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  • Waringa Kibe

A Gathering of Minds: Insights from the Market Systems Symposium 2023

Updated: Apr 19


Waringa Kibe, Chief of Party - Kenya Investment Mechanism, Palladium Group, Kenya

MSS2023 Scholarship Recipient (MSS Scholarship Program supported by Supported by Feed the Future Market Systems and Partnerships Activity (MSP))

Context setting from Mike Field, Senior Systems Specialist, Vikāra Institute:

The blog provides a very clear rationale why systems thinking approaches are more effective at catalyzing positive change in market, political and social systems. The blog also points out the importance of in person gatherings. While the basic act of transferring and sharing information and insights is useful, the interpersonal interactions allowing for more nuanced conversations is critical. As the blog also points out, local contexts always have a uniqueness to them and are not static, which requires local insights and a more nuanced discussion to understand. One important point that has emerged in systems thinking that would be useful to note is that systems operate in ways that work for the system, even if some of the outcomes are not good (i.e., inequality, corruption, poverty, etc.). This insight suggests a need to rethink the idea of systems having problems, and focus more on why certain patterns emerge, have value in some way, and why would a system see value in changing. Maybe this is a good issue to dig into during the next Market System Symposium in 2024. 


The Market Systems Symposium (MSS) 2023 in Cape Town from November 13 - 15 was something to look forward to. Having attended the last Symposium in 2022 which was held online, the prospect of an in person gathering was exciting. I looked forward to the spectacular views from Table Mountain, placing my feet on the sand along the beach with its cold summer waters, and dancing along South Africa troupes with their heavenly voices. The meeting of old friends and the making of new. The Symposium lived up to my expectations! Many whose work I had only read or heard about, who are passionate about sustainable development through a market system lens, were all under the same roof for three days!

Often development programs fail to live beyond their implementation period because of critical oversights. Some of these include data that does not reflect the real situation of program partners, imposition of solutions that completely disregard program participant’s perspective who themselves live through what is being addressed and the false belief that because it worked elsewhere it would work in a “similar” context. 

A market systems development perspective mitigates these failures. It does this by seeking to understand underlying problems. Specifically, those that would cause demand and supply functions to underperform in a market system, and surrounding ecosystem constraints. A clear understanding of these problems enables a program to address prevailing constraints by strengthening market actors to perform their functions better, with the implementer being just but a catalyst.  

The Symposium was particularly insightful. The sharing of experiences by practitioners applying Market Systems Development (MSD) thinking in different contexts such as conflict, migration, food security and nutrition, climate change adaptation, the green economy, employment and skills development, private capital, trade, finance and investments, among others. Participants had the opportunity to put their minds together around topics that were of interest to them and for many, that they focused on a daily basis. 

Of particular interest to me were the trade, finance and investment discussions on ways to support business growth. Some of my key takeaways from the discussions were:

  1. Strengthening of local business advisory service providers who provide investment readiness support to businesses and link them to investors. While there are many business development advisors, there are often few local firms able to link businesses and close financing deals with international and regional funds beyond debt. 

  2. Upcoming fund managers, who have the advantage of local context, would benefit from support to grow their own businesses and attract international funds. 

  3. Targeted and well-designed de-risking mechanisms can have a significant impact on expansion of the reach of capital providers, especially in sectors such as agriculture and women owned enterprises which often lack standard collateral requirements. 

  4. Technical assistance to businesses is needed in areas such as market sizing and financial forecasting through incentives that are well structured, ensuring that the businesses contribute to the cost of service are critical for market systems change.

  5. Beyond sales and revenue, behavior change within an enterprise as a result of exposure provided by supporting programs is an important measure to track. A change in branding and positioning of a company following a trade exhibition is something to write about!

A big shout out to the Vikāra Institute and its partners for organizing such a successful event with over 450 in-person and virtual delegates. Beyond the in-person three-day Symposium in November, online Deep Dives were provided the following month of December to continue conversations with the MSD community. We continue to keep engaged through the MSD Hub and look forward to working together to grow enterprise in Africa!

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