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  • Patrice Thomas, MSD/R Specialist/CLA Manager/Strategic Communications, Papyrus, USA/Haiti

The Power of Perspective: How MSS2023 Reshaped My Approach to Development

Updated: Apr 17


Patrice Thomas, MSD/R Specialist/CLA Manager/Strategic Communications, Papyrus, USA/Haiti

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 author highlights a central element of good systems thinking that is often devalued, as practitioners seek step by step guidance on good practice, which is the importance of ongoing learning. Ongoing learning, based on evidence that comes from the market system, is an essential part of good systems thinking. Another key element is that our work has to be catalytic, and what may be catalytic can vary in a given context.  Catalytic means that activities encourage change to emanate from within a market system based on the interests, needs, or wants of market actors. Generally, it is harder to be catalytic the more resources are introduced, or the more forceful an activity is in its engagement with market actors. The context specific nature of good systems thinking makes it critical to have events like MSS2023 that allow practitioners and donors to explore and debate experiences and perceptions. 


The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.”  Socrates

Participating at the Market System Symposium 2023 was an overwhelmingly positive and enriching experience. More than a professional conference, the event was comparable to a spiritual experience — an unexplainable feeling of coming home, a meeting of minds, and a humbling recognition of how much I thought I knew but did not know. Indeed, some of the sessions, captured through these phrases below, helped bolster my adherence to the MSD theoretical underpinnings I have now espoused for more than seven years. 

  • "If we try to create the solutions, they fail, but if we respond to signals, the more likely the impact."  Tonderai Manoto, Chief Technical Advisor 

  • “What we are doing is helping people do what they are doing better through systems lens thinking.” Mike Field, Vikāra Institute

  • "We partner not with businesses, but with behaviors." Gwendolyn Tweed, Partnership and Grants Manager, DAI 

These phrases capture the essence of my main takeaway from the symposium, namely that the change we seek can only come from the local actors, and our role is to create the space that will enable this change to come to fruition. In other words, and as was echoed by so many participants, multi-stakeholder, participatory, and deliberate processes of coming to solutions are the foundations of sustainable impact.

In contrast, many of the sessions, captured by these extracts below, challenged me and brought me to disrobe myself of the "MSD hat" that I so proudly wore. 

  • "Don't get caught up in the word MSD. It's not about the label. We don't need to call everything we do MSD." Mike Field, Vikāra Institute.

  • "Sometimes an activity that is seemingly non-MSD, that adopts conventional/direct delivery approach (e.g., providing training to producer beneficiaries), can deliver sustainable impact at scale." Collins Appuyo, Uganda IAM, DAI.

  • “National economic development has only been achieved through laser focus on a commodity, and not by adopting a crop-agnostic approach.” – From crop agnostic vs value chain-focused debate.

These sessions brought me to question my deeply held assumptions of what constitutes good development and challenged me to consider that a conventional approach can, at times, lead to positive, lasting change. This was the first welcoming blow that slowly, as the conference progressed, threw me into a state of reflection and re-learning. 

Thus, beyond the opportunity to network (of which I took full advantage), there was something deeply cathartic and life-changing about the symposium. While encouraging one to stay the [MSD] course, it also invited one to examine the rigidity of their practices and their underlying (perhaps myopic) assumptions of pathways to good development. Ultimately, the event is for the humble, those with a deep longing for their work to contribute to a net positive impact on the world—even if that means re-learning and questioning previously deeply held convictions of sustainable development pathways/framework. The symposium will undoubtedly have left an undying impact on all who participated. And for this, I am forever indebted to the entire Vikāra team and sponsors.

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