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By Mike Strathdee

As printed in The Marketplace - January/February 2018

Record donations from supporters, assisting 91 million families and praise from government funders were highlights of the past year at MEDA, the organization’s annual meeting heard.

Supporters set a record in private contributions to MEDA for the second year in a row, totaling $6.5 million US, president Allan Sauder said.

Allan Sauder AGM Speech 2017A

During the past year, MEDA has signed $40 million in new contracts for projects around the world to create enduring livelihoods. These included:

• $11 million to help youth and women in northern Nigeria realize their full entrepreneurial and leadership potential;

• $15 million to test models for solving trade finance needs of small and medium enterprises and building trade links;

• $12 million to expand MEDA’s work with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Tanzania to commercialize distribution of quality cassava seed stock; and

• $2 million from the Australian Government to expand MEDA’s work in Myanmar and Pakistan.

Sauder credited supporters for MEDA’s success in working with 322 partners in 60 countries, helping over 91 million families to “realize healthier, more economically sustainable lives.

Funding from the Canadian and US governments matches funds raised for many MEDA projects by $5 to $7 for every donated dollar. In the case of a Tanzanian cassava project, the Gates Foundation provides a 17- to-1 multiplier.

MEDA has launched a $50 million Building Enduring Livelihoods campaign to raise the funds needed to support the $200 million of contracts it has signed in recent years. To date, $27.8 million has been pledged over the next five years, campaign chair Rob Schlegel reported.

Several new employees were mentioned by Sauder during his speech. Michael White was hired as MEDA’s chief engagement officer in April, overseeing fundraising and constituent relations. White chairs MEDA’s Building Enduring Livelihoods fundraising campaign, the organization’s largest ever effort to achieve private donor matching contributions for all its contract opportunities.

Jodi Martin joined the organization this summer as volunteer program manager. MEDA has long relied on the efforts of scores of volunteers, including business advisers, board directors, chapter leaders and volunteer auditors, Sauder noted. “This is something that we plan to expand on. The business skills and values that are contained within our constituency are probably our singly most under-utilized resource — and we intend to change that.”

MEDA sold its foreign currency transfer business to longstanding UK partner INTL FCStone this spring, ending more than 25 years of buying and transferring foreign currencies quickly, economically and safely, both for itself and other non-governmental organizations through its MEDA Trade Co. subsidiary.

Sauder praised recently retired employee Sheri Brubacher, who he said was “practically single-handedly responsible” for moving over $1 billion in foreign currency, allowing MEDA Trade Co. to donate more than $1 million to MEDA from its profits.

MEDA is working hard to diversify its institutional funding partners beyond Global Affairs Canada (which is by far its largest single funder) and the United States Agency for International Development (US AID). “However, for the foreseeable future they will remain key to our ability to multiply your contributions by seven times on average, to increase the impact of what your dollars can achieve.”

Shifting political priorities, both in Canada and the U.S., will constrain new funding from either partner.

The Canadian government’s new Feminist International Assistance Policy will be largely focused on women’s health and rights programs over the next year or two, leaving little money for new economic development initiatives.

Changes are coming in Washington as well, but what those will be isn’t known. “Despite recent calls for massive cuts to foreign aid, it is less clear how those changes will look once they have made their way through the political process,” Sauder said.

MEDA has been successful in attracting some funds from USAID to explore new approaches. It ran pilot projects for a gender equality mainstreaming framework with small and medium-sized businesses in India and Indonesia. The framework offers a practical suite of tools to help investors and companies to evaluate and upgrade gender equality within businesses.

Both U.S. and Canadian aid agencies have shown interest in using these tools more broadly, he said.

Senior Canadian government staff have also made it clear that Canada remains committed to the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals adopted by the United Nations. Meeting the first target, eradicating extreme poverty — people living on less than $1.25 a day — throughout the world by 2030, is a tall order, Sauder said.

Reaching those goals will require reaching beyond government resources. “The bulk of that investment must come from the private sector using mechanisms loosely defined as blended finance.”

MEDA’s 64-year history of blending private investment with donated money and government support has led to it being viewed as a leader in the blended finance approach, Sauder said. In fact, a senior policy adviser to the minister of Global Affairs Canada called MEDA, and the for-profit Sarona Asset Management in which MEDA owns a minority share, the “rock stars” of blended finance, he said.

Two new board members were introduced at convention.

• Crystal Weaver of Lancaster, Pa. operates four coffee and retail businesses that are committed to contributing to Lancaster’s hospitality and social landscape by paying living wages and ethical product sourcing. Weaver’s work was featured in the January 2017 issue of The Marketplace (Serving up jobs and coffee).

• Karin Krahn of Calgary, Alta. is manager of operations and G & A (general and administrative expenses) accounting for the Canadian division of Nexen, a major oil and gas producer. ◆Karen Krahn 1

Crystal Weaver Photo