Brenda Mareri joins the Wasafiri team!

Stella Odhiambo

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Brenda MareriWith a wealth of experience in international trade and sustainable development across Africa, Brenda Mareri brings a deep passion for food systems transformation, a rich network, and skills in helping countries build health and nutrition businesses.

Communication Manager, Stella Odhiambo, interviews Wasafiri’s new Senior Manager for the Food Systems and Inclusive Growth portfolio.

We are very excited to have you join the team, Brenda. What is your role at Wasafiri?

My new role is Senior Manager within the Food Systems and Inclusive Growth (FSIG) portfolio. This includes taking on the responsibilities of Dean and Kenya Implementation Lead of the African Food Fellowship Leadership Programme, a joint venture by Wasafiri and Wageningen University and Research (WUR) to spark food systems leaders.

As Senior Manager – FSIG, I will identify opportunities to expand the portfolio by supporting new business opportunities in Africa and globally.

As the Kenya Dean and Implementation Lead at the African Food Fellowship, I will lead on recruitment, provide support, coordination, planning and mitigation, and respond to challenges for the smooth function of the cohorts in Kenya. My role is pivotal in supporting the fellows to successfully complete the Food Systems Leadership Programme.

Tell us a bit about what brought you here.

Wasafiri’s work in transforming the agriculture sector from a systemic approach for sustainable growth and change appealed to me. I see Wasafiri as an organization that will provide a strategic platform for me to learn and use my expertise to contribute significantly to transforming food systems in Africa.

I was impressed by the milestones that have been achieved by the African Food Fellowship. The Fellowship resonates with my belief that transforming the agriculture sector is a cause that needs strong leadership in practice, policy, innovation, and implementation.

I was particularly drawn to the Fellowship because it empowers emerging leaders working in food systems with leadership competencies to apply a systems change approach for sustainable change in their sectors. And there is no change without competent leadership.

With vast experience tackling complex systemic problems in food systems within East and Central Africa, what are you most looking forward to now?

Several things! For starters, further investing in the nutrition components that focus on leveraging existing technologies in breeding, digital technology and capacity building.

I also look forward to providing the relevant support needed to advance the food systems initiatives within the African Food Fellowship. This will largely involve:

  • Linking fellows to relevant strategic partnerships and opportunities.
  • Organizing coaching and mentorship sessions.
  • Leveraging my networks within the industry to build relationships with other Food Systems leaders.
  • Being a sounding board to reflect on critical food systems issues and facilitate an ecosystem of engagement.

Connect with Brenda

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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Alex Rees is Wasafiri’s new Managing Director

Alex Rees became Wasafiri’s new Managing Director on April 1, 2022. He sat down with Communications Officer Stella Odhiambo to discuss his new role and what he’s most (and least) looking forward to.

In one sentence, what is your one new responsibility as MD that you did not have as Food Systems and Inclusive Growth portfolio lead?

Wow, well I’m very excited to be leading such a wonderful, innovative and values-driven organisation and of course, playing an MD role for the first time!

What’s the most exciting aspect about becoming MD of Wasafiri?

There are many exciting aspects of becoming MD of Wasafiri, and let me share two…

The first is that it allows me to continue to heed my father’s advice from when I was setting out in my career: ‘…seek out the most effective people who are fun to work with – and go work with them’.

Another is that over five years I’ve seen just how amazing Wasafiri is from the inside, not just in the accomplishments it has achieved typically in very complex areas where we work like countering violent extremism on the coast of Kenya and helping food systems evolve through support to small food businesses – but also in how we work in the world. I’m consistently impressed by how Wasafiri manages to punch above its weight – in part because we build relationships for the long term. I intend to continue this trajectory.

What’s most daunting?

Good question, I think the most daunting aspect is filling the shoes of the wonderful Kate Simpson who has done a fantastic job over the past four years in enabling our operating system, culture, systems approach and impact to really take off.

I’m delighted she will be around in the months and years ahead to offer sage advice. She now leads our new Wasafiri Institute as we create new ways to help systems leaders have even more impact with the challenges they are facing. You’ll hear about this in 2022!

What’s your vision for the future of Wasafiri as we launch Wasafiri 3.0?

My vision for Wasafiri is that we accelerate how we support diverse systems leaders to better grapple with some of the world’s toughest problems from local communities to global gatherings in the areas of violent extremism, conflict, climate change, loss of nature, food systems and reducing poverty.

I believe that Wasafiri can play a leading role, both in bringing systems leadership into focus for more people and critically, helping people develop their systems leadership in day-to-day decisions so that it is used to improve lives and the environment.

Anchoring collaborations that empower individuals and groups to make different decisions, particularly if disadvantaged, is what truly inspires me.

I’m very excited about the next year or two with Wasafiri looking to advance three areas:

  1. Establish our Wasafiri Institute with firm foundations so it can thrive in years to come
  2. Grow and diversify our work stabilising conflict settings and transforming food systems
  3. Making a meaningful contribution in tackling climate change and encouraging nature to rebound

 

Connected to these, I’d say we intend to make strides in innovating at the nexus between conflict, food and climate. These issues typically affect people and our environment together and I’m confident there is more we can do to tackle these issues in a joined-up manner.

What management style or approach do you plan to take as MD?

I see my job in simple terms: empowering people across the business to make good decisions.

Wasafiri has an effective decentralised ‘domain’ model where individuals lead their areas, taking all relevant decisions. We actively avoid decision-making easing its way up towards the MD. And like my predecessor from whom I’ve learned much, I look forward to nurturing this model and supporting the people best equipped to make good decisions.

How is Wasafiri different?

Let me share two important ways among many that I feel Wasafiri is different:

Firstly, we believe we’ve proven the value of a globally significant and practical systems change approach, which we call Systemcraft, in practical settings with diverse leaders at all levels who wish to make better decisions today and tomorrow for the longer term. Clients, consultants and partners are valuing Systemcraft in support of their strategic and day-to-day decisions.

Secondly, we’ve nurtured a lovely and special culture as staff, with our consultants, and with our partners and clients. We call it ‘Wasafiri spirit’. This feels important to us, and I’m keen we continue to shepherd our culture as we grow.

Get to know the MD

What’s his favourite thing to eat and what was his last search on Google? Get to know Alex some more in this fun video.

Photo by Photoholgic on Unsplash

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Nikki Feltham joins the Wasafiri team!

For several years, Wasafiri has been working on a range of climate and nature-related complex problems, ranging from climate finance for African nations, soil carbon sequestration and net-zero transition. But, like many organisations, we have been asking how do we do more and do it better?

So, last year we launched a focused Climate & Nature portfolio.

Wasafiri’s Director, Kate Simpson, interviews Nikki Feltham, Wasafiri’s new dedicated portfolio lead

Nikki – it’s great to have you joining our team at Wasafiri. Tell us a bit about what brought you here.

Like the rest of the team here, I want to make a difference – and for that difference to stick.

I am really drawn to both Wasafiri’s practical approach to systems change – Systemcraft – and the positivity of everyone here in working to make change happen! I was also keen to return to my consulting roots and work with lots of organisations seeking to make changes – but with the (hard-won) experience of working within non-profit organisations.

We were super excited about the diversity of experience you bring to the team – from eight years with Accenture and eight years at Save the Children (including as their UK Strategy director). What are you excited to help Wasafiri achieve over the coming years?

Wasafiri has such a powerful combination of tools to dig in on the really complex challenges we face – consulting support, networks, and learning and capability building.

What I’m excited about is figuring out how we best bring them together to serve organisations and individuals who are driven by a purpose to unlock their full potential for impact.

There are so many amazing organisations, innovators, and ideas out there, and we need all of them to be able to work brilliantly – together – to address our collective challenges. Being able to bring my own experience and ideas into this is what’s lighting me up right now.

What is your new role at Wasafiri?

As an ex-consultant with a consultant’s attention span, I’m lucky to have three aspects to my role!

I get to build up our Climate and Nature Portfolio, steward our work and partnerships with the World Economic Forum and design how we will build knowledge and share our systems-based approach. Sounds great, doesn’t it!

Amongst all that choice (!) what are you looking forward to the most?

As well as the opportunity to contribute directly through the Climate and Nature portfolio, I’m hugely excited about being involved in Wasafiri’s own journey.

The team has had such great successes helping to address complex problems across intractable areas – it’s great to be involved in how we innovate and grow to deliver even more impact. What next is the big question!

Connect with Nikki

Photo by kazuend on Unsplash

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Exciting developments in Communications; Stella Odhiambo joins Wasafiri!

Stella shares insights on her new role as Wasafiri’s Communications Officer

What drew me to Wasafiri

The Wasafiri culture and the people! For a while now, I’ve been more intentional about the organisations and clients I partner with. After eight years in media and publishing, as well as freelancing for clients in Kenya’s private sector, it became increasingly important to connect with organisations with values that align with my own. More importantly, to work with those that have good people dedicated to doing good things at the helm.

Right from the get-go, this place gave off all the right vibes and, after meeting a couple of members of the Wasafiri family during the interview process, it felt even more like the right fit for me.

My role at Wasafiri and how the experience has been so far

I’ve joined the team as a part-time Communications Officer – a sort of hybrid consultant. I was brought aboard to help streamline, strengthen and support Wasafiri’s communications which, so far, is a happy learning experience each week.

After just two weeks on the job (eek!) I was invited to support a Food Systems project that was wrapping up. I was terrified. But with the support of the friendliest and most helpful colleagues anyone could ask for, my confidence grew.

Though I’ve barely scratched the surface of really being in the driver’s seat managing the entire function and leading campaigns, I’m pleased to report that I’m getting into the swing of things.

I’m also reassured to find myself fast becoming the face and point person for all matters comms here at Wasafiri.

What I am looking forward to the most

I’m thrilled to be part of a work-family that is supportive and mindful of one another, even outside the scope of work. A place where Ubuntu and transparency are some of the values woven into the fabric of the organisation – what’s not to love!

The potential for growth is what I most look forward to. Though it’s only a part-time position, I’m keen to prove myself. Adding my little voice to help the organisation tackle complex problems every day will be my small but significant contribution.

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Dying with dignity: time for palliative care for corporations?

Organisations do die; palliative care could reduce the destructive and increase the creative impact of their passing

I was recently working on a Forward Institute event with the rather brilliant Scott Morrison of The Boom!1 He asked the audience “what are the most heretical questions you could ask about your organisation?, This question has sent me off on all sorts of mental meanders and what-ifs. The latest being: Should our organisations really strive to live forever? Could it be a good thing for organisations to die off at some point?”

Much of management and organisational development is centred on the assumption that longevity is a good thing. That being able to reinvent, restructure and pivot are the practices we need. That endless regeneration and never-ending existence are the ultimate goals. That survival is the ultimate performance measure2. But is it? Everything in nature ages and ultimately dies with new growth flourishing in the space created. In reality, organisations will have their time in the sun and then pass on (with increasingly few passing the 60-year mark) and some suggesting as little as 18 years is a reasonable life expectancy3 yet the myth of immortality is a strong one. A myth that often seems to lead to painful deaths, heralded by increasingly bellicose claims of reinvention, promises of new dawns and possibilities and ending with dramatic and painful collapses.

Others have argued in favour of the value of corporate death. Joseph Schumpter is perhaps the most famous with his idea of ‘creative destruction’ and the argument that large companies are inherently inefficient, and ultimately suffer from ‘entropy’ where they spend more time managing themselves than doing whatever it is they are supposed to do in the world. But there is a long distance between what is good in principle and what is good in practice. Schumpter’s principle of ‘creative destruction’ often in practice means the destruction of people’s lives and livelihoods, and, especially when an organisation has a strong geographical footprint, their communities. But what if responsible leadership included knowing when your organisation’s time was up? What if with good palliative care organisational demise need not be ‘destructive’? Maybe palliative care could create a graceful decline and provide individuals and communities with the opportunity to move on in timely, happy, and healthy ways?

What might organisational palliative care look like?

Step one: Timely diagnosis

By acknowledging that the organisation has reached its twilight years we can all prepare for a transition. Customers have time to find alternative options with less risk of price gouging by unscrupulous competitors. Suppliers have time to diversify and employees can think about what new skills they might need and take the time to find new opportunities. Local markets won’t be flooded with a sudden unemployed workforce all competing with one another.

Step two: Managed decline

Our organisational models are built for growth – we know how to add and do more – but how about doing less? Perhaps staff move from full to part time employment or the entire organisation shifts to a 4-day workweek. There will undoubtably be plenty of puzzles to manage as we simply haven’t built organisations that are alive but slowing down; we will need markets not scared of big players that are doing a good job but reducing rather than expanding their activities. Customers need to value the old-age organisational citizens in their world and not just the young and new. There needs to be confidence in the provision of ongoing support for products whose life cycle may be longer than that of their producer.

Step three: Make good choices about divesting assets

Are there buildings, machines, or existing inventory to be sold off? The current mode of sudden collapse makes these sorts of assets easy prey for post-bankruptcy acquisition often allowing asset stripping by predatory interests. But what if these assets could be moved on with care and consideration – perhaps with the money raised forming an inheritance for the employees or communities that will be affected by their passing?

Step four: Celebrate the passing

I remember the passing of the British high-street staple Woolworths4; a final splutter of press attention and then a quick burn out… and with it a load of pain for the 30,000 people that worked there. I also remember the aftermath; the flurry of joy at shared memories of ‘the Woolworths bargain bin’- a place many of my generation bought their first music albums (Tears for Fears for me). At the time I hadn’t been in a Woolworths store for many years, but its passing brought back a nostalgic memory of happy time and ritual. Maybe palliative care would include a celebration of past success rather than glorifying in the moments of collapse?

The reality is most private sector organisations do, eventually, age and decline. And perhaps this is not such a bad thing. Perhaps we just haven’t yet learned how to responsibly help them age with grace and pass with as little pain as possible for the people that depend on them. All living systems include death as well as birth; as we face the climate crisis and the need to reimagine our economies, our modes of energy production and much else besides perhaps ‘organisational palliative care’ can help us create the new world we need?

Wasafiri currently works with the Forward Institute, a not for profit that works with many of the UK’s leading public, private and charitable organisations to make ‘responsible leadership the only form of leadership’. Through the use of Systemcraft we help leaders tackle the complex problems they and their organisations are wrestling with as they play their part in creating a more sustainable and equitable world.

Written with thanks to Adrian Brown, Executive Director of the Centre for Public Impact for the, as always, help to think about things a little differently.

https://www.imd.org/research-knowledge/articles/why-you-will-probably-live-longer-than-most-big-companies/

Photo by Jenna Beekhuis on Unsplash

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Wasafiri’s Director, Hamish Wilson, interviews Chiara Frattini on joining the Wasafiri team.