MEDA in the News

Grebel students win 2014 MEDA Business Case Competition

Source: "Grebel students win 2014 MEDA Business Case Competition" by Fred Martin for the Canadian Mennonite

In only its second year of competition, a Conrad Grebel University College student team won the Business Case Competition at the annual Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) conven­tion, held this year in Winnipeg on Nov. 8.

The team, headed up by fourth-year student Jono Cullar, an international development major, beat out five teams from other Mennonite colleges and universities from across North America.

"Our team was well round­ed in our academic pro­grams," said Jono. "Not only did we have students in busi­ness and arts, but peace and conflict studies, accounting, and environment and business."

This was a broader skill set than other teams, compris­ing primarily business students.

This year's case competition was an actual MEDA project called Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) in Ghana that is working to empower women in soybean production. With a month to prepare, each team was asked to provide analysis and recommendations on MEDA's partnership with five local non-governmental organizations.

In its presentation, the Grebel team told a story through the voice of an entrepreneurial Ghanaian woman to make it personal.

"But we also backed the presentation with a lot of research," said Jono.

"I'm so proud of these students," remarked Grebel president Susan Schultz Huxman, who watched the uni­versity teams compete. "The competition is a wonderful way to expose students to the good work of MEDA. The foursome really articulated a smart, inspiring plan to help make the world a better place!"

Expenses for the team's registration and travel were supported by the Waterloo MEDA chapter, a donation from Murray and Yvonne Martin, and donations to the annual Grebel Fund.

Grebel's winning Business Case Competition team induded,from left to right: Elliot Parke, Anneke Pries­ Klassen, Jono Cullar and Sarah Steiner. 

How Canada can regain its prestige as a foreign aid leader

Source: "How Canada can regain its prestige as a foreign aid leader" by Tim Jackson for the Embassy

Impact investing links public, private money for the public good.

Sir Ronald Cohen MaRS photoThe argument that Canada is a declining power on the world stage is a familiar refrain within government circles. The absorption of the Canadian International Development Agency into Foreign Affairs and the sale of official residences abroad have critics arguing whether Canada has lost its prestige as a country that once led international development initiatives.

This week, Sir Ronald Cohen, considered the father of British venture capital, travelled to Canada with a solution that could boost Canada's status as a leader in international aid. Canadian governments and institutions, he suggested, should engage in a new form of global philanthropy: impact investing.

Sir Ronald is a co-founder of Apax Partners, a venture fund with US$37.4 billion of assets under management as of March 31. As chair of the G8 Social Impact Investment Taskforce, he wants to mobilize private capital for the public good—and he thinks Canada has a global role to play as a marketplace and broker for new financial vehicles.

"Government is not in the best position to innovate because their whole value proposition is not to fail," he told a select group of Canadians this week.

But investors, especially those of the millennial generation, are not only risk-takers, they seek meaning in their work. And social impact investing is the ultimate pay-it-forward model of investment.

So what is impact investing, and how can it replace or supplement traditional international development? Micro-financing loans are the most traditional form of impact investing. But they are blunt instruments. More sophisticated financial tools include social impact bonds, or SIBs, and social impact funds that invest in for-profit start-ups—just as a venture capital fund might—but target companies that have a social or environmental purpose.

SIBs are a financing vehicle for social programs that flip the traditional government "pay-for-service" structure on its head. With SIBs, investors pay upfront for a program (for example, poverty reduction in a particular region), and if the fund meets its objectives, the government pays back investors their capital plus rewards them with a rate-of-return that is comparable or higher than traditional government bonds.

SIBs typically give uncorrelated rates of return between four and nine per cent while at the same time generating social returns that save lives and government fees.

Sir Ronald wants Canada to step up to the SIB plate. In a private meeting with bankers and government officials in Toronto this week, he spelled out how the United Kingdom and Japan have created social impact funds by pooling unclaimed bank assets. Big Society Capital in the UK, for instance, now has 600 million pounds of assets under management thanks to government policy that enabled banks to release 400 million pounds in unclaimed assets to the fund, while the banks topped it up with an additional 200 pounds of their own money. Sir Ronald thinks Canada could also allocate unclaimed assets to impact investing, and the banks should invest alongside government.

Canada has been slow on creating SIBs, but we are ahead of the international field with other initiatives. Canada pioneered the Social Venture Connexion, or SVX, a platform that connects impact ventures with accredited investors.

INFRONT, a program designed by MaRS in collaboration with Sarona Asset Management and Mennonite Economic Development Associates, is an innovative global mentorship project that sends Canadian venture capitalists to emerging markets where they offer technical assistance and mentor overseas funds and ventures.

I've personally participated in the INFRONT program. Earlier this year, I flew to India to meet with Aavishkaar, a Mumbai-based social impact fund that invests in startups like Nepra, a waste management company. It has not only delivered financial returns for its investors, it is also an example of how social impact businesses can improve the quality of life for some of Ahmedabad's poorest workers: its waste pickers.

Aavishkaar is an international example of best practices in the social impact investing space. It succeeded in raising private capital to fund 38 portfolio companies in India.

My role was to share and exchange ideas based on the portfolio companies they've assembled, as well as discuss financing and partnerships with Aavishkaar's principals. I'm now using my networks in Canada to help Aavishkaar leverage more money from North American investors.

Canada has a major role to play in international development. But I believe that role has less to do with traditional government financing, and more to do with public-private partnerships—in this case governments working with social impact investors to fund projects based on outcomes.

Currently over $1 trillion of assets under management in Canada have been invested using some form of responsible investing criteria according to an RBC report using 2013 data. Imagine if more of those dollars were directed specifically to social impact projects both at home and abroad. Investor money would soon exceed government allocation.

To paraphrase Judith Rodin, president of the Rockefeller Foundation: there is not enough money in government coffers to adequately address poverty, homelessness and unemployment. But there is enough money in the world to tackle these issues. It's just locked up in private investments—and we now have the key to unlock it.

Tim Jackson is Canada's sector representative on the Social Impact Investment Taskforce, and lead executive at the MaRS Centre for Impact Investing. 

Two Women Cycling to Aid 20,000 Women in Ghana

Source: "2 Mennonite Women Cycling to Aid 20,000 Women in Ghana" by Aisha Abdelhamid for EdenKeeper

Cycling across Canada on a mission

On a mission to support women soybean farmers in Northern Ghana, two young women will undertake a four-month bike ride across Canada to raise $150,000. The money will go to Mennonite Economic Development Associates' GROW project in Ghana. GROW, or Greater Rural Opportunities for Women, is a six-year project to help improve the incomes and food security of 20,000 women and their families.

"Bike to GROW," the name of Sarah French and Mary Fehr's mission, is scheduled to begin on May 18 in Victoria, British Columbia, and conclude on September 5 in Leamington, Ontario. On their way East across the length of Canada, Sarah and Mary plan to speak with locals about Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), the GROW project, and their experience, making strategic stops at Mennonite churches, community centers, and MEDA chapters.

Not Your Typical 20-Somethings
Recently participating in a Mennonite Economic Development Associates intern program, Sarah French worked in Nicaragua on an agriculture project. Mary Fehr worked in Tanzania on a health project. Both saw the beneficial impact of their projects, as women were being helped out of poverty and they started looking for ways to become more involved.

Sarah remarked, "The GROW project is assisting 20,000 women farmers and their families to sustainably emerge from poverty. Mary and I wanted to support a project that focused on women because we saw the gender inequalities while on our own internships." Sarah continued, "It couldn't be more symbolic: Two women cycling across Canada representing independent, self-sufficient women."

Mary added, "I love to take on a challenge and prove to myself that absolutely anything is possible with willpower and determination." She added, "Sarah and I cannot fail, especially with the amazing support we've received. We're no longer just biking for ourselves but for all of MEDA, MEDA's supporters and of course, the women and families in Ghana."

Mennonite Economic Development Associates
Mennonite Economic Development Associates, or MEDA, was founded in 1953 by a group of Mennonite business professionals. An international economic development organization, its mission is to alleviate poverty through business solutions. Affirming that "all people deserve the opportunity to earn a livelihood," they furthermore believe that "unleashing entrepreneurship is a powerful way to alleviate poverty."

With a full range of entrepreneurial expertise, MEDA works in developing nations, partnering with the poor to start or grow small and medium-sized businesses. Focusing on women, youth, and the rural poor, Mennonite Economic Development Associates offer business training, technology upgrades, financial services, equity investment, and improved access to markets.

Sharing Life-Changing Stories Across Canada
Coordinator of Engagement Initiatives Ethan Eshbach said, "It's really inspiring to see Sarah and Mary's passion for how MEDA works and their determination to succeed for women in Ghana." Eshbach noted, "Bike to GROW has encouraged many people to join us in our mission to create business solutions to poverty. Anyone can help by offering financial support, a place to sleep or by organizing a local event."

Sarah and Mary both agreed, and pointed out how right it feels to use their ride as a chance to give back to the wonderful work that Mennonite Economic Development Associates does every day.

GROW Country Project Manager Catherine Sobrevega said, "We're so blessed and honored that women like Sarah and Mary want to support our efforts to empower women as entrepreneurs here in Ghana." Sobrevega spoke highly of the women of Ghana, saying, "These women work hard and persevere every day to provide for their families. You can see their smiles when they learn new things, produce a good harvest and have income because of our support." Speaking of Sarah and Mary, Sobrevega said, "It's exciting to know their life-changing stories are going to be shared across Canada. Our team will include both of them in our prayers. May they remain strong and safe throughout this memorable journey for GROW."

Amen! Watch for updates here on EdenKeeper of these two young women, Sarah French and Mary Fehr, as their "Bike to Grow" journey across Canada progresses. 

MEDA builds human dignity through entrepreneurship

Source: "MEDA builds human dignity through entrepreneurship" by Evelyn Rempel Petkau for the Canadian Mennonite
More than 500 Christian business­-men and women from a half-doz­en countries converged at the corner of Portage and Main in Winnipeg for four days in early November. There, in the shadow of the new Canadian Museum for Human Rights, participants attending the Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) annual convention learned about human rights and "human dignity through entrepreneurship."

While human rights have always been a core value of MEDA, "every conven­tion sets the bar a little higher," said Allan Sauder, president, adding, "This theme hit a chord with so many people. Human rights is always a factor in choosing and shaping sustainable programs that will have meaningful impact at a personal level, often for women, youth and those disadvantaged in their societies."

Plenary speakers included Art DeFehr, chief executive officer of Palliser Furniture, and Stephanie Stobbe, who came to Canada as a refugee from Laos when she was seven years old and is now associ­ate professor in conflict resolution stud­ies at Menno Simons College, Winnipeg. Together, they offered "a business case for human rights."

After carefully examining such questions as, "Does practising human rights lead to success in business?" and, "Are human rights consistent with biblical teachings?" they offered no black and white conclu­sions, but determined there is still lots of work to be done. People need to focus on issues close to home, where they can ac­tually do something, they said.

Ziauddin Yousafzai signs bookOn Nov. 7, participants were treated to a visit to the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, where two exhibits were opened for them. In this setting, Ziauddin Yousafzai spoke about human dignity for children and women. The educator, human rights campaigner, social activist and father of Nobel Peace Prize-winner Malala, said that, although the Taliban stirred up fear and violence in Pakistan, he, at great personal risk, peacefully resisted the Taliban's efforts to shut down schools and kept his own school open. He also inspired Malala to stand up for the right of all children to an education. Following the attack in which Malala was shot in the face while riding a school bus, Yousafzai didn't chose hatred or revenge, but forgiveness, for the attackers.

He shared stories of how, in his own country where 57 million children are out of school and many work in sweatshops, entrepreneurship can be a vehicle through which the dignity of women, children and men can be restored.

His own entrepreneurship is one such story. He said he wanted to be a teacher, but was unable to get a teaching job, so "in 1994, with three students, I and my friend started our own school. Today, we have more than 1,000 students."

"In many societies, women are ignored, treated as property, abused and some­times even killed in the name of honour. Attitudes can change through education," he said. "My five sisters could not go to school. I wanted my school to be different. I wanted to change the attitude of men to their sisters and mothers."

On Nov. 8, Laura Ling, award-winning journalist and author, told her story of being arrested and held captive in North Korea for 140 days in 2009. She was reporting on the trafficking of North Korean women at the time of her arrest. She said that this "darkest period of my life" taught her how to hold on to hope. "Seeing each day as a precious treasure, an opportu­nity to make a difference," she said she would treat her guards with compassion and grace. She believes this "practice of intentional gratitude" gave her the hope she needed and can also empower her to continue to be a voice for human dignity.

Jim Miller, president of JMX Brands, which is recognized as one of the top 1,000 Internet retailers in the U.S., used the story of the woman who anointed Jesus' feet with costly perfume as an example of giving. "Gifts bring depth to the relation­ship, but the power of the gift is unleashed only if it is shared for the good of the whole community," he said, adding, "Gift giving and receiving is at the very heart of God's story. Our faith compels us to share with those around us and we are inspired to work harder for the good of others."

Trudy Dueck, a businesswoman from Arborg, Man., was grateful to attend the convention. "Often you feel there is no place for business in the church," she said. "Here it is great to be amongst like-minded people and to have the recognition that business too can be a calling." 

Perkiomen Trail ride to support MEDA GROW project

Source: "Perkiomen Trail Ride to Support MEDA Project" by Lora for Franconia Conference, Mennonite Church USA

Want to help women in Ghana learn to grow soybeans? Bring your bicycle to Salford Mennonite Church on Saturday, May 2 to join a ride on the Perkiomen Trail, organized by Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA). The ride will start at Salford Mennonite Church in Harleysville, Pennsylvania, at 2:00 p.m.

Sarah French and her father take a break during a training rideThe ride will be led by Sarah French and Mary Fehr, two Canadians who were interns with MEDA in 2013. After this ride, they will travel by bike across Canada, starting in Victoria, British Columbia, and riding 5,412 miles to St. John's, New Brunswick. Their trip will take four months to allow for stops along the way to raise awareness about MEDA's Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) project. The GROW project started in 2012 and has impacted 20,000 women and their families.

"Teaching women to farm creates economic empowerment, which strengthens women, creating equality," says Sarah French, "So improving their skills can help bring a community out of poverty and spur economic growth."

Mary and Sarah's goal is to raise $150,000 by biking across Canada.

Mary Fehr was an intern in Tanzania"I want to be a part of this because by teaching [the women] to grow soybeans, they are creating a sustainable livelihood that will allow them to make choices based on the future rather than rash decisions due to necessities," says Mary.

Mary and Sarah will be sharing about their internship experiences and their upcoming Canadian bike ride at a dinner at Dock Woods Community on April 30. To RSVP to this event email This event is sponsored by the Delaware Valley MEDA chapter.

The Perkiomen Trail ride is sponsored by the MEDA chapters of Lancaster and Delaware Valley. Following the ride, there will be an international dinner and program at Salford Mennonite Church. Registration for the ride is $20; RSVP for the ride and dinner by April 16 at or by calling 717-560-6546.

Additionally, Sarah and Mary will be speaking at Blooming Glen Mennonite and Mellinger's Mennonnite Church the day after the ride.

Riders and non-riders alike are encouraged to follow and support Sarah and Mary's adventures through their website, or on Twitter or Instagram. 

Spreading the word about GROW

Sarah and Mary at Mile 0Source: "Spreading the word about GROW" by Rachel Bergen for the Canadian Mennonite

Former MEDA interns bike across Canada for Ghanaian women farmers

Mary Fehr just learned to ride a bike a few years ago, when she was 17. Now she and Sarah French are cycling thousands of kilometres across Canada—from Victoria, B.C., to St. John's, Nfld.—to raise money for Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) through its Bike To Grow campaign.

Fehr, 24, attends Leamington United Mennonite Church in Ontario. She met French, 25, in 2013, at an orientation before they embarked on MEDA internships. Fehr was bound for Tanzania, French was headed to Nicaragua. They both worked as impact assessment interns.

Even two years ago, Fehr says French was interested in doing a cross-Canada bike trip so she could see the rest of the country. "She kept talking about it. I kept avoiding the conversation," Fehr jokes.

After their several months abroad, the two decided to embark on the trip together. Almost immediately after the decision was made, they decided to take the opportunity to give back to MEDA and support women entrepreneurs in the process.

"We had both seen different levels of inequality with women during our internships, and how much of a difference MEDA's making. We wanted to give back," Fehr says, adding, "I was really shocked at how much of a difference [MEDA] made."

The women are hoping to raise $150,000 for MEDA's Greater Rural Opportunities for Women (GROW) program, a sustainable development program that helps women farmers in Ghana grow more soybeans and forge market links that increase their incomes.

By their first day on the road, the pair were almost a third of the way towards their fundraising goal. All monies raised will be matched nine times by Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada, meaning that if they reach their goal the total will jump to $1.45 million.

They also want to raise awareness about the work MEDA is doing in the world, and encourage people their age to get involved in projects that create sustainable development.

"Cycling really helps spread the word," French says.

After reaching St. John's, they will then finish their tour off at the MEDA chapter in Leamington, Ont., on Sept. 5. Along the way, they'll stop at the six other MEDA chapters across the country to give presentations on the GROW program and their campaign to support it.

To support the Bike To Grow campaign, and to follow Fehr and French's progress as they bike across Canada, visit To watch a video of the fundraising cyclists, visit