Foreword from the Chair
The past year has been a challenging one for the organisation but one in which significant progress has been made in a number of areas. Overall, the financial results were disappointing with a slight decline in total net revenue and a reduction in operating surplus relative to the prior year, both of which were below our original targets. Nevertheless, a lot of hard work and careful control of costs by the management team and staff meant that the organisation has built a stronger pipeline of forward revenue opportunities, has remained in good financial health, and looks poised for a stronger year in 2018.
In 2016, the Board had been particularly concerned about CABI’s core Publishing business which had shown a downturn in sales. I am pleased to report that good work by the salesforce, coupled with the launch of the new CAB Direct platform, helped to bring about a turnaround such that we saw 7% overall growth, 3% organic after stripping out the benefits of exchange rates. We also undertook a major strategic and financial review of CABI’s overall Knowledge Business to identify the key levers and opportunities towards creation of stronger growth and greater future value in this area.
In International Development, donor funding and government budgets were also much tighter and this led to protracted decision-making from partners in some cases. However, by the end of 2017 we had been able to secure renewed funding commitments to Plantwise and other programmes up to 2020 from key donors such as the UK Department for International Development (DFID), the Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC), the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (DGIS) and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). In particular, we were delighted to secure support from DFID and DGIS for the new Action on Invasives programme which is targeting major pest and disease problems affecting agriculture in Africa and Asia.
A particular highlight of the year, and one which had not been part of our original plan, was the acquisition of and merger with SciDev.Net, an organisation offering news, analysis and information about science and technology for global development including agriculture, environment, health, governance, and more. The integration of two organisations of very different scale and background can often be problematic but the Board was impressed at how smoothly this went – underpinned by both sides having strong shared values in independent, objective, science-based analysis. The combined power and intellect from the merger is already opening up exciting new business opportunities.
The ongoing process of Board renewal has continued in 2017 with Mr Roland Dietz stepping down after two terms of 3 years and Madam Xiangjun Yao stepping down at the end of her first term due to the demands of her full-time commitments with FAO in Bangkok. We were pleased to welcome Mr Andrew Jack, a journalist with the Financial Times of London and a SciDev.Net trustee, to the Board as part of the merger as well as Mr Roger Horton, former CEO of Taylor and Francis, the well-known commercial academic publisher. We continue to search for a replacement for Mme Yao who will help us maintain the gender and geographic balance of the Board. At the end of 2017, each of the Non- Executive Directors gave a short video interview to highlight their views of the way in which CABI is playing its part in helping the world achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). These are available on the CABI website and I would encourage you to take a look at them if you have not already done so.
Finally, it is with some sadness that I have to inform you that I will be stepping down from the Board after the next meeting in June, having completed 7 interesting and enjoyable years as a Non-executive Director, the last 3 of them as Chair. However, I am pleased to say that Roger Horton has agreed to take over from me and I am confident that he will continue to take the organisation forward. It has been a great pleasure and a privilege to have served CABI over that period, getting to know more about the fantastic work it does and meeting the committed and enthusiastic members of staff from around the world. CABI is a very special organisation, and I have every confidence that it will continue to flourish going forward. I wish it and all those involved with it all the very best for the future.
Philip Walters, MBE, Chair