CGIAR System Reference Group

What is the System Reference Group?

The System Reference Group (SRG) was established by the System Council in 2018 to bring together funders, Centers, and partner countries to develop forward-looking recommendations on CGIAR’s research focus, delivery model, and institutional structure.

Co-chaired by Tony Cavalieri, of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Marco Ferroni, Chair of the System Management Board, the group’s membership comprises 22 persons:

  • CGIAR Funders/partners – 11 persons drawn from the membership of the CGIAR System Council, including representation of regional constituencies where CGIAR operates;
  • CGIAR System Management Board – 9 members, including 6 Center-affiliated members (Center Board members or Directors General), and the Executive Director of the CGIAR System Organization; and
  • 2019 conveners of CGIAR Center Boards of Trustees and Directors General.

The System Reference Group receives support from an external firm on methods and resources for solutions to deep collaboration among stakeholders.

NEW: Interim Report of the System Reference Group – Draft Recommendations to the System Council

At a retreat on 16–18 July, 2019 the SRG agreed on ambitious draft recommendations to the System Council. In these, the SRG recommended closer alignment of mission, governance, and institution arrangements towards One CGIAR.

If you have questions or feedback on the draft recommendations, please write to

Key events and milestones

The SRG plans to present its recommendations for endorsement by the System Council at its 9thmeeting in Chengdu, China in November  2019. Over the intervening months, the group will further elaborate its recommendations in consultation with key stakeholder groups.

16–18 July, 2019 The SRG agrees on draft recommendations at a retreat in Rome, Italy
August–September 2019 Further elaboration of the SRG’s recommendations in consultation with key stakeholder groups
1–2 October, 2019 In-person meeting of the SRG in Rome, Italy to finalize  the group’s recommendations to the System Council
November 2019 9th meeting of the System Council in Chengdu, China: The Council considers the SRG’s recommendations for endorsement

How did the System Reference Group come about?

During the CGIAR System Council’s 6thmeeting in May 2018 there was an important discussion on the need for CGIAR to better anticipate and deliver research and innovations – the effects and impacts of which may reach well beyond agriculture – as well as develop the mechanisms to support global responses to new threats confronting the world’s fragile food system. 

The result was an agreement to form a time-bound CGIAR System Reference Group as a forum in which Funders and the System Management Board could have the open conversations necessary to explore bold ideas.

What is the System Reference Group doing?

The System Reference Group is a forum for strategic conversations to explore bold ideas, and is not a decision-maker. The System Reference Group’s members are particularly looking at:

  • Framing CGIAR’s forward-looking research focus, with better connections to the wider agricultural research for development system for impact;
  • Considering how CGIAR can optimally deliver the results of the research it is undertaking through a diverse range of partnerships; and
  • Analyzing institutional structures and arrangements, with an aim to explore whether there are more effective working modalities between CGIAR Center Boards and the System Management Board to enable a more collective approach, sharpen research focus and increase efficiencies.

In the development of a 2030 Plan, a key action (Action 10) of the CGIAR System 3-year Business Plan (2019-2021), the System Reference Group plays an important role in injecting bold ideas which have emerged from these joint conversations and have been consulted on with stakeholders across the System.

In addition to a series of in-person and virtual meetings of the System Reference Group itself, it actively engages with groups across CGIAR to share ideas emerging at different stages of its process and to gather inputs and feedback, including via:

  • CGIAR System Council (SC8, May 2019);
  • CGIAR Science Leaders (Annual Science Leaders’ Meeting, June 2019);
  • Chairs of the CGIAR Centers’ Boards of Trustees (Board Chairs mid-year workshop, July 2019);
  • CGIAR Center Directors General (Directors General mid-year workshop, July 2019).

The System Reference Group will complete its mandate in November 2019, when it is expected that bold recommendations from the System Reference Group’s deliberations will be brought for approval by the System Council in its 9thmeeting in China.


    Guiding CGIAR’s role in meeting the SDGs are five global transformations to address five global challenges: