16 April 2014 - With the increasingly complex dilemmas facing local, regional and global food and health systems, there is a need for greater interface among the actors involved in the field, from international organizations to academia. In response to this need, academics Will Hueston at the University of Minnesota and Katharina Stärk of Safe Food Solutions (SAFOSO Inc.) have devised a yearly study tour entitled Engaging International Organizations (EIO). This intensive professional development programme provides mid- and senior-level government officials, private sector leaders and academic faculty with the opportunity to interact more effectively with intergovernmental organizations.
The study tour, inaugurated in 2008, brings together a diverse group of participants who are given an insight into public policymaking at an international level. The programme includes site visits and interactions with key officials working with food safety, animal health and public health from four international organizations: the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) in Paris, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Geneva and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome. Discussions centre on the impact of international standards and policy on food safety, animal health, trade and public health.
From 22 to 28 March 2014, 23 participants with different professional profiles from Africa, Asia, Europe and North America came together in the sixth edition of the study tour. On 28 March 2014, they were welcomed to FAO where they were given an overview of the structure and the objectives of FAO, of Food Safety and the Codex and were shown around the Crisis Management Center for Animal Health (CMC-AH) where FAO deals with emergency situations related to animal health.
As in previous years, two speed-networking sessions were organized. Participants were divided up into seven groups of three, each led by an FAO facilitator. These small groups then visited key FAO staff in their offices in different departments. Each participant met six FAO staff for twenty minutes each over the course of two sessions. EIO participants and FAO staff were matched for their interests and professional backgrounds in order to increase the effectiveness of the exercise. Participants were thus able to meet a good number of FAO representatives who could provide information on their background and professional profiles and obtain insights into how their respective roles contribute to the organization's overall mandate. EIO participants have found these sessions especially valuable as a method for expanding professional networks. During their visit, participants received FAO publications tailored to their interests and according to a selection made from a list of publications of all FAO departments.
By creating a framework like the EIO study tour, participants are able to interact with staff at intergovernmental organizations in a comfortable, personal way allowing them to build skills for effective engagement at an international level. The networks created on these tours facilitate communication and knowledge exchange amongst actors who often do not have the opportunity to meet professionally, increasing confidence in participants that it is possible to contribute to shared leadership in global policy-making.