Blog by – Elizabeth Worrall with contribution from Shaun Coffey and Lynn O’Brien
Leadership; easy to say, harder to practice.
“You do not lead by hitting people over the head -- that's assault, not leadership.” - Dwight Eisenhower
As a PhD student I found it easy to get caught up in learning the technical skills but as I looked beyond my PhD, I realised that I lacked certain transferable skills. In science, leadership is often learnt on the fly and sadly, this is reflected in a lot of work environments. At a recent RAID-Crawford Leadership and Management Workshop, I discovered that everyone in the room had a story to tell about their experience under poor leadership.
RAID’s Agricultural Research Leadership and Management Workshop
Agricultural Research Leadership and Management Workshop
At the start of the workshop, a participant that supervised and led a research team introduced his management skills as “akin to setting a bunch of plates spinning and hope that he can keep them going”. I thought this metaphor was a perfect example of the poor professionals that assume formal leadership or management positions without being offered training, which is sadly a common occurrence. From the beginning, the discussion was alive as other people also shared their stories of past experiences. The group was diverse and interesting, everyone had different things they wanted to learn; from cross-culture communication to conflict resolution, to progressing their leadership career.
Workshop participants chatting and introducing themselves.
Armed with the participants’ improvement goals, the workshop co-ordinators Shaun and Lynn jumped into action. Over the next two and a half days, the 25 participants learnt about building self-awareness of styles and preferences, exploring different interactions, managing conflict, providing and receiving feedback, managing upwards and effective project management. The teaching was cleverly designed in a combination of seminar style presentations, class and group discussions and group exercises.
Lynn O’Brien (left) and Shaun Coffey (right), our fearless leaders.
Workshop Key Messages
Some key messages from the workshop that inspired me are:
- Everyone has a different style of working within a team environment. Remember that some people act that way because of differences, not because they are trying to make life difficult.
- Successful feedback should criticise or praise the act, not the person. Try to avoid “I/you” messages.
- Leading and managing people is your real job, not something you do as an add-on.
- A leader sets the vision and broad plan. A manager executes it, doing what is needed to achieve the plan.
- Poor management of scientists leads to poor science
A big thumbs-up from the workshop participants.
Leadership Networking Night
We took a leisurely ferry ride down the Brisbane River to the Leadership-themed Networking Night, which proved to be a perfect way to unwind from an intense day of learning. We arrived at South Bank to stimulating conversation and incredible food. Cute little conversation-starters kept the discussion flowing between mid/late career scientists and those eager to learn.
The Leadership-themed Networking Night worked perfectly in conjunction with the Workshop.
Leadership-themed Networking Night at The Charming Squire, South Bank, Brisbane.
Leadership-themed conversation starters and a table deep in discussion.
Reflections from the Workshop Facilitators - Shaun Coffey and Lynn O’Brien
The Brisbane workshop was a great reminder for Lynn and myself that when it comes to managing there is no one right way. It was both a pleasure and a challenge to work with such a diverse group of people – diverse both in cultural background and in breadth and depth of experience.
Whilst there is always room to tweak the program and further develop the activities, the general assessment of participants was very positive.. We will be looking to build in more interactive sessions, especially in the front half of the program. Also, participants enjoyed learning from real-life examples and discussion sessions. Overall the experience of the 2 ½ days has given us a better understanding of what will and will not work in these learning situations, and we appreciate the feedback that has been provided.
The enthusiasm and willingness of participants to contribute is acknowledged, and in future workshops more use of the diversity in the room will be used to lift participation rates to a higher and hopefully more meaningful level.
If there is one impression that the workshop clearly left with me, it is the corollary of it is never too late to learn – in relation to learning about managing and leading; it is never too early to start.
Where should RAID run its next workshop on Agricultural Leadership and Management… and for who?
In the next 12 months, RAID and the Crawford Fund hopes to deliver at least 3 more workshops and this is your chance to tell us where.
To have your voice heard, complete this short poll to give your city a fighting chance to be the home to one of these workshops. To make the workshop viable we need at least 20 people. Tell you friends and colleagues too, as this will only help.
Also, to help tailor your potential workshop let us know what career stage best describes you.
To see what you could be in store for check out the Brisbane event information and see if it is for you:
This poll will close on Friday, 10 August 2018
RAID is calling for applications to its Annual Capacity Builing Event on Mobile Acquired Data (MAD) Apps
Theme: Digital data collection apps for international agricultural research
Places available: 20 (competitive application process)
Length: Two Days (split over three days)
Date: Wednesday to Friday, 15-17 February 2017 (commences/concludes at lunch)
Venue: Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences, University of Melbourne
To build the awareness and capacity of RAID members in the use of digital data collections apps and their use in international agricultural research.
To develop a theoretical understanding of the use of digital data collections apps and their use in agricultural research in developing countries
Gain practical experience developing surveys in CommCare and troubleshooting
Develop an understanding of the possibilities and support options for implementation of CommCare at scale.
Outcomes of this workshop will be most useful to those currently working on or developing projects in international agriculture for development.
Event registration is free but is limited to 20 places through application process.
Applications can be made using this Google Form. Applications close Tuesday, 20 December 2016.
See attached document for further information.
With the EOFY stress subsiding, RAID's core management committee considered it to timely to reflect on achievements over the past year and a half.
Since its inception in December 2013, RAID has grown from a group of 8 founding members to over 250 people, actively sharing knowledge, ideas, opportunities and enthusiasm for agricultural research for international development. Membership is diverse, covering undergraduates, keen to learn more about working internationally, postgraduates, earning their stripes in research for development, post-docs, kicking goals on the international stage while trying to secure the next round of funding, and senior research scientists, keen to impart their much-valued knowledge to the next generation. Add in a sprinkling of NGO’s, farmers, and genuinely interested outsiders, and you have a group of motivated people, enhancing each other’s careers through the RAID network.
RAID’s motto is connect, engage, support, and this has guided our activities over the past year. RAID’s website provides an online platform for sharing blogs, jobs and volunteer opportunities, events and photos among members and the broader public. The weekly blog in particular provides unique insights into the lives of international agricultural research scientists. RAID’s Facebook Group, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles, with around 300, 160 and 65 members respectively, have served as excellent platforms for attracting new people to the network, and for generating discussion on important topics relevant to early-mid career researchers. RAID networking events have facilitated networking between individuals, within and across organisations and disciplines. The official launch of the network at the Crawford Fund Parliamentary Conference in August 2014, was attended by over 100 people. Since the launch, 6 informal networking events have been held across Australia and internationally, engaging more than 100 people.
RAID networking event in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, November 2014
RAID networking event in Adelaide in April 2015
To further strengthen the network, RAID has established informal partnerships with agricultural research agencies as well as funding bodies, advocacy groups and other networks. Key groups include: the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR); Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture (ACDA); Crawford Fund; Future Farmers Network (FFN); and Young Professionals for Agricultural Development (YPARD).
With the network growing, the core management group formalised a management structure in February 2015. RAID now has a Senior Executive, General Committee and State Based Representatives. State Based Representatives will be crucial for driving the network forward.
Over the next 12 months, RAID will focus on increasing the membership base, strengthening partnerships, building capacity and networking. Capacity building will be a particular focus area, with a number of initiatives planned. For example in July 2015, RAID will hold its first professional development workshop focussed on scientific communication. We will continue to facilitate networking and knowledge sharing between young scientists and promote career pathways into international agricultural research for development, as part of an Australian career in agriculture.
If you're keen to learn more, or have any ideas, don't hesitate to get in contact with us.
President, Researchers in Agriculture for International Development
Written By: Jessica Bogard
‘Mache bhate Bengali’ – ‘Fish and rice make a Bengali’. Situated on the deltas of three of the world’s largest river systems, it’s not surprising fish is part of daily life in Bangladesh. Small scale aquaculture farmers sell fish from their homestead pond at the local market. Villagers dry fish on coastal plains. At celebrations and gatherings, families enjoy the very tasty Hilsha fish, a dish which instils much national pride. Fish is inextricably linked to the livelihoods and culture of Bangladeshi people.
However, despite significant progress in poverty alleviation over the last 3 decades, malnutrition remains a significant development challenge in Bangladesh with 41% of children under 5 stunted, more than 50% of children vitamin A deficient, and nearly 60% of women zinc deficient.
Reading these facts is one thing, but walking the muddy streets of Dhaka where almost half of the children you see are obviously too small for their age due to inadequate diets and illness, is heartbreaking to say the least, and somewhat of a motivator to try and do something about it.
One of the key government strategies to dealing with rife food and nutrition insecurity in the country has been investment in aquaculture as a means to boost supply of fish. This has been largely successful, where per capita fish consumption has increased slightly, and relative fish prices have decreased in the face of a growing population and other pressures (albeit with most benefits for the urban wealthy rather than the rural poor).
As a human nutritionist working for WorldFish, one of the CGIAR centres, my first task upon reaching Dhaka was to profile the nutritional value of the many different fish species available in the market, both from capture fisheries and aquaculture. I found myself travelling by plane, train, boat, rickshaw and on foot, to the far reaching corners of the country, through wetlands, paddy fields, mangroves and rivers, collecting fish – an experience I never imagined, and one I will never forget.
Interestingly, we found that fish from wild capture was far more nutritious than those commonly produced in aquaculture, particularly in micronutrients such as iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin A and vitamin B12. This has led me to wonder, whilst we have certainly increased supply of fish to the market in terms kilograms, have we actually increased supply of nutrients? And at a broader level, if we had known earlier about the different nutritional value of these different species, would the policy approach and investment in aquaculture (in some cases at the expense of capture fisheries) been the same?
This forms the basis of my PhD where I am investigating the contribution of fisheries and aquaculture to nutrition security, and more broadly about how we might incorporate nutritional considerations into decision making and policy around food production. It’s been a privilege to work amongst a multidisciplinary team, slowly breaking through the language barriers between English and Bangla, but also between agricultural scientists, economists, health professionals, ecologists, social scientists and many more. I think this – multidisciplinary communication and team work - is at the core of truly addressing the food and nutrition security challenge of the 21st century.
It was one of those “what if” moments, sitting in a hostel in London reading an advertisement for a research assistant on a village poultry project in Africa. At that stage my experience of Africa involved a couple of weeks backpacking in Morocco, and the number of chickens I’d treated could be counted on one hand. Maybe two. And yet the prospect of moving from a vet in clinical practice to one in international research for development was an attractive one.
I had started my career in rural mixed practice, with days that might involve chocolate-eating Labradors, horses that had run through wire fences, geriatric cats, or the many obstetric dilemmas of dairy cattle. The allure of life as a vet in the United Kingdom (James Herriot-style) led me to leave behind an excellent first job, for a couple of years alternating between locum jobs and stints of European travel. There was a summer working on the little island of Guernsey, a long-term struggle to understand the thick accents of Cornish farmers, and a ridiculously overpaid 24-hour shift a stone’s throw from Buckingham Palace.
But amidst all the interesting and heart-warming cases were the many mundane and emotionally-draining aspects of veterinary practice. Vaccination after vaccination, non-compliant owners, people with sick animals but no money, dogs with so-called skin tumours that turned out to be nipples... I was ready for another full-time position, but I started to wonder about options outside clinical practice.
My interest turned to the world of “One Health”, the great intersection of human, animal and environmental health. Improving food security in sub-Saharan Africa sounded like an appealing research area, but I wasn’t sure I had the right skills or background. I applied for a one-year Masters program in Edinburgh, was accepted, baulked at the cost and decided to apply for the African chicken research opportunity after all.
Just over twelve months on, I’m on a lengthy stopover in Doha on my way home from three weeks of fieldwork in Tanzania and a presentation at an FAO workshop in Zimbabwe. I’m combining part-time work as a research assistant with full-time life as a PhD student. When I refer to weekend shifts at a local clinic in Sydney as my “real vet” job, I’m only half-joking. Most days I don’t feel very much like a vet, or at least not the sort that I imagined I was going to be.
I feel strongly about the need to improve food and nutrition security in developing countries, and about the role of vets in facing this challenge. Scavenging chickens are kept in small numbers by people throughout the developing world. Community-based vaccination programs against Newcastle disease, a leading cause of mortality in these settings, offer the potential to improve the health and welfare of poultry, allowing their numbers to increase – and for chickens to contribute to household income and diets in a more substantial way.
In the last year, I’ve learnt a huge amount: about chickens, food security, research methodology, African geography, and the practicalities of conducting a large-scale research project in villages without electricity, phone or internet access. I’m sure the steep learning curve isn’t going to taper off any time soon, but I’m glad to have discovered the exciting and fulfilling world of international agricultural research.
As a young vet working in clinical practice, in my first 3 years out of uni, I’d already seen change. I’d been lucky enough to have employment in NZ, Australia and China, and been exposed to situations where vets and animal scientists can make meaningful contribution to both animal and human populations.
However, with tendency to get bored quickly, I needed to find a way to accelerate my career and skillset so I had a better chance at other exciting and challenging opportunities. I enrolled in a post graduate course in Vet Public Health. The concept of public health also seemed to fit in with my interest in the ‘bigger picture’. I looked at degrees in UK, USA, South Africa, Massey NZ (where I did my BVSc) and Australia. The University of Sydney VPH programs stood out.
In 2010, a research project opportunity arose working with Prof. Peter Windsor, Dr Russell Bush and Dr Luzia Rast on their Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) funded projects ‘Best practice health and husbandry of large ruminants in Cambodia and Laos’. This project was a huge challenge, but very rewarding. I was well supported and remain grateful to my main supervisor (Luzia) and our project leaders as well as the VPH staff whom provided technical input and project management support.
But it didn’t end there. Prof. Windsor had a project officer position in Cambodia, so at the start of 2012 I moved back to Asia and began working on the project full time while continuing the degree part-time. Almost immediately, I was to apply newly learned VPH skills. The main aims of the project were to seek sustainable interventions that would improve animal health and production, with the hypothesis that this would in turn reduce rural poverty and food insecurity. We’re tackling problems for which there are known solutions in the developed world, but what largely remains unknown, is how to apply these interventions and technologies in countries in transition.
For other young veterinarians and animal scientists looking for new challenges, I would recommend the University of Sydney VPH programs. The strength is in the application as well as exposure to a global citizen classmates, world-class facilitators as well as staff working throughout the region tackling animal health and management and public health issues. Applied research is very rewarding, and for those seeking to enter the research and development I would advise finding a senior researcher within the University with common interests. Find out what skillset they need, and take the appropriate steps. Learn to communicate on as many platforms as possible, whether by new languages, writing, websites, and presentations. Putting some ‘management’ into change might take you into the unknown, but perhaps that’s where you want to be?
Vaccinating cattle for FMD in Luang Prabang, northern Laos, Feb 2014
About 3 months ago you saw a blog from me about moments in Myanmar and I guess this is the sequel… I’m going to be writing a blog about once a month over the next year on what I’m doing in Myanmar. Before I go any further I thought it might be a good time to introduce myself, which I neglected to do in my previous blog. My name is Jenny, I have now been working in Myanmar for just over a year. Before I moved to Myanmar I was working for the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) in Canberra, before that in a veterinary clinic in Bacchus Marsh and before that I studied vet at Charles Sturt University. Now my job is to manage the ACIAR/ Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) research project for livestock in the dry zone of Myanmar, affectionately known as Dahat Pan. Dahat Pan is a flowering tree that greens the dry zone when sometimes there is little else that is green. I am living in Yangon, attempting to learn some of the Myanmar language and working my way through a masters of veterinary public health at a somewhat slow pace.
Towards the end of 2015 Myanmar plans to hold democratic elections. In our Dahat Pan project in 2015 farmers will be using coops for their chickens, supplementary feeding their chicks and vaccinating against Newcastle disease. We will run a drench trial for deworming of cattle, sheep and goats, farmers may trial growing grasses and trees to cut and carry to their animals for feed. We will continue monitoring health and production of livestock and a number of male goats will be castrated. So there may be a few unhappy goats but hopefully happy farmers who are able to increase their income. 2015 promises to be an interesting year!
In the past year my life experiences feel like they have been accelerated tenfold, there has been rumours, surprises and misunderstandings in our project, like any good day time soap opera really. Misunderstandings and communication became the catch phrase of our annual meeting. The misunderstandings have ranged in scale from the budget, to who has the box of gloves for sample collection, to the look of total panic on our very helpful drivers’ face when I asked him if he was meeting friends for dinner. At least that is what I thought I was asking in Myanmar language but judging by the expression on his face it didn’t sound like that.
Figure 1: Our procession through Ya Thar village to collect samples for worm egg counts (we still had the gloves then).
The past year has also been a steep learning curve for two of my colleagues and friends Nandar & Ei Phyu, who work as junior scientists in the villages where we are doing research. Their jobs are to collect and manage data on production and health of cattle, sheep, goats and chickens, to manage trial plots of grasses, legumes and trees and to work with farmers to be involved with these activities. For every one of the activities they have learnt new skills, which they have applied very effectively. You might be able to tell that I am really proud and privileged to be working with them.
Figure 2: Nandar, Ei Phyu, Tu Tu and I preparing record sheets for collection of data on weights and body condition scores of cattle, sheep and goats.
2014 has been a big year and who knows what will be install for another year in Myanmar in 2015 but I’m in a unique and incredibly lucky position to find out.
Until next month…. Aung myin par say! (be successful/ cheers in Myanmar)
Ever since I did agriculture at university I wanted to make a difference in the world and on that journey I found that even though you go out into the world to change others the one that you change the most is yourself.
My first year after University had me teaching Agriculture as a volunteer on the island of Savaii in the country of Samoa. I was straight in the deep end teaching not only ag but a range of other subjects that I didn’t have a great deal of experience in, my theory in life is that you only have to know 10% more about a subject than the people that you are teaching. I survived the year unscathed with some great stories and the moral to the year was don’t be afraid to do something as that’s the only way we all learn.
This trip ignited my interest to do more work on overseas projects as the Indiana Jones of agriculture in me was let loose (minus the whip).
I have ended up travelling to the following places on projects:
- Hyderabad, India, with the UN at ICRISAT on a project on pearl millet through the Crawford Fund.
- Hanoi, Vietnam, with Australian Business Volunteers on a project writing a scoping study on the public plant breeding sector in Vietnam.
- Dili, East Timor, with Seeds of Life on a project looking at better trial analysis of local crops.
- Yambuk, Australia, where I trained a student from East Timor for 2 months how to become a plant breeder, funded by the Crawford fund.
- Bejing, China, with the International Seed Federation presenting my idea “Plant breeders without Borders”.
- Seed collections in Israel, Spain and Turkey from the centre of origin of the plants that I breed in funded by the Rural Industry Development Council and the Grasslands Society. This is what made me be interested in plant breeding at Uni, the chance to travel the world and collect the endangered germplasm that is nearly gone, the Indiana Jones of the pasture world you could say.
- Next year I hope to be going to Ethiopia to work on the first pilot project for plant breeders without borders on forages with the International Livestock Research Institute.
This journey has made up the storey of my life and it is those people that have tread on the same path that can fully understand that feeling of sharing the knowledge that we have gained from being lucky to have lived in a place like Australia with those that have not had such a lucky life like ours in developing and 3rd world countries.
So in summary for all the young people out there a future in Agriculture can lead you into adventures that you never imagined possible, it can make you into someone that does make a difference to your life in a good way and others that may not get the opportunities that you have. Share that knowledge that you have, don’t be afraid that you think you have nothing to share, take that step and you will never turn back.
Plant Breeders Without Borders founder, Anthony Leddin.
One of the things you get from friends before you leave on project activities in developing countries is…. so you are off on another holiday then? (I can sense a few heads nodding). The perception is that it’s glamorous work. Anyone who works in this field knows it couldn’t be further from the truth.
I am currently in Vietnam. This is my sixth visit and I am yet to visit the major tourist drawcards of Nha Trang, Hoi An, Ha Long Bay, Da Lat or Sa Pa. There is little glamorous about many of our project locations or the hotels we stay in. There is also little glamorous about spending an hour on a toilet in a restaurant losing kilos through sweat, tears and the other after picking up a stomach bug (you soon learn how to read the ice).
But you won’t hear a complaint from me.
This past week the Asian Australasian Animal Production (AAAP) Conference was held in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. It’s a chance for many researchers working on projects in developing countries to present our work to the international community. A chance to discuss the similarities, challenges and successes of our projects with our peers from other countries.
Following the conference, a field visit to Lombok was organised by ACIAR. We visited two sites where farmers had cooperated to build large shared animal houses.
In the Kerang Kendal Village in North Lombok researchers are investigating the effect of strategic supplementation on the performance of cows and their calves. Green forages and tree legume Sesbania are used to increase growth and body condition.
In Central Lombok, farmers in the Nyerot Village are also using Sesbania grown on rice bunds to increase daily weight gain of cattle. This results in increased income for farmers. It’s interesting to see how experiments are undertaken in other developing countries.
Getting back to my first point, opportunities to sit back and reflect don’t come very often in-country. But when the opportunity arises after a field day to spend a few moments watching the sun set and enjoying a few of the local refreshments on a beach in Lombok with fellow RAID members, we soak it up like a thirsty sponge.
RAIDers in Lombok
Karang Kendal Village cattle shelter, North Lombok
Cutting Sesbania in Nyerot Village, Central Lombok
Six months ago I arrived in Myanmar ready for the adventure of getting a livestock research project started, not knowing what to expect really but being prepared with a large wad of US dollars. (I’m not a drug dealer it is just very difficult to get money into Myanmar).
In the past six months there have been moments…. moments that I have felt more than I have ever felt before. Moments that have made me want to tear my hair out and in the same day moments of elation as step by step the project has started to take shape.
There have been moments of misunderstanding…. when a cattle crush was built large enough to house an elephant. And not only that, but there were two “elephant” crushes built side by side rather than at either end of the village.
There have been moments of frustration…. not being able to get a visa to enter into Myanmar or getting stuck in the airport with my Myanmar colleagues because they were unable to get a visa to enter any other country.
There have been moments of surprise when after initial reluctance of farmers to use ear tags we were offering for their cattle, sheep and goats they became quite a fashionable item. Of course the ear tags were also useful for farmers to identify their animals and for us to be able to do the same.
There have been moments of pride seeing two young researchers from Myanmar go from not knowing how to use excel to competently entering production data for cattle, sheep and goats after only a short amount of training and practice.
There have been moments of hard work with shared enthusiasm… getting up early to work with farmers and researchers to plant forage trials. We would have been there the whole day planting seed except that there were so many farmers interested in what was happening and willing to help.
There have been moments of satisfaction going from the chief field trip planner to one of my Myanmar colleagues emailing me the itinerary for the next field trip and telling me they will be able to organise everything and will call me if there are any problems.
There have been moments of drinking tea…more than one. Watching the tea making is half the fun. It is far more than boiling the kettle, but is made by tea baristas. It looks a lot like a barista in one of the trendiest cafes in Melbourne making coffee, only with condensed milk and large pots simmering with Myanmar tea.
There has been well meaning respect that has turned into rather funny moments… being greeted at any time of the day by the grounds keeper with a very polite “Good morning Sir!” and a salute.
Some of the moments so far have been amazing, some just hard. Regardless they feel worthwhile, and that has been the strongest feeling by far, that I am making a contribution to something that empowers researchers and farmers in Myanmar.
Working with farmers to weigh goats