After RECONOMY’S 22-month inception phase, we reflect on applying the systemic approach on a regional level.

RECONOMY is an inclusive and green economic development programme. It applies the MSD approach regionally. 

The programme operates in two southeastern and eastern regions of Europe: the Eastern Partnership and the Western Balkan. This means the research, analysis and understanding of systemic constraints is done regionally. As are the systems and processes the programme uses. The implementing team, as well as partners, are based in different countries. Their focus is to cater to the needs of the women and youth, including the most disadvantaged and excluded, living in each country. 

This inception phase coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic, the war between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and, last but not least, the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Coupled with the setup and several extensions, these regional challenges eventually culminated in a duration spanning 22 months.

22 months later we are reflecting on the process. How did we get here? What did we learn? What made it a success? What does it take to work regionally? These are questions we tried to address in our inception case study developed with the Canopy Lab - RECONOMY’s inception phase: lessons on how to navigate complexity. It was an exciting journey for all of us, with ups and downs.

We want to share some of the lessons we learnt as a result of continuously improving our processes.

1. We engaged local partners and invested in building their capacity

We could not do it alone. We needed local partners who shared our aspirations for development but owned local context and insights. We partnered with local organisations and shared our vision of promoting change through market systems development with capacity-building initiatives. All this in the midst of the ongoing geo-political and COVID-19 challenges.

Partners received support from three main sources:

  1. Part of the capacity-building support was channelled through Helvetas’s Advisory Services, a pool of in-house experts that the programme has mobilised for its diverse needs. RECONOMY also made use of a regional pool of experts from Helvetas programmes. In this way, the programme (a) effectively utilised the knowledge and experience of staff in the regions, and (b) gave talented individuals opportunities to work outside of their countries of origin, creating opportunities to also build regional capacity. 
  2. RECONOMY made available an external strategic backstopping team, hired to provide additional support in the roll-out of MSD. 
  3. The Helveta programme team provided coaching and continuous support to the partners.

However, the process was quite lengthy. In future RECONOMY will use a mixed approach where some of the projects will be implemented by the Helvetas programme team itself.

2. We put learning and exchange at the centre of RECONOMY 

What is the value of knowledge and learning if it is not shared and applied? We know this at Helvetas. But what did we do in practice? We fostered learning and exchange between the actors from both regions. We brought together partners from the Western Balkans and the Eastern Partnership region through networking and exchanges. RECONOMY brought partners together forming a network to share knowledge derived from data, research and critical thinking. Network partners contributed to mutual value creation, a sense of recognition and belonging, and fostered effective collaboration and communication. We also invested in a digital information management system for real-time data sharing and knowledge dissemination.

3. We promoted regionality as our guiding principle

Helvetas is experienced at implementing MSD programmes in countries, not across a region. This was new to us. It was important not to mix a multi-country approach with a regional one and align priorities along with common problems and opportunities.  We learned that a region’s challenges are too complex for a single sector or actor to tackle. RECONOMY broke its approach to regionality into steps by:

  • replicating successful business models piloted in one country, to other countries
  • broadening the ambitions of businesses that would otherwise limit themselves to single-country operations
  • supporting partners to increase regional trade

4. We tried to strike a balance of inclusion and green economic development 

Inclusivity and green economy principles are the foundation of RECONOMY's design. Translating these principles into practical strategies was not an easy task.

We recognised the need to move beyond mere data disaggregation and instead integrate gender and social inclusion considerations as fundamental aspects of inclusive business models. At the same time, we considered environment and climate change in our systems analysis. This allowed us to design interventions with a potential for greener economies. 

For example, one of the areas of intervention is the promotion of the circular business model in the textiles and apparel sector in the Eastern Partnership countries. The sector employs predominantly women and has the potential to generate green skills and jobs once new business models are introduced. RECONOMY learned how important it is to have green indicators in the programme to track the progress and will address this in the main phase.  

And this is just the beginning!

In the inception phase, RECONOMY piloted the approach and feasibility of applying the systemic approach on a regional level. The phase duration, although unusually long, served its purpose. 

RECONOMY delivered proof of concept of applying the approach regionally, strengthening collaboration between regional actors. 

However, had the duration and expectations in the inception phase been clearer from the onset, the programme could have been set up for larger and more impactful interventions. With the experience gained, and four years to go, RECONOMY is looking forward to the next phase of learning. 

Stay tuned.

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