MEDA Blog - Stories from the Field

International Development 101

I suppose it would be a good idea to tell you what it is that brings me here to Ukraine! For those of you who don’t know, I am participating in an internship sponsored by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). CIDA is a branch of the Canadian Federal Government, and as the name dictates, it deals with International Development.

People often ask, “What is International Development?” This is a funny question for me, because even though I did my Master’s in Development Studies, I still have a hard time defining it! There are many definitions and debates surrounding development, but I think a practical definition- and the definition most prevalent to my internship, would be that International Development is/are deliberate attempts by foreign actors, working with local partners to assist in the economic/social/political development of a country or a specific group of people.

So, the way it usually works is that you start with a donor, the donor provides the necessary funds to carry out a project. Donors can be governmental agencies, not for profit organizations or private enterprises. Some of the more notable development donors are USAID and CIDA; which are departments from the American and Canadian Federal Governments. The UN has various agencies like the UNDP, or UNIFEM that sponsor development projects. And then there are private foundations like the Mastercard Foundation and the Bill and Linda Gates Foundation that also provide funds for international development projects. This is just to name of a few of the larger donor agencies.

Then, funds are distributed to a Nongovernmental Organization (NGO), which either contracts out a project to another partner, or carries out the project itself. There are too many development NGO’s all over the world to count, and they vary greatly in size, scope, focus and effectiveness. For example, some organizations aim at Human Rights development like OXFAM, others like UNIFEM focus on gender issues, others like the plethora of microfinance organizations around the world focus on economic development through the extension of microfinancial services. Some focus on service provision, like healthcare services, some on goods-like malaria nets. There are large NGO’s that have various projects all around the world and that draw funds from various donors, and then there are small NGO’s that may only consist of two staff members.

In the case of the project I am working on, CIDA provides funds to the Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), which then funds and facilitates the Ukraine Horticulture Development Project (UHDP).

Ok, so now what is MEDA and what is the UHDP?

MEDA stands for the Mennonite Economic Development Associates- and this is the NGO that facilitates (among its many other global projects) my project the UHDP- the Ukraine Horticulture Development Project.

The first thing you may have noticed in the MEDA acronym is the ‘M’ which stands for Mennonite. MEDA is in fact a Mennonite organization. This can cause some confusion and perhaps some contention. One may think that because it is a Mennonite organization, the work being done has a religious undertone, or that it is missionary work- trying to spread religion, or that everyone who works for the organization and benefits from the projects are Mennonite as well. This is not the case. What it does mean is that Mennonite principles color their development values; mainly the call to do justice by helping others.

MEDA’s development strategy lies in the ‘E’ or Economic. MEDA has a distinct economic focus, and it is believed that poverty reduction and ‘development’ will occur through economic and entrepreneurial development. As such, their projects tend to be economic in focus. For example, the main areas MEDA works in are Women’s Economic Development, The Business of Health, Agriculture, Deposit Mobilization, Youth and Financial Services and Inclusive Rural Finance. All of which aim at achieving development through strengthening entrepreneurial activity.

The project I am working on is called the Ukraine Horticulture Development Project (or in Russian: Украинский проект развития плодоовощеводства), aims to increase the productivity of small-scale farmers in Ukraine through the use of various technologies and marketing skills. The project establishes lead-farmer networks, which serve as a bridge between small farmers – who need inputs, technology and access to markets – and agribusinesses, which want to trade with them. The idea is that farmers will band together to purchase various technology and share growing techniques, making their crops more prosperous. It is then hoped that the farmers will band together again to consolidate crops, thus receiving higher market prices and increasing their profitability. The lead-farmers also mentor small farmers in improved production methods and the ‘business of farming’ thereby further improving small farmers’ competitiveness. MEDA provides both practical trainings- dealing with farming techniques, and business trainings- dealing with marketing issues to lead farmers and small farmers alike, they distribute a newsletter to all of their members, and they offer financial services- ie) loans that are geared towards agribusiness, there are grants available for farmers and a weather monitoring service as well as many other valuable services available to UHDP clients.

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