issues and opportunities are. Often there is no innovation because there is a lack of understanding of the context,” explains David Sarantes, Asociación para el Desarrollo Social de Nicaragua (ASDENIC) in the municipality of Estelí. “In the Learning Alliances where we converge, we can see the realities of our territories in a broader space, what the difficulties and strengths are. It is an ideal environment that favors innovation.”

A Snapshot of Organizational Innovation in the Territories

Humidtropics conducted an Organizational Analysis to collect primary data from organizations working in Nicanorte to learn about their past and current activities, innovations, alliances, and future directions as they relate to Humidtropics’ potential as an integrated rural development leader in the region. This Analysis provided an important baseline data set to monitor and evaluate learning and innovation among organizations at the Territorial Learning Alliance level (through Innovation Platforms) and at the national level (through the Humidtropics Research for Development (R4D) Platform).

Among the identified trends linked to desired themes of innovation and change were sustainable productivity, commercialization, natural resource conservation, and innovation, knowledge, and learning. Processes of innovation and change are often multi-organizational, with learning occurring mainly through internal experience and with research partners. However, the organizations identified economic, human capacity, and cultural limitations as the main factors hindering future innovation and change. Others include productive, commercialization, technical, institutional, and alliance and partnership elements.

Raul Dias Web

Raul Diaz, ASDENIC: “The biggest obstacle is the rejection of other organizations, because they aren’t used to failure. If they failed once, they won’t try again. There have been many attempts at productive initiatives that failed and died out, so we have organizations and farmers who are caught in a culture of failure. But if we build processes where it is valid to fail, and to use that failure as a base to try again, until we have success, if we follow that line, we can overcome that obstacle.”

The limited extent to which organizations are learning from other programs, local and national organizations, and producers provides an opportunity for Humidtropics, as both a facilitator and member of the Territorial Learning Alliances and Innovation Platforms, to engage member organizations in learning from each other and empower them to draw on each other’s expertise.

Transcending Territories: Building on a Base of Knowledge and Learning

Times of Change 4 Web

Rural families and communities have been empowered through the promotion of knowledge and learning spaces, which have simultaneously established strong skills and abilities in territorial organizations to replicate innovative project management and problem solving in other instances, both within and beyond the Nicanorte Learning Alliance. This has also inspired local organizations to take on leadership roles, to keep nurturing ongoing initiatives.

An important topic is how the organizations working in Waslala can join efforts with other organizations, to share our experiences and pool our human, technological, and financial resources, which are sometimes dispersed, but we can bring them together," said William Muñoz, Fundación Madre Tierra (FUMAT) in the municipality of Waslala. “It is a challenge we are still facing regarding innovation, how to combine our resources to innovate in our work, so we can scale our efforts at a municipal level, and, if possible, beyond.”

The Innovation Platforms are providing a solid base to create a common space without a pre-established agenda, where each organization is able to voice their needs and those of their territories. Through the sharing of knowledge and learning, inter-organizational competition is being challenged, focusing instead on the common goal of facilitating development processes with rural farming communities, thus seeing farmers as the base for change at territorial and national levels.

David Sarantes Web

David Sarantes, ASDENIC: “When you connect a farmer to other specialists, such as plant breeders or civil engineers, you are opening the farmer’s experience, mixed with the knowledge received, to possibilities of innovation and entrepreneurship.”

This sharing among organizations generates capacities for all human resources involved at every level, which has led to the establishment of micro-alliances by Learning Alliance members to tackle specific problems at territorial, community, and farm levels. Finally, the importance of research as a base for development initiatives is being adopted by local development organizations. Through institutional innovation initiatives facilitated through the Alliance, organizations are motivated to be actively involved in the process by taking the research to the field.

“These projects with the Alliances, they aren’t large funds, but the results are huge,” explains Nereyda Gonzalez, Asociacion de Educacion y Comunicacion “La Cuculmeca” in the municipality of Jinotega. “Their impacts are sustainable, because that learning stays with people, it stays with the organizations. That is the added value of our experience with the Alliance.”

To learn more about how Humidtropics territorial alliances help to innovate and change farming in Nicaragua, watch this video:

Blog by Shadi Azadegan, Communication Specialist, Central America and the Caribbean, International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). Blog edited by Valérie Poiré, Communication Officer, Humidtropics. Photos and video by CIAT/Humidtropics.