Locally led impact networks, such as the Uganda Agribusiness Alliance (UAA), play a critical role in strengthening agricultural ecosystems by bringing their members together to address complex systemic challenges. They are able to deliver significant impact by aligning key actors who are committed to strengthening financial systems and resources, and increasing the income generating opportunities needed to improve the lives of people living in extreme poverty in rural sub-Saharan Africa. This case study demonstrates the significant contribution of the Uganda Agribusiness Alliance and illustrates some common network challenges.

“One of our biggest challenges, as UAA, was articulating what it is exactly that we do, to our various constituencies who are inherently as disparate and diverse as could be. Working with Creative Metier has helped us document the ‘invisible work’ we do and the contribution it makes to our stakeholders, as well as to be able to effectively communicate this and the respective value propositions for each of these stakeholder groups.” Edward Katende, CEO, Uganda Agribusiness Alliance

Listen to the interview with UAA’s CEO Edward Katende and Creative Metier’s East Africa Networks Lead Fiona Nyong’o. In this interview you will hear just how impactful UAA’s work has been across Uganda, increasing the potential for tens of thousands of youths to earn an income through farming and increasing access to finance through UAA driven policy reform. Edward speaks with passion about the programmes and initiatives of UAA, providing inspiration and insight as to how impact networks can accelerate their impact using a networks approach.

In 2019-21, Creative Metier worked with six membership networks in East Africa to explore their potential and to test the Converge networks approach, adapting it to the local context in Kenya and Uganda. In this article we reflect on our mutual learning from our work together from early 2020 to September 2021.

The Uganda Agribusiness Alliance (UAA)

UAA represents the collective interests of the agribusiness industry in Uganda. Founded in July 2014, UAA is a network of agribusinesses and agribusiness related apex organisations working towards an inclusive and competitive Ugandan agribusiness industry.

While the focus is on Uganda, UAA’s influence and reach is far wider. UAA is a Pan-African influencer and forms part of a continental network of agribusiness chambers, which spurs learning, collaboration, and exchange between countries in Africa as well as with global bilateral and multilateral partners.

The investments of their members and partners span the agribusiness sector from input to output markets, export markets, logistics companies, equipment and consumer food manufacturing together with agribusiness supporting mechanisms, such as research, finance, insurance, innovations and technologies, climate change adaptation and climate smart agriculture, and human capital development.

The UAA team are passionate about helping Ugandan agribusinesses of all sizes to thrive by supporting the network to collectively identify and address systemic bottlenecks which affect agribusiness development across the country. Key to this is building strong relationships across all levels of the agribusiness system, addressing the needs of the government, institutions and network members and tailoring those relationships for maximum impact.

Invisible Work

As we were working with UAA to explore the potential of a networks approach, we coined the term “invisible work” to refer to the work the team does to understand a system and build relationships of trust with key actors (who at that point may not know or trust each other, or even  be aware of oneanother’s existence). Bringing businesses and people with shared interests together to form a platform or network is patient work.

In UAA’s case:

  • UAA incubates a sector platform or value chain, builds its capacity and develops it into a cluster of members with aligned interests
  • These clusters grow over time into specific associations or value chains
  • As the clusters develop further, they reach out to non-aligned groups and bring them into dialogue
  • UAA’s role transitions to hosting their meetings and working with them indirectly

It is only at this point, when sufficient clusters have come together into larger groupings, to articulate a shared purpose and to work together, that UAA supports them to form a platform, association or federation, and steps back. UAA ultimately lets go, providing support only where needed from then on. This work, which Converge refer to as “weaving” which takes time and patience is, by its very nature “invisible”. UAA may also help to secure funding for the new association or platform – a network.

The result is deepened connections and collaboration across those connections. Members and stakeholders are brought together, impact is accelerated impact and fragmentation in the ecosystem is reduced. This work, often invisible and unappreciated, has the potential to deliver significant results. Because they are based on shared agendas created by the network and collaborations that are not predictable from the outset, the outcomes of each network are emergent.

The work that UAA is doing, and the impact that UAA has had on the Ugandan agribusiness ecosystem is a unique achievement. This “invisible work” with its outstanding results is shared among  all successful multi-stakeholder networks that adopt a networks approach for social and economic impact. Do listen to our interview with Edward Katende, if you haven’t already done so, to get a taste of just some of UAA’s achievements over the past few years.

We would like to thank Small Foundation for their support for this research, Converge for their willingness to share their work which was one of the inspirations for this initiative, and the UAA team who entered so enthusiastically into this work and continue to engage with us.