Half of innovation is stakeholder engagement

Over the past decade, I have witnessed the transformative power of technology and how it affects various people, businesses, and institutions. The part of my job that resonated with me the most was in the strategy and engagement aspects of the companies and teams I was part of. For this reason, I am fascinated by digital strategy and engagement.

The reasons for my interest in this trend stem from my involvement in the agricultural sector, where some of the world’s most vulnerable populations struggle to feed themselves and earn a living. Due to the crucial nature of the agricultural sector, you find a strong government presence in almost every country, coupled with other key players like financial institutions, input companies and even research organizations. To deploy effective solutions (especially digital solutions) in agriculture, deliberate and adequate strategic and engagement steps are essential. I learned early on through my work in digital agriculture that even the most technically advanced digital solutions necessarily require thorough strategy and dedicated engagement efforts to be successful. I’ve seen the failures of great solutions without a strategy or commitment provisions in my early startups and some consulting firms I’ve been part of. I have also seen how, in a multi-stakeholder agriculture sector, good strategy and engagement effort leads to remarkable social impact and wide commercial success of digital solutions. That’s why I’m not only interested in digital strategy and engagement, but making sure they’re at the forefront of developing solutions.

One of the most important lessons I remember whenever I lead a team or an organization is that I need to ensure that stakeholder understanding and sensemaking is enabled and institutionalized. This not only enables efficient decision-making, but also the development of tailor-made solutions. Coming from an entrepreneurial background, I learned how crucial this is, especially when deploying digital solutions. Whether it’s information management software, dashboards or analytical visualization applications, having the right tools and techniques to collect, manage and analyze stakeholder data in the aim of transforming them into functional blocks that can be used from the outset in decision-making. Where these tools or processes exist, I ensure they are evaluated and redundant ones are removed and efficiency is achieved.

Throughout any response, program, or activity, ensure that information is collected and a feedback loop is instilled to inform an iterative solution development environment. I led teams of innovators where we used various agile development processes, the most notable of which was the deployment of phone-based data solutions for smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa, which involved a complete redesign of certain parts of our solutions due to political or environmental factors such as government border closures or flooding. Having learned a lot from these and other experiences, I now ensure that any organization I lead logically compartmentalizes development based on stakeholder understanding and problem-solving and within a well-defined agile framework that corresponds to the sectoral target of the organization.

As CEO of a dynamic Agri-Tech startup, I was faced with the difficult decision to pivot and change our business model during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic which saw our revenues dramatically reduced, our numbers reduced and our motivation impaired. Even though I diligently researched the market and understood the intricacies of the Agri-Tech and Big Data sectors globally as the business grew, I was unprepared for the brutal pandemic. and the level of risk taking needed to stabilize our business which at the time focused on smallholder farmers in Africa. However, I immediately led my team to begin engaging with governments and development institutions to negotiate agricultural data services and projects since our core market was crippled by pandemic-related restrictions.

The team has worked tirelessly to deploy various value chain integration projects for the public sector and enterprises, including the design, development and deployment of an agricultural data center. My team includes innovators from various countries and markets mainly in Nigeria. While the team was comfortable working remotely, I had to do a lot of engagement and follow-up on the ground, convincing institutions like governments and development organizations. This work inspired our decision to scale globally and make it the backbone of the business. Without a formidable engagement strategy, this would have been nearly impossible to achieve. I strongly believe that all entrepreneurs and even leaders of organizations should focus more on their engagement strategy for better results. When it comes to innovation, this can make the difference, as engagement enables agile, iterative development as well as continuous, lasting impact. If you work with governments, banks, corporations, and development institutions that use digital solutions to understand markets and make financial, political, or development decisions, you need to invest in your engagement efforts without fail.

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