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On innovation and stakeholder engagement

Having been a social entrepreneur for the last six years, I have come face to face with the transformative power of digital technologies to various…

Having been a social entrepreneur for the last six years, I have come face to face with the transformative power of digital technologies to various people, businesses and institutions.

The part of my work that has resonated more with me involved the strategy and engagement aspects of my companies.  Because of this, I am very interested in Digital Strategy and Engagement.

The reasons for my fascination with this trend stemmed from my involvement with the agricultural sector, where some of the most vulnerable populations of the world struggle to feed themselves and make a living.

Because of the crucial nature of the agricultural sector, you find a heavy government presence in almost every country, coupled with other key-players like financial institutions, input companies and even research organisations. To deploy any effective solutions (especially digital solutions) in agriculture, deliberate and adequate strategic and engagement steps are indispensable.

I learned early enough, through my work in digital agriculture, that even the most technically advanced digital solutions necessarily require thorough strategy and dedicated engagement efforts to succeed. I have experienced the failures of great solutions without strategy and engagement provisions in my first startups and some consultancies I have been a part of. I have also seen how, in a multi-stakeholder agricultural sector, a good strategy and engagement effort leads to remarkable social impact and ample commercial success of digital solutions. This is why I am not only interested in digital strategy and engagement but ensure that it is at the forefront of solutions development.

One of the most important lessons that I remind myself whenever I find myself leading a team or organisation is that I have to make sure that stakeholder understanding and sense-making is enabled and institutionalised. This allows for not only effective decision making but also the development of tailored solutions.

Coming from an entrepreneurial background, I learned how crucial this is especially when deploying digital solutions. Ranging from information management software to dashboard and analytical visualization applications, it is essential to have the right tools and techniques to collect, manage, and analyse stakeholder data in a bid to turn it into functional chunks that are usable in decision making at the onset. Where these tools or processes exist, I make sure that they are evaluated and the ones that are redundant are removed and efficiency is achieved.

Throughout any response, programme or activity, one must ensure that information is collected and a feedback loop is instilled to inform an iterative solutions development environment. I have led teams of innovators where we utilised various agile development processes, the most notable of which was deploying feature phone-based data solutions to smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa which involved completely overhauling parts of our solutions due to political or environmental factors like government border closures or floods.

Having greatly learned from this and other experiences, I now make sure that any organisation I lead logically compartmentalises development based on stakeholder understanding and problems sense-making and within a well-defined agile framework that fits the sector target of the organszation.

As the chief executive officer of a vibrant Agri-Tech startup, I was faced with the tough decision of pivoting and changing our business model at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic which saw our revenue drastically reduced, our workforce slashed and our motivation hit.

Even though I have been diligently studying the market and understanding the intricacies of the Agri-Tech and big data sectors globally as the company grew, I was not prepared for the abrupt pandemic and the level of risk-taking required to stabilise our company which at the time focused on smallholder farmers in Africa. However, I immediately led my team to start engaging with governments and development institutions in order to negotiate agricultural data services and projects since our primary market was crippled by the pandemic restrictions.

The team worked tirelessly to deploy various value-chain integration projects for public sector and corporates including the design, development and deployment of an agricultural data centre. My team includes innovators from various countries and markets mainly in Nigeria.

While the team was comfortable with remote work, I had to do a lot of engagement and follow-up on ground, convincing institutions like governments and development organizations. This work inspired our decision to scale globally and make this the mainstay of the company. Without a formidable engagement strategy, this would have been near impossible to achieve. I strongly believe all entrepreneurs and even leaders across organisations should focus more on their engagement strategy for better results. Where innovation is concerned, this can be the difference as engagement allows for agile, iterative development as well as continuous and longstanding impact. If you work with governments, banks, cooperates and development institutions who use digital solutions to understand markets and make decisions whether financial, policy related or developmental, then you must invest without fail in your digital strategy and engagement efforts.

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