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MARCH – MAy 2011 PARTNERS
The past six years of my long association
with ACIAR were a personally fulfilling
time but they coincided with a period of
great change. In a dynamic world, ACIAR’s own
structures matter if the centre is to help others
develop human and institutional capacities.
When I chaired my last meeting of the ACIAR
Commission in September 2010, I reflected on
how much had changed as I wished ACIAR a
strong and successful future helping farmers
link with international agricultural expertise to
feed the world.
The first major governance change in ACIAR’s
history happened midway through my term,
in 2007, with the establishment of the ACIAR
Commission. It replaced the ACIAR Board of
Management (BOM)—a governance structure
that had served ACIAR without change for
Included were changes to the original ACIAR
Act 1982 that created the position of ACIAR Chief
Executive Officer with full responsibilities for the
operations of ACIAR. The Policy Advisory Council
(PAC) was re-established, but with membership
independent of the Commission and with a
greater focus on the views of ACIAR’s overseas
partners. Beth Woods made a welcome return to
ACIAR by accepting the position as PAC President.
While the BOM had hands-on approval
responsibility for every project that ACIAR
undertook, along with oversight and review
responsibilities, the new Commission’s
role is to provide strategic advice
to the Minister of Foreign Affairs
on ACIAR directions and factors
affecting its performance.
Given the Commission’s
greater emphasis on ACIAR’s
mission, we were pleased
with the appointment of the
Director-General of AusAID
and the greater oversight of the
Portfolio Secretary. Ministerial
responsibility was and
and with pleasure
I can say that all
Secretaries I reported to were extremely
supportive of ACIAR and its work.
These changes shifted control of the agency
from the Board to the chief executive officer,
with the Commission providing strategic
advice. The approach has made ACIAR more
integrated into the whole-of-government
and Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio.
This has reduced, in a positive way, ACIAR’s
independence, positioning it to have greater
development impact on the ground.
At the same time, I am a great believer in the
advantages to ACIAR of using the experience of
key strategic and senior people with outstanding
leadership roles in their own fields. The
Commission provides a suitable vehicle for this.
Leadership and staffinG
The leadership and staffing of ACIAR have
changed considerably. During my first five
years, ACIAR was well served by Peter Core as
Director and then chief executive officer. Peter
led ACIAR through considerable reform, from
being primarily program-focused to becoming
country-focused, strengthening links with
the Australian aid program and AusAID, and
improving ACIAR’s corporate performance.
Peter also steered ACIAR effectively through
the governance reforms and the development of
the major amendments to the ACIAR Act (in 2007)
and improved ACIAR’s presentation of information
to the public through a rich website. As leader of
the research programs, John Skerritt also played
a key role until late 2009, when he took up
a new leadership role in the Victorian
Department of Primary Industries.
In mid 2009, we welcomed
our new CEO, Nick Austin, who
hit the ground running and has
vigorously continued the reform
processes, restructuring the
regional and research program
responsibilities and continuing to
strengthen linkages with the aid
program. Nick has also embarked
on further improving ACIAR’s
communications. ACIAR is more focused
on public outreach than six years ago
and has significantly increased its
In recent years, many senior
staff have retired after years of
how aciar adapts to a dynamic worLd
While ACIAR supports sustainable food security as part of Australia’s development assistance
program, the centre’s own structure has changed in response to dynamic global environments.
Here Meryl J. Williams, former chair of the ACIAR Commission, discusses some major trends.
sterling service. I was relieved and delighted,
however, that ACIAR recruited an exciting
new cadre of research program managers.
With programs now focused on countries and
regions, and with larger projects mandated, the
collegial attitude between research programs
Another ACIAR strength is its support staff,
whose flexibility, cross-skilling and service-first
approach I have experienced first-hand.
austraLia’s aid proGram
As Australia’s aid effort gains greater coherence,
ACIAR now works much more closely with
AusAID. The two organisations’ roles were
always complementary. But greater coherence,
especially by government agencies, has created
a platform for better cooperation, such as
through single Australian country aid strategies
across all sectors and themes.
As a result of the 2007–08 world food-price
crisis, agriculture and food security made a
comeback to the public agenda, after sliding in
priority against other aid issues for more than
two decades. This increased the importance
of ACIAR’s relationships with aid agencies and
research providers, and led to the first real
increase in ACIAR’s base budget for many years.
With economic growth in China, India,
Malaysia and Thailand, ACIAR relationships with
these countries have shifted to collaborative
partnerships or have been phased out or cut.
At the same time, work has increased with
the Mekong countries and East Timor, new
approaches are being taken in the Pacific
region, and Africa is back on the agenda.
internationaL aGricuLturaL research
ACIAR played a major role in the wide-
ranging reforms of the Consultative Group on
International Agricultural Research (CGIAR)
and now sits on the new Fund Council. Given
the deep knowledge of its research program
managers, and its leadership in some of the
reform processes, ACIAR arguably has the
most comprehensive knowledge of any
development agency of how best to use the
capacities of the CGIAR. n
The views expressed in this article are those of
the author and do not represent the formal
opinion of ACIAR.
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