Better transparency and public events are crucial for improved RBA leadership selection. Furthermore, the creation of a Food and Agriculture Group as well as a single, joint annual meeting could boost efficiency and enhance the dialogue around achieving SDG2.
Drawing on the analysis of the RBAs as well as lessons from comparable institutions, this paper proposes specific actions to enhance key aspects of leadership, governance and coordination among the three RBAs with the ultimate objective of improving their capacity to contribute to SDG2. As part of the interviews, these proposals were discussed with key informants associated with the RBAs to get feedback. This has been incorporated in the discussion and noted below.
1. Member states should continue to support an evolution towards greater transparency in leadership selection and greater formalization of that process.
Significant progress has been made to improve the transparency of the RBA leadership selection process over the last decade, yet more needs to be done. As seen in the changes that have occurred at WHO, this is a long-term process and requires continued investment and prioritization. It is driven by member states and there is a real possibility of continued improvements, in two areas in particular.
The first is around the overall transparency of the process. This should consider improvements to the internal questioning by member states to allow more flexible and less programmed discourse. The lack of ability to ask follow-up questions in current formats across the agencies is potentially limiting. A public event (highlighted in action point two below) should also be considered.
Second, there should be a code of conduct for the election process. While such a code might remain voluntary, as is the case at WHO, it can be important for candidates as well as member states in terms of clarifying acceptable behaviour and expectations in selection processes.
The objective of these actions is to facilitate an election process that produces the best candidate, ensures that candidates’ commitments are documented in the public record for longer-term accountability, and provides member states and the public with the assurance that election processes have been fair and free. Such a process will ensure faith in RBA leadership and facilitate the achievement of RBA goals.
2. RBAs should hold public events for leadership candidates to discuss issues and answer questions to allow key stakeholders (civil society, private sector, research institutes, etc.) to convey their concerns and for the candidates to respond and provide their vision for the future.
While the selection of RBA principals is and will remain a highly political process, there was general agreement on the value of a public event, as seen at WTO, with a question and answer session, even when there was only one candidate. The value of such events is less about identifying the best candidate, although it can play this role, and more about the opportunity for candidates to articulate a vision and for member states, civil society, the private sector and other interested parties to highlight issues of importance. It also provides a means for all stakeholders to hold prospective candidates to account, by having a set of stated promises and priorities at the outset of a new leader’s tenure that can be used to gauge their success or failure.
Any such process should be done with the active engagement of member states, and organized carefully to ensure a fair process for candidates from all parts of the world. For the former, this means fitting the event into the principal selection process in a manner that adds value and facilitates member state participation. The latter suggests that either a broader range of global institutes from different regions are tasked with organizing the event or it is done by member states themselves. This would avoid any real or perceived bias in the organization of an event. As noted in the previous action, this provides greater faith in RBA leadership.
3. A Food and Agriculture Group (FA Group), similar to the WBG, should be created to increase institutional efficiency and facilitate coordination and collaboration.
At the request of member states, there is already a movement among the RBAs to merge or coordinate back-office functions. For example, there have been recent efforts around coordinating procurement processes across the RBAs. While these are making important advances, it represents an ad hoc approach across a range of areas rather than a systematic effort to broadly enhance institutional efficiency. Creating an FA Group would systematize these efforts and clearly define the areas where back-office functions could be merged. The recent experience at WBG shows gains in efficiency and was viewed by all entities as positive.
There is also an argument that the creation of an FA Group could enhance transparency and lead to greater professionalization of the functions. For example, at present, because of a number of RBA HR policies and practices, there is a perception that staff without adequate skills are often put in positions where they do not have sufficient expertise. A broader FA Group that professionalized roles and created larger staffing pools might avoid this. It could lead to less interference in processes, such as the hiring of staff.
While there was general agreement on the advantage of creating an FA Group in principle, there were significant concerns about how this might be done and if it would truly enhance efficiency. Some expressed concern it could lead to even greater bureaucracy and inefficiencies. For example, WFP was widely viewed as the most efficient RBA in terms of institutional management. If WFP were to manage joint activities this might lead to overall improvement, but that might not be the case. Clearly, a move to create an FA Group would need to be very carefully considered and implemented in a manner that facilitated efficiency gains.
An annual event that combines governing body meetings and CFS into a single meeting could bring a higher-level delegation than those that currently attend separate FAO and IFAD governing body meetings and, if managed well, could expand visibility in the space.
The objective of creating an FA Group is clearly to enhance efficiency and foster collaboration and coordination. Based on the WBG experience, while the creation of an FA Group is unlikely to guarantee collaboration at the country level, it will help facilitate it. The WBG has increasingly emphasized the importance of joint country-level strategies and coordination, but with mixed success linked to leadership and personalities involved. However, this approach does appear to increase the chance of country-level collaboration.
4. The RBAs should consider holding an annual meeting similar to that held by the IMF and WBG, which combines the key RBA governance meetings as well as the CFS into a single event.
The calendar of meetings and activities at the RBAs is clearly fragmented and offers limited opportunity for high-level policy dialogue and strategic discussions among member states and RBA management. It also restricts engagement with civil society, the private sector and other stakeholders. While formally IMF–WBG annual meetings bring together the governing bodies of the institutions, in actuality the IMF–WBG annual meetings offer a significant opportunity for dialogue on global and country-level strategic issues through bilateral meetings and side events. The events create greater visibility for the agencies.
While the RBAs may not be able to aspire to that level, an annual event that combines governing body meetings and CFS into a single meeting could bring a higher-level delegation than those that currently attend separate FAO and IFAD governing body meetings and, if managed well, could expand visibility in the space. It might also help move discussions to a higher political and strategic level. The objective of an annual meeting is then to raise the profile of the RBAs through greater engagement and to enhance strategic dialogue among member states as well as civil society and the private sector.
A food and agriculture annual meeting would need to be carried out in a manner that respects differences in governance structures. The IMF and the WBG have shown that it is possible to host a general meeting while preserving differences in individual governance across the two entities as well as within the WBG. The IMF and WBG annual meeting has also shown that such an event provides space and tremendous opportunities for civil society and the private sector to engage with the RBAs and member states. The proposed food and agriculture annual meeting should be seen as building on CFS and providing even more opportunities for engagement by civil society and the private sector.
One complication for the RBAs is that in a number of cases various government departments of a member state act as representatives in different agencies. For example, representatives in foreign affairs or agriculture might manage relations with FAO, while a finance or treasury department might represent their government with IFAD. Of course, this would not add any additional issues of coordination to those that already exist and may even facilitate coordination of member state activities in the food and agricultural space.
5. Create a Global Food and Agricultural Development Committee similar to the Development Committee of the IMF and World Bank, which meets during an annual meeting.
The views of the Development Committee at the IMF–WBG meetings highlight that the primary value is to provide a forum for high-level political engagement and discussion on strategic issues at times of crisis or to respond to big initiatives of the agencies. A Global Food and Agricultural Development Committee (or something with a similar name) could potentially play that role and replace the current joint meeting of RBA member states. The objective would be to limit replication of discussions across the three RBA executive board meetings and facilitate high-level coordination in a manner that helps the RBAs achieve their objectives. Alongside an annual meeting with the engagement of civil society and the private sector, such an event could facilitate the work of participants. It may be difficult to organize given the differences in governance structure in the RBAs, but the IMF–WBG have similar differences and still manage.