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New strategic plan sets target in alignment with UN development goals

MEDA is setting an ambitious target of creating or sustaining decent jobs for half a million people within a decade, attendees at the organization's annual meeting heard.

“We have a bold new goal of helping 500,000 people obtain decent work, primarily women and youth, by 2030,” said Leah Katerberg, MEDA’s vice-president of innovation and impact, said of the organization’s new strategic plan, which was launched in July.

Leah Katerberg Leah Katerberg

MEDA will reach the goal by leveraging expertise and strength in the areas of agri-food market systems, working with farm entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises, she said.

Three-quarters of workers in developing countries are in vulnerable employment, and most of those living in poverty are in the agricultural sector. MEDA’s strategic job creation goal is aligned with The United Nations’ sustainable development goal to “achieve full and productive employment, and decent work, for all women and men by 2030.”

MEDA will continue to provide risk capital, business and technical expertise to its farmer and business clients, Katerberg said. The organization is committed to making certain “that the entrepreneurs we work with succeed in an ethical manner, by ensuring environmental sustainability, gender equality and valuing inclusion and diversity.”

Reaching its job creation goal will mean working differently. MEDA will shift its focus from securing more and increasingly large contracts to achieving impact at scale and focusing on creating system-level change.

Dorothy Nyambi, MEDA’s president and chief executive officer, sees “challenging, but exciting opportunities ahead.”

Karin Krahn Karin Krahn

“We need to acknowledge that things are different and will continue to be different,” she said, noting that MEDA was already looking to the future prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.

MEDA remains financially strong, well positioned to navigate the COVID-19 turbulence and deliver on its mission to create business solutions to poverty, Karin Krahn said in her treasurer’s report.

While the organization reported a loss of $1.1 million in the year ended June 30, that was attributable to $1.7 million of investment and foreign exchange losses due to the economic downturn.

Both revenue and expenses were lower than budgeted for fiscal year 2019. MEDA proactively managed and contained expenses by holding off hiring certain new and replacement roles and reducing discretionary costs.

Donations of $6.5 million were better than forecasted in a COVID-19 environment. The organization had $5.8 million in non-restricted cash reserves at the end of its fiscal year, funds that “will allow MEDA to weather some economic storms (and) ensures we will be there for the people we serve.”

Over the past year, MEDA served 1.9 million clients in 58 countries. The MEDA Risk Capital Fund, with $23.9 million in assets, is more important than ever to provide a source of financing to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the least developed countries, Krahn said. The pandemic has had “significant adverse impacts” on the ability of SMEs in these countries to access financing.

As an example of MEDA’s efforts to address that problem, she cited MEDA advancing $1.1 million in loans to financial institutions in Nicaragua that work with small agricultural producers.

The pandemic has had widespread effects on marginalized populations and local markets around the world, said Simon Carter, MEDA’s interim senior lead, global programs.

Simon Carter Simon Carter

These include disrupted agri- food supply chains causing food insecurity, an alarming global rise in gender-based violence, reduced mobility, sales and incomes for farmers, and many people left without work, he said.

MEDA launched a number of new activities last year that are helping the organization understand how to navigate more purposefully the field of impact investment and gender lens investing. The Second Chance Success project in Kenya and Rwanda provides technical support to women entrepreneurs to increase their access to finance.

The Emerging Markets Impact Investment Fund in southeast Asia is a collaboration with the Sarona private equity firm to fund innovative new ways of investing in order to generate more employment and business opportunities for women.

In the new fiscal year that began July 1, MEDA has secured several new projects.

USAID has provided funding to support the development of small and medium enterprises in Haiti.

USAID is also supporting expansion of work with cassava seed systems in Kenya.

MEDA is working with the Mastercard Foundation to expand work in Senegal and respond directly to the impacts of COVID on small-scale farmers in the south of that country, and also to support technical and vocational training for young people in Kenya.

A new institutional funder for MEDA, the Danish aid agency Danida, is supporting work on the shea value chain in Nigeria. The shea tree produces nuts, the fat of which is used to make shea. butter. Shea butter is used both in cosmetics and food preparation.

Pandemic is warmup for climate change threat, MEDA expert says

The global pandemic is a dress rehearsal for climate change, the greatest threat to many people’s futures around the world, says MEDA’s expert on environmental issues.

“The pandemic has been all-consuming, yet despite all these changes the pandemic has forced upon us, I am reminded every day that this pandemic is merely a dress rehearsal for our greatest challenge yet, and that is climate change,” said Dennis Tessier, MEDA’s technical director of environment and climate change.

Tessier made the statement at MEDA’s annual convention, which was held online Nov 6 and 7.

Dennis Tessier Dennis Tessier

Seventeen years ago, the Earth’s atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels passed the 400 parts per million (ppm) threshold for the first time in history. (A 350 ppm level, last seen in 1990, is considered by scientists to be an upper safe limit.)

During April 2020, the peak lockdown period, daily CO2 emissions dropped by an unprecedented 17 percent compared to 2019 levels. For 2020 as a whole, CO2 emissions are expected to drop by between four and seven percent compared to 2019 levels.

Higher CO2 levels, now about 412 ppm, mean “the world our children and grandchildren are going to inherit is going to be drastically different that what humanity has ever experienced before.”

“We are inundated with stories of sea level rise, droughts, hurricanes and record fires… As with COVID-19, the sense of urgency with climate change must match the threat,” he said.

COVID-19 presents unique opportunities to pursue a path to meet the climate change challenge, he said. MEDA is working with many partners to build a business case for environmental sustainability in developing countries.

“We are striving to support our clients in a way that ensures their livelihoods thrive, within our planetary boundaries.”