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Strategy 2020

May 18, 2020

Looking to the horizon

At the start of 2020, World Coffee Research began preparing a plan to guide our growth and development over the coming five years. The purpose of this strategy will be to clearly articulate what WCR aims to achieve and how it will deliver impact, guiding our decisions, investments, and research agenda for years to come.

World Coffee Research was formed by the coffee industry in 2012 to drive innovation in coffee agriculture capable of delivering on three objectives: to sustain supplies of coffee, to increase quality, and to improve the livelihoods of the families who produce it. We are proud of the work we have done over the past eight years to advance these objectives, but also recognize that, nearly a decade after our first plan was written (the one that brought us into being!), it’s time to take a fresh look and forge the path for our future.

Strategy 2020

WCR is still a young organization, just eight years old (which, for an outfit that studies a tree crop that takes four years to mature is still pretty fresh), but we have seen significant growth and change in the last few years. We welcomed a new CEO in 2019, and a new scientific director in 2020. In the past few years, we launched a network of hundreds of field trials in farmers’ fields in over a dozen countries. We now have a member base of nearly 200 companies supporting our work, and partnerships with over 90 organizations from both the public and private sectors without whom we could not have executed our ambitious research agenda. We have been building programs and networks at an ambitious pace, all against a backdrop of an industry that is rapidly changing due to global forces like climate change and consolidation, and in light of the swift advance of relevant technologies like molecular genetics and genomics tools.

Now is a critical time to pause and check: Are our objectives still aligned with the needs of our community—i.e., addressing the most pressing challenges faced by farmers and coffee exporting countries, and providing value to the roasters, suppliers, and public donors who fund us?  For the impact we aim to achieve, are we doing the right things in the right places with the right partners? What have we learned through implementation of our portfolio that we can use to refine our efforts? Do we need to turn the volume up or down on any of our programs? What needs to evolve?

These are the questions we are deep in the process of asking and answering. Asking these questions, we think, is a healthy part of any organization’s evolution. Without asking them, you can’t be sure of your relevance. Without relevance, there is no reason for us to exist.

The road to building a five-year research strategy  is long and winding—at least if you want it to reflect the concerns of your stakeholder community. Below is a description of where this journey has taken us, and the steps that still remain.

Step 1: Consult, consult, consult

To ensure the relevance and impact of our work, we began this effort with a global consultation of stakeholders from across the value chain, including 135 in-depth interviews (about half of whom work with or fund WCR, while half were outside our network), as well as a survey taken by nearly 900 people from around the world. The purpose was to understand the priorities of the coffee sector that agricultural R&D is well-positioned to address. We will be sharing the results of that consultation later this month.

Step 2: Check your priorities

We studied the results of the consultation in depth across our global and regional teams to check: Are we focused on the right questions? What is the state of awareness about regional and national coffee research efforts that WCR’s work complements? Are we delivering value?

Step 3: Check your science

In the spring, our board of directors assembled an external evaluation panel composed of top scientists from other crops to check: Are we using the best methods to execute our research agenda? Are we taking advantage of learning from other crops? Are we using the most relevant/latest approaches?

Step 4: Strategize

With the results of the consultation in hand, and a deep review of our portfolio of work by outside experts, we set to work on mapping our path for the coming five years. The strategy will address in particular whether we have the right approach to ensure the impact of our work at scale – are we working in the right places 

Step 5. Coming to the community

This is where we are now – sharing our draft strategy with donors and key partners to make sure we understood our community’s priorities correctly and responded with a plan that will bring it home. There is no way to do the kind of cross-sector, collaborative work we do without many partners. The draft strategy will be presented to WCR member companies at the end of May, and the final version will be put forward for approval by the WCR Board of Directors in July 2020. We will then bring it to our partner community for socialization.

Step 6. Go time

Now the fun begins!  With a strategy in hand, we will begin the rewarding work of aligning our existing programs to the new strategy, and deepening engagement with our community of partners—from governments to farmers to roasters, and everyone in between.

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