When Anita Campion, development finance expert and founder of Connexus Corporation, organized the first Cracking the Nut® (CTN) conference in 2011, she had no idea that 10 years later her organization would be hosting the 11th edition of the annual development conference. “We first organized Cracking the Nut because we observed a need for our community of international development practitioners to come together and tackle the tough nuts, those intractable issues that elude easy solutions,” Campion said. 

The first CTN focused on rural and agricultural finance. According to Campion: “After a decade of focusing on urban microfinance, the development industry was returning to the need for more money for agriculture. Agricultural finance was something that people had steered away from in the ’90s because of its complexity. And so as new practitioners came into agricultural finance, we needed to make sure they knew the lessons from the past. CTN was an opportunity to get the community together to share lessons learned as well as new approaches, so we could continue to learn and scale viable solutions in the future.”     

In following years, CTN expanded both in themes and in participation. Pertaining to themes, CTN grew beyond finance to more broadly focus on linking the private sector to development to increase and leverage private investment, expand the knowledge base for development issues, and promote sustainable market linkages. CTN conferences featured discussions around other tough nuts like food security, climate change, and empowering women and youth in development. As for participation, by its fourth year, CTN had become a leading forum for international development, convening more than 400 participants from 40 countries. Attendees included representatives from top food companies, financial institutions, investors, governments, donors, and international development organizations. 

CTN attracts not only the major nonprofit and for-profit implementing partners and donors, but also private sector companies and small businesses. According to Campion, “We especially want small, local businesses and people who work in developing countries to participate so they can highlight their unique perspectives and challenges. Also, we have made it a priority to move CTN around the world because we know that different regions of the globe have different actors, challenges, priorities, and solutions.” To date CTN has taken place in Washington, D.C., Germany, Rwanda, Zambia, Senegal, Thailand, and Guatemala. 

While the 2020 CTN conference was cancelled entirely due to COVID, this year, CTN has a new setting – the virtual world. “One advantage to an online event is that we are able to reduce the cost of participation so an even larger number of people from around the world can join,” Campion remarked. Held from November 15-18, CTN 2021 will focus on how development and private sector firms can work together to improve the resilience of food, water, and energy systems.  

What is the future for CTN? “Cracking the Nut was conceived to respond to the issues of the day and so we will continue to listen closely to the CTN community,” Campion said. “It is a challenge to anticipate priorities a year in advance in such a rapidly changing environment, but we want Connexus to continue to play a facilitative role in strengthening the community of practice by sharing and learning around the tough nuts we are all trying to crack.”