Director, Capacity Building
Ms Kate Turner-Mann
Science and innovation are critical to advancing agriculture and livelihoods in the Indo-Pacific region. However, of equal importance to our partner countries is the development of individual and organisational science and policy capability to implement research outcomes.
Developing capability in partner countries is a key priority for ACIAR to maximise the adoption of new knowledge and technologies to contribute to our strategic objectives. The ACIAR Capacity Building Program identifies and establishes opportunities for individuals and organisations in partner countries to boost technical, policy and management skills in agricultural research for development. To achieve this, we facilitate programs in scientific research, leadership and management, policy influencing and mentorship with our partners in the Indo-Pacific region.
Building on the key recommendations of the mid-term review of the ACIAR 10-Year Strategy 2018–2027, in 2023–24 we will continue to work towards a stronger integration of our Capacity Building Program with the Research Program. We will work to embed more capacity-building initiatives at the planning stage of selected research projects and facilitate connections between the extensive alumni network and current research projects and opportunities.
ACIAR has delivered the John Dillon Fellowship since 2002. The program develops the leadership and management skills of mid-career professionals, particularly scientists, researchers and economists working in agriculture research for development in ACIAR partner countries. To date, there are more than 180 alumni of the program across our partner countries.
In 2023–24, we will be completing the John Dillon Fellowship program for cohorts from Vietnam and beginning new cohorts in Indonesia, the Pacific Region and eastern Africa in partnership with our provider, the University of New England. We will also continue to deliver the program in individual country cohorts of up to 15 participants with a strong focus on cross-organisational collaboration and organisational capability. This approach further bolsters Australia’s approach to science diplomacy, especially as the program approach features opportunities to strengthen ties with Australian partners.
ACIAR launched the Meryl Williams Fellowship Program in 2019. This initiative supports women agricultural researchers to develop their skills and knowledge to take on greater leadership positions in their employing institutions. The fellowship contributes to more secure food systems and our strategic objective of gender equality and women’s empowerment by providing women in agricultural science with greater access to leadership resources, building collaborative networks, supporting career advancement and driving institutional progress towards gender equity. The fellowship is delivered by the University of New England.
The second cohort of fellows will conclude the program with a final reflective workshop in Malaysia in November 2023. The workshop will also be an opportunity to bring together both cohorts of the fellowship and support all fellows to develop their capabilities as mentors to guide the next generation of fellows in their own country contexts. ACIAR will conduct a tender process in 2023–24 to engage specialists to review and expand the Meryl Williams Fellowship program this year.
Based on feedback from the 2022–23 intake of the John Allwright Fellowship, in 2024 the number of eligible countries for the fellowship will be increased and applicants will be encouraged to align their research proposals with the research-for-development objectives of their home countries. Applications for study in 2024 will be assessed and offers to new fellows made during the year. In 2023–24, there are 35 fellows undertaking their studies across 17 Australian universities.
In 2023–24, the John Allwright Support Facility will provide general support, additional pastoral care and opportunities for John Allwright Fellowship scholars to expand their professional networks by connecting with fellows and attending conferences and events. The facility includes regular check-ins with fellows during their higher degree research program. This includes both academic and welfare support, noting the significant ongoing challenges associated with research following a global pandemic and continued geo-political challenges in the Indo-Pacific. The facility acts as a second layer of support and hands-on assistance to ensure the fellows are best placed to achieve their qualifications.
The John Allwright Fellowship Executive Leadership program continues to be a key mechanism to enhance leadership skills development for fellows in Australia. The program equips the fellows with leadership and management skills designed to support their return to the workplace and bridge the gap between study and further career development. In 2023–24, the fourth cohort of participants will complete their program and preparations will begin to support the fifth cohort to undertake their learning journey.
Our longstanding agricultural research scholarship program with the University of South Pacific was redesigned, expanded and renamed PASS-CR (Pacific Agricultural Scholarship Support and Climate Resilience program). In 2021 the program expanded to include scholarships at Fiji National University and a return to offering PhD scholarships. During 2023–24, 34 Pacific scholars will be studying under this program at either university, with this number set to expand as we finalise the 2024 intake. Scholars are aligned to an ACIAR research project in agriculture, forestry and fisheries and have an Australian co-supervisor. Through PASS-CR, ACIAR aims to support new generations of Pacific agricultural researchers who are equipped to tackle and address the challenges facing Pacific agriculture now and into the future.
The redesigned PASS-CR academic support program is being delivered primarily through the University of the Sunshine Coast’s Australian Centre for Pacific Island Research, in conjunction with Southern Queensland University, Central Queensland University and the Science Research Organisation of Samoa.
The PASS-CR academic support program extends beyond awarding scholarships and engages with the Schools of Agriculture and Offices of Research at University of South Pacific and Fiji National University, providing workshops, research training and networking to scholars and their supervisors.
In 2023, an external review was undertaken of the program that highlighted strengths and areas for improvements. Activities for 2023–24 will include collaboration with partners to address the recommendations of the review, while maintaining opportunities for scholars to continue higher degree research in agriculture in the Pacific.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Alumni Research Support Facility (ARSF) was opened for applications. This activity provided up to $20,000 for small research activities that strengthened resilience and responded to emerging challenges that COVID-19 placed on agricultural systems in our partner countries. The program will conclude in December 2024. Across the 3 phases of the program, the facility supported 103 small research projects led by ACIAR alumni across the Indo-Pacific. In 2023–24, participants from the last round of the program will complete their final research projects. We will be working closely with this cohort of researchers to support them to undertake outreach activities to ensure their research has maximum impact. Following the successful outcomes of the ARSF, work will progress this year to review and redevelop a small funding facility for ACIAR alumni to continue their research and extension targeted at improving livelihoods in the Indo-Pacific. Additionally, the ‘launch fund’ that supports researchers to develop their professional networks and highlight their research at conferences and events is being redeveloped.
During 2023–24, we will continue to deliver our Global Alumni Strategy, which aims to engage with ACIAR alumni to strengthen skills, knowledge and networks of agricultural researchers and scientists to contribute to positive development outcomes in the agricultural research-for-development sector. Under the Global Alumni Strategy, ACIAR Country and Regional Offices implement their alumni engagement plans. These plans identify the priorities and interests of each country’s alumni and describe a program of activities to be implemented at the country and regional level, including training workshops (both online and in-person), networking events and new opportunities for alumni to respond to these priorities. This year we will refine the strategy based on lessons learned from implementation and more closely align this work with the ACIAR Research and Outreach programs.
ACIAR continues to host a virtual forum for our alumni, Alumni360, to further engage with ACIAR work and expand their professional networks. The platform shares information about events, research collaborations and discussion forums. Alumni360 also includes information on the Capacity Building Program, including calls for applications to our fellowships, funding opportunities, publications and other resources. There are currently around 600 active members on the platform, and we expect this will continue to grow in 2023–24.
In 2021, ACIAR partnered with the University of Queensland and Catalpa International to pilot a new mobile-learning platform, ACIAR Learn, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The platform provides bespoke online learning for agricultural researchers demonstrating good practices of Australian agricultural science knowledge. Since 2022 over 250 agricultural researchers have participated in 24 courses with completion rates over 65% and we have received overwhelmingly positive feedback on the relevancy and quality of the learning content.
In 2023–24, we will continue to strengthen the platform based on feedback from participants. We will work more closely with the ACIAR Research Program and alumni to develop key learning pathways and engaging content for our partner researchers and alumni. The platform aims to provide knowledge for participants to implement in ACIAR research projects and strengthen their professional capabilities to undertake, manage and lead research for development projects.
ACIAR has long-term trusted relationships with overseas agricultural research organisations. The ongoing nature of our research partnerships are essential to understanding the enablers, constraints and impacts that capacity building has on strengthening institutions. In 2023–24 we will work on refining our approach and tools to undertake capability assessments in collaboration with partners to identify pathways to strengthen organisational capability to undertake effective agricultural research and implement ACIAR research projects. Other capacity-building activities that ACIAR supports include activities delivered by the Crawford Fund, such as the Master Class and Training Program, a new program of e-mentoring linking agricultural researchers from developing countries with mentors in Australia, and the Next-Gen suite of activities designed to build interest in careers in international agricultural research.
Ms Kate Turner-Mann
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