Date released
19 July 2022

Having worked on an ACIAR-supported project in improving the sustainability of coffee and black pepper farming systems and value chains, Dr Phan recognises that having a combination of technical expertise and ‘soft’ skills creates the best leaders.

Dr Phan says he wants to develop his leadership capacity substantively and effectively at an international level. ‘A leader needs to foster ties and collaborate with national and international partners to achieve a desired common goal,’ says Dr Phan.

Now, as a recipient of a John Dillon Fellowship (JDF) from ACIAR, he is participating in the program in the first JDF cohort tailored to Vietnam.

Country-specific focus

Funded by ACIAR and developed jointly with the University of New England, the JDF aims to enhance leadership skills, opportunities and pathways for mid-career professionals engaged in agricultural research for development. It aims to develop 4 core skills: values-based leadership; collaboration and communication; project management; and gender equity and social inclusion.

In response to the emergence of the global COVID-19 pandemic that restricted travel and face-to-face learning, ACIAR redesigned the delivery of the program to focus on individual country cohorts and be adaptive to the distinctive needs and requirements of partner organisations and the agriculture sector in each region. In 2021, 2 cohorts consisting of 18 fellows each were carefully selected from various ACIAR partner organisations in the Philippines and Vietnam.

A group of people take part in a workshop activity
Eleanor Dean, ACIAR General Manager, Outreach and Capacity Building, joins a planning activity at an alumni event. Photo: ACIAR.

ACIAR General Manager, Outreach and Capacity Building, Ms Eleanor Dean explains the shift. ‘In the past, our cohorts of JDF have been people selected from all over the Indo Pacific region and they have to come to Australia to do the course.

‘Obviously, with travel restrictions, we couldn’t do that, but we still wanted to be delivering the course and looked for the best way to do that.

‘The Philippines and now Vietnam are 2 countries where there is a good level of maturity within the agricultural innovation system and our relationships with our institutional partners there are really strong.

She adds that having a country focus also allows the program to support local institutional capacity building.

Partnering with Vietnam

‘In Vietnam, we worked with a select number of institutions to co-design the program, consult on what the program should emphasise and identify participants,’ Ms Dean adds.

Moving to country cohorts reflects the long-standing and strong relationship between Australia and Vietnam and the 29-year collaborative relationship between ACIAR and Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD). ACIAR alumni in Vietnam are among the most active and well organised in the ACIAR alumni network.

The new JDF creates another opportunity to trial a partnership model with Vietnam that is not research- or project-based. This is also a feature of the ACIAR-MARD partnership that allows for flexibility to work together to address a common problem or deliver a shared objective such as capacity building.

The program is running 16 weeks of professional development distance training in which the fellows design and implement collaborative projects that address a pressing challenge in research, extension, policy or management. Travel restrictions permitting, a 2-week immersive workshop and study tour in Australia is also planned for late 2022.

A group of people look at notes together

For the Vietnam cohort there is a special emphasis on management and leadership issues that are most relevant to the country.

‘In my capacity where I connect and lead all scientific research and international cooperation projects of the Institute, I realise the value of having a good feedback mechanism among team members,’ says Dr Phan.

‘It stimulates more collaborative discussions that help develop strong mutual respect among all members and improve communication and work efficiency. Ultimately, it helps reach our goal: improve the quality of our research proposals and project management at the Institute.’

As part of the program, the Vietnam JDF recipients formed into small groups to develop and pitch a research proposal to ACIAR. With input from ACIAR, all proposals have now been funded – testament to the success of the collaborative approach.

‘The fellows will now spend several months together on their projects,’ says Ms Dean. It will put to the test not only their research skills but also their leadership and management skills as developed through the program.

Ongoing improvements

In her recent trip to Can Tho, Vietnam, Ms Dean reiterated the importance of ongoing capacity building.

Australia and ACIAR are committed to the continued professional development of our alumni. As we have invested through one or more of our fellowship programs, we want to continue to support our alumni’s career journey and to continue to help them learn new skills, widen networks and drive improvements in agriculture in their country.

Ms Eleanor Dean
ACIAR General Manager, Outreach and Capacity Building

She adds that there would not be an alumni program without the enthusiasm, drive and commitment from the alumni themselves.

JDF is a flagship program of ACIAR established in 2002 in recognition of Professor John L Dillon’s life-long commitment to agricultural research. Bangladesh will be next in line to have a country-specific JDF cohort. 

More information: Find more information about the John Dillon Fellowship at