Capacity building

Previous Eastern and Southern Africa

Science and innovation are critical to advancing agriculture and livelihoods in the Indo-Pacific region; however, equally important to our partner countries, is the development of individual and institutional science and policy capability.

One of our strategic objectives is to develop durable scientific and policy capability. The ACIAR Capacity Building Program identifies and establishes opportunities for individuals and institutions in partner countries to boost technical, policy and management skills in agricultural research-for-development. We facilitate programs in scientific research, leadership, management, policy and governance with our partners in the Indo-Pacific region.

Building capacity in partner countries is a key priority for ACIAR to extend and maximise the adoption of new knowledge and technologies.

In 2020–21, the program has been significantly disrupted due to travel restrictions, both in Australia and internationally as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic. This means a number of our usual activities will be postponed while others are delivered remotely using digital platforms. During this time, we are increasing our engagement with ACIAR alumni through a number of mechanisms including the Alumni Research Support Facility—a one-off round of funding for small COVID-19-related research projects.

Meryl Williams Fellowship

The first cohort of the Meryl Williams Fellowship is now part-way through the 15-month program, delivered by the University of New England. Fellows have completed the first three-week workshop in Australia and engaged in online learning modules. The fellowship works with female agricultural researchers, providing them with the skills and knowledge to take on greater leadership roles in their employing institutions. The up-to-three-month internships in Australia, which are a key part of the program, are now postponed until travel to Australia resumes. Recruitment for the second cohort of women from Timor-Leste, Vanuatu, Tonga, Samoa, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Solomon Islands, Myanmar, Philippines, Nepal and Mongolia is underway, with a view to starting the fellowship in 2021.

John Dillon Fellowship

In the first half of 2020–21, a selection process for a new provider to deliver the John Dillon Fellowship will be completed and plans put in place to deliver a new six-week program that will incorporate recommendations from a review undertaken last year. This follows an evaluation of the fellowship, including its aims and target participants. The next round of the fellowship, providing leadership and management training for 15 mid-career researchers, including two Australians, is scheduled to occur early in 2021, with the mode of delivery depending on the level of travel restrictions in place at the time.

John Allwright Fellowship

The 75 John Allwright fellows undertaking postgraduate study in Australia continue to be significantly impacted by COVID-19. Fellows selected in 2019–20 and 2020–21 will commence their study in Australia when travel restrictions ease. Some current fellows have not been able to return to Australia after the 2019–20 summer break, while others have had difficulty completing field and/or lab work. The ACIAR capacity-building team will continue to support and monitor the welfare of John Allwright fellows during this time, through regular contact and by linking them with other Fellows in their institutions to strengthen their networks.

A support panel has been introduced this year to provide support, advice and direction to John Allwright Fellowship scholars and ACIAR. Panel members will regularly check in with fellows during in their higher degree research program, and escalate issues to universities and/or the capacity-building team when fellows are not making sufficient progress or are not receiving adequate pastoral support. The panel will primarily act as an advisory board to provide advice and hands-on assistance to help the fellows achieve their qualifications, and advise ACIAR on how it can improve management of the fellowship.

A tracer study of past John Allwright fellows will be completed during the year. This is a key activity under our monitoring, evaluation and learning framework and will provide us with information about the impact of these scholarships on the individual, their institution and the broader research environment in their home countries.

The second cohort of the John Allwright Fellowship Executive Leadership program will finish in 2019–20. The program, delivered by the University of New England, equips the fellows with leadership and management skills designed to support their return to the workplace. The current participants have completed the initial two-week workshop and are currently undertaking a program of online learning. The program will finish with a four-day workshop.

Pacific scholarships

We are implementing a new agricultural research scholarship program in the Pacific in 2020–23. The new program builds on two phases of the ACIAR–University of the South Pacific Post-Graduate Scholarship Scheme delivered since 2008. Following a review, a new expanded Pacific Agriculture Scholarship Support Program has been designed. New contracts with the University of South Pacific for 10 postgraduate scholarships, and Fiji National University for five postgraduate scholarships, have been signed. These include two places for Fiji National University faculty members to upgrade their qualifications and include both the University of South Pacific Marine Studies (Fiji) and the School of Agriculture and Food Technology (Samoa).

An academic support program will complete the new Pacific Agriculture Scholarship Support Program. Support will focus on strengthening student links with an ACIAR research project and building their connections to industry and the workplace, along with professional development, focusing on research supervision and peer-to-peer learning for academic staff from University of the South Pacific and Fiji National University.

Alumni program

During 2020–21, there will be an increased focus on ACIAR alumni designed to provide ongoing support and career development opportunities during an uncertain time.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Alumni Research Support Facility, a one-off activity providing up to A$20,000 for small research activities that build resilience and respond to the emerging challenges that COVID-19 has placed on agricultural systems in our partner countries, was opened for applications. In its first phase, the facility is supporting 40 small research projects led by ACIAR alumni across the Indo-Pacific.

Starting in 2020–21, the research projects focus on one or more of the following themes:

  • impact of COVID19 on regional food supplies
  • One Health
  • food systems resilience
  • research-to-policy.

Each project team will be paired with an Australian scientist who will act as a collaborator and mentor. This is designed to ensure high-quality scientific outputs and enhanced international scientific collaboration in addressing the impacts of COVID-19. A second phase of the facility will be implemented in late 2020.

All alumni will be invited to engage and participate in a new social media-style platform, known as ACIAR Alumni 360. The platform is designed to be the central mechanism for alumni to interact with ACIAR and the greater alumni network. Country Office staff will facilitate country chapter pages with links to information about events, research collaborations and discussion forums. ACIAR Alumni 360 will also include information on the Capacity Building Program including calls for applications to our fellowships, funding opportunities and publications and other resources.

Three-year Alumni Engagement Strategies will be developed by each Country Office and Regional Office. These will identify the priorities and interests of each country’s alumni. From these, an annual plan will identify a program of activities to be implemented at the country and regional level, which could include training workshops and networking events.

Online resources

In response to global travel restrictions, a learning management system for ACIAR will be established in 2020–21. This system will allow ACIAR to continue existing capacity-building activities delivered through both research projects and programs, as well as expand the reach of our training.

Capacity building in projects

A key outcome from all ACIAR projects is building the capacity of researchers in our partner countries. Following a review of 20 past projects where capacity building was a key objective, a tool kit has been created to assist project leaders to better describe capacity-building activities within projects. The toolkit guides project leaders to clarify project partner needs, plan appropriate activities and identify indicators of change. The toolkit is incorporated into the ACIAR project development cycle. This will allow ACIAR to more effectively capture and integrate the lessons learned from 40 years of capacity building and ensure best practices are applied across our investments.

At the same time, we are reviewing past work to strengthen institutional capacity through our research projects. ACIAR has long-term relationships with overseas agricultural research organisations. The ongoing nature of our research partnerships makes it important to understand the enablers, constraints and impacts that research project capacity building has on strengthening institutions. This work will identify approaches that have been successful in enhancing our research partners’ organisational effectiveness for improved agricultural research. This body of work will be used to inform a new program of work to enhance institutional awareness in research projects for more sustainable research outcomes.

Other training activities

The ACIAR Launch Fund provides financial assistance to organisations or individuals wishing to conduct or attend events or training that directly benefit international agricultural research. Activities supported by the fund will develop skills and knowledge, and develop and maintain research partnerships, to improve international agricultural research.

ACIAR supports training activities delivered by the Crawford Fund. This includes the Master Class and Training Program, which is a key capacity-building program for international agricultural research-for-development in the region. Participants include mid-career international scientists and young scholars.

The Pacific Plant Biosecurity Program aims to strengthen plant biosecurity capacity in the Pacific island countries, including Papua New Guinea and Timor-Leste. In order to maintain cohort momentum during the pandemic, tailored interactive online learning modules are being delivered. The modules complement the face-to-face learning, and have the advantage of being available to a wider audience.

General Manager, Outreach and Capacity Building

Ms Eleanor Dean

ACIAR fellowships contact

Mr Geoffrey O’Keefe
Manager, Capacity Building Program

Table 6.1 Participation in ACIAR capacity-building programs, 2015–20

John Allwright Fellowship


No. active in year







No. awarded in year







John Dillon Fellowship


No. active in year







Alumni training


No. participants




Meryl Williams Fellowship


No. active and awarded in year



Launch fund


No. events supported






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