MEDA partners with The Mastercard Foundation to create thousands of jobs through funding investments in Africa for women and youth entrepreneurs

Accra, Ghana – MEDA is pleased to announce that the USD $200 million Mastercard Foundation Africa Growth Fund launched today. The Fund of Funds (FOF) initiative will help advance the Mastercard Foundation’s Young Africa Works strategy, which aims to enable 30 million young people in Africa, particularly young women, to access dignified and fulfilling work by 2030.

Funded by the Mastercard Foundation, Mennonite Economic Development Associates of Canada (MEDA) will lead the Fund of Funds project with support from its other partners. MEDA’s partners include Investisseurs & Partenaires (I&P), Entrepreneurial Solutions Partners (ESP), the Criterion Institute, Genesis Analytics, and Africa Communications Media Group (ACG). An expert investment committee from the African continent will oversee the project.

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) play a vital role on the African continent. Yet, they lack access to the finance they need to grow their businesses. In particular, women and youth SMEs face barriers to accessing this resource. Eliminating this barrier to finance can close the funding gap, increase economic growth, and reduce poverty among women and youth.

President and CEO of MEDA, Dr. Dorothy Nyambi, underscores how this partnership will create decent work and economic empowerment on the African continent.

“We need to do everything it takes now to build a continent with shared prosperity and sustainable, inclusive growth. This Fund of Funds will strengthen and empower a new crop of African investment vehicles to create decent work for women and youth via investments in small and medium-sized enterprises.”

– Dr. Dorothy Nyambi, President and CEO, MEDA

By working with the Mastercard Foundation, MEDA will foster positive social and environmental outcomes for women and youth-owned SMEs. It will further strengthen the African investment ecosystem. Lastly, MEDA’s work with the Mastercard Foundation FOF project will advance its goal of creating or sustaining decent work for 500,000 people by 2030 and help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goal #8: Decent Work and Economic Growth.

Read the full press release to learn more about this announcement.

The Mastercard Foundation Africa Growth Fund is an initiative of the Mastercard Foundation and a consortium of partners. Led by the Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), The Mastercard Foundation Africa Growth Fund and other partners include:

COP27 – Why Moving too Slow on Climate Change is not an option

In 2015, the world came together in Paris, France at the 21st Annual Conference of Parties (COP21) to implement the Paris Agreement. This legally binding international treaty on climate change committed 196 countries to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. It was expected that every COP after the COP21 would build on this impressive achievement.

Despite the ambitious start, there have been great setbacks. This year at COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, countries failed to agree to phase out all fossil fuels. British politician Alok Sharma, who presided over COP26, was clear about this failure at COP27: “Emissions peaking before 2025, as the science tells us is necessary? Not in this text. Clear follow-through on the phase-down of coal? Not in this text. A clear commitment to phase out all fossil fuels? Not in this text.” Instead, there was a loophole created in the final CoP27 text that omitted any reference to phasing out fossil fuels. As a result, it was argued that oil and gas executives, greenwashing corporations, and large emitting countries ended up winning at this year’s COP.

We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator

– Antonio Guterres

At the opening of COP27, Secretary-General António Guterres summed up the progress of climate action: “We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.” Guterres is not being sensationalistic. According to Climate Action Tracker, there is a 95% probability that the world will not meet the agreed goal of containing global temperatures below 1.5 degrees Celsius. In fact, the world is on a trajectory of +2.7 degrees Celsius by 2100.

The key takeaway from COP27 is that we are not ready to seriously reduce our emissions, and more specifically, phase out fossil fuels. Fortunately, we are ready to address the impacts of our climate inaction with compensation.

Above: A visual representation of climate warming projections (Photo credit: Climate Action Tracker)

What was achieved at COP27

The most significant achievement that emerged from COP27 was to provide “Loss and damage” funding for countries most impacted by climate disasters. This Loss and damage funding will play an important role at alleviating the environmental harm that countries in the Global North have made on the planet, at the expense of countries in the Global South who have contributed the fewest emissions yet are paying the highest price for climate change.

“‘Loss and damage’ is a term used by the United Nations to describe the harms inflicted by climate change that go beyond what people can adapt to. It can include lives lost; monetary costs from the destruction of infrastructure, buildings, crops and other property; and the loss of entire places or ways of life.”

MIT Climate Portal

Another positive outcome of COP27 was the recommendations from the High-Level Expert Group on the Net-Zero Emissions Commitments of Non-State Entities (HLEG). Set up by the UN Secretary General Guterres and chaired by former Canadian environment minister Catherine McKenna, the group proposed ten standards and criteria that organizations needed to meet to achieve net zero emissions. An important purpose of the group is to ensure that corporate net-zero pledges are met and to combat “greenwashing” or misrepresenting one’s company or organization’s environmental efforts. The group will further ensure businesses cannot pick and choose what they want to measure and as a result, claim to be net zero while expanding fossil fuel or deforestation activities.

Above: Members of the the High-Level Expert Group on the Net-Zero Emissions Commitments
of Non-State Entities (HLEG) and UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres.
(Photo credit: United Nations Climate Action)

The impact of climate change around the world

The global mean temperature in 2022 is estimated to be about 1.15°C above the 1850-1900 pre-industrial average, making it the 6th hottest year on record. This year, while not the hottest on record, provided the Global North with a glimpse of what a warmer world will look like. The U.S., Canada, and Europe experienced historic floods, heat waves, extreme weather events, and drought. This summer, major rivers in China, the US, and Europe dried up.

The extreme impacts of climate change are being felt most severely in the Global South, Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Here, countries are the most vulnerable and have the fewest resources to adapt. Large floods impacted countries in South Asia this year, with Pakistan suffering unprecedented floods. One-third of the country was underwater during the historic floods that affected the country since the monsoon season began in mid-June. Floods have affected approximately 33 million people and killed at least 1,718 as of Oct. 14th. Soon after the floods subsided, the country was hit with a withering drought that wiped out its remaining crops. Despite being responsible for less than 1% of global greenhouse gas emissions, Pakistan is among the countries worst affected by extreme weather events due to climate change.

Above: Data provided by the United Nations Satellite Centre which shows large areas of Pakistan
impacted by floods. (Photo credit: ABC News Graphic: Jarrod Fankhauser).

Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents in the world to climate change. In 2022, the continent has experienced countless extreme weather and disasters, including devastating droughts and floods that have affected millions and killed thousands.Media has consistently covered the multi-year drought affecting the Western U.S. while far less media coverage has been given to the multi-year drought affecting the East and Horn of Africa.

Above: The surviving solar array at Mamboleo farms, a Tanzanian company supported through the SSBVC project.
A devastating flood in 2021 knocked out the newly installed solar pumps and most of the farm equipment.

What does this mean for MEDA?

Climate change greatly impacts our work. MEDA’s projects are on the front line in the fight against climate change as it strives to create decent work within agri-food market systems. Climate change worsens vulnerabilities and reduces the resiliency of our clients, particularly women, youth, and other marginalized groups.

Yet, despite the challenges, MEDA is committed to fight climate change and ensure that its clients around the world can adapt. In Part Two, we will look at where and how MEDA can create positive impacts for our planet and our clients in the Global South.

Stay connected with us to read our second installment that will be released soon. If you’re interested in reading more, look no further. Check out MEDA’s Storehouse for more great content about how entrepreneurs and farmers are using their skills and talents to build prosperous businesses and livelihoods.

MEDA promotes gender equality at an impact investing forum in Guatemala

Antigua, Guatemala – MEDA was a co-sponsor and presenter of the Gender Lens Investing Forum and the Latin America Impact Investment Forum 2022 (GLI Forum LATAM) in Latin America. This forum took place from November 7th-10th. In partnership with The Latin America Impact Investment Forum (FLII), and co-organized by Pro Mujer and Alterna, the forum served as a key platform for learning, discussion, and networking on impact investing in Latin America and the Caribbean. The event focused on how gender lens investing is an effective driver of equality and economic development in the region.

During the forum, MEDA led discussions related to innovative finance solutions that can spur long-term economic, social, and environmental impact. Jessica Villanueva, MEDA’s Senior Director for Technical Areas of Practice, served as moderator during “The Unattended Segment: Using Innovative Financial Models to Reach Women-Led SMEs in Central America” seminar, with the participation of Veronica Herrera from MiCredito, Lauren Murphy from the International Center for Research on Women, and Maria Denise Duarte from Agora Partnerships. Jessica also represented MEDA in the panel “Reimagining Inclusive Finance with Gender Lens” alongside David Cabrera and Margarita Zaldaña from Centromype, and Alex Silva and Georgina Vasquez from OMTRIX. Catherine Walker, MEDA’s Senior Manager, Global Program Operations, moderated the “From ESG integration to impact: understanding gender-climate nexus in sustainable finance” panel with the participation of Magaly Lamyin from The Deetken Group, Cynthia Leon from Add Value, and Alejandra Ramirez from NESsT.

The forum focused on the access to financing challenges women-owned SMEs face when making their businesses more competitive and environmentally sustainable. Despite SMEs’ vital role in emerging economies, there is still a $300 billion financing gap worldwide for formal, women-owned businesses. Women-owned businesses from the Global South also have difficulty accessing climate finance to become more climate-change resilient. Access to climate finance is critical – women are highly vulnerable to environmental impacts, including climate variability and natural disasters.

By providing women with greater decision-making powers and access to capital, they can act as “agents of change” in their households and communities to foster sustainable development. Access to these resources can also enhance their economic potential, reduce inequality, and strengthen climate finance’s impact and effectiveness.

MEDA ensures its projects create equitable and sustainable economic growth for communities in Central America and beyond. With support from Global Affairs Canada, MEDA’s WE4CA project will reach 5,000 women and young women in Central America, including rural and indigenous populations in the regenerative agriculture and light manufacturing sectors as well as support the continued uptake of GLI approaches within the region. We further support rural people, especially women, in Nicaragua through the Technolinks+ project.

MEDA’s Gender Equality mainstreaming Framework (GEM), provides a practical toolkit for assessing gender equality, and identifying, implementing, and measuring gender equality mainstreaming strategies within companies while applying an environment and climate change lens. The toolkit was recently updated to include a more integrated approach to Gender Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (GEDI) with a stronger environmental lens.

Nadia Guerch, MEDA Senior Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean, enthusiastically supports the role of the forum in facilitating meaningful conversation and ideas among like-minded partners in the gender lens investment space.

“MEDA is pleased to co-sponsor and participate in this forum alongside like-minded practitioners and investors to continue building the business case for gender lens investing,” says Nadia Guerch, MEDA Senior Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean. “With a focus on agri-food systems, MEDA seeks to contribute to sustainable and equitable economic growth, leveraging investment strategically in areas that can promote greater gender equality and empower individuals to manage natural resources sustainably and address climate change.”

– Nadia Guerch

MEDA firmly believes that combining climate and gender policies can unlock huge untapped opportunities, provide good investment returns, and contribute to positive social and environmental outcomes. Using this approach, we can help build healthy and sustainable livelihoods, businesses, and decent work opportunities for small-scale farmers and entrepreneurs.

The future of the global food system

A couple of weeks ago, MEDA’s Annual Convention allowed us to see our colleagues, friends, and supporters in person for the first time since 2019. We heard from engaging speakers and participated in various tours and networking events. As part of the Convention, I was one of the speakers at the “Addressing the risks in our global food systems and what it means for entrepreneurs” seminar. Along with my great colleagues, we had an opportunity to discuss the challenges and opportunities entrepreneurs face in the current global food system (GFS).

To put it mildly, we live in challenging times: In 2021, 2.3 billion people globally (29.3% of the global population) did not have regular access to safe and nutritious food. This represents 350 million more compared to before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, climate change’s impact on weather systems, including the worst drought in 40 years in East Africa, devastated food systems and caused tremendous human suffering. The War in Ukraine and its knock-on effects on global supply chains compound this suffering.

The food crisis has also worsened inequalities in our global food system. 150 million more women and girls experience higher levels of hunger than men and boys (compared with 2018). A much higher prevalence of hunger is concentrated in the Global South. Globally, 690 million people go to bed hungry, despite producing enough food. Healthy diets are not affordable to three billion people globally (Highly processed foods are cheaper). Those who work in the GFS, especially women and youth who are essential participants in the production process, receive few benefits.

The GFS has a large carbon footprint and is not sustainable since they produce about 29% of the global greenhouse gases. Climate change and conflict further reduce the gains in the GFS and impact sustainability. The quality of the global food supply is also substandard. Costly and unaffordable healthy diets are linked with increased food insecurity and malnutrition, including stunted growth and obesity. Women are also disproportionately affected.

So, what can we do?

The worsening global food and nutrition crisis requires us to rethink how our domestic, regional, and international food systems are structured. The GFS needs a dramatic transformation. We cannot feed a growing world by just producing more food.

MEDA’s work

MEDA strives to build more sustainable food systems. It focuses on making food systems fairer by working with local actors to address the root causes of inequality. This change leads to sustainable social, environmental, and economic benefits for small-scale food producers and food sector workers, or MEDA’s Triple Impact Approach in agri-food market systems. MEDA’s Triple Impact approach is key to meeting our goal of creating and sustaining decent work for half a million people, 60% of whom will be women and 30% youth, as outlined in our strategic plan.

Moving forward

There are many opportunities to build a more sustainable global food system, but it comes at a cost. Higher-income countries must fulfill their climate change commitments and help lower and middle-income countries adapt. Financing opportunities for SMEs, particularly women and youth-led SMEs, can spur development.

We already see some movement: Vibrant SMEs tackle these challenges head-on, and world leaders have renewed commitments to build a sustainable global food system. There is also the first UN Food Systems Summit organized in 2021 and AfCFTA, Grow Asia, and Food System Programme-One Planet partnerships.

The time to act is now.

We must develop a sustainable and resilient food system, environmentally sustainable agriculture, sustainable agri-food value chains, and inclusive food systems. We also need to improve food production, particularly for women and youth, to reduce food loss and waste, raise incomes equitably, and improve health and nutrition. It is time to make our agri-food system sustainable and safe for all.

MEDA releases key insights from its seven-year project in Kenya

Waterloo, ON– Today, MEDA released its Maendaleo Sawa (M-SAWA) project learning series. This learning series contains valuable insights from the M-SAWA project, which ran for seven years in Kenya, concluding in the latter half of 2022. M-SAWA aimed to increase the prosperity of 290 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and 20,000 small entrepreneurs (SEs) in 20 counties by providing access to finance, technical assistance, and matching grants to build thriving farms and businesses.

Since 2015, MEDA has partnered with Global Affairs Canada (GAC) to provide decent work opportunities for women and men farmers and micro and small entrepreneurs, ultimately exceeding its targets and reaching more than 54,000 SEs (54% women) and 716 SMEs.

M-SAWA provided:

  • Matching grants for SMEs selected as lead firms to support thousands of SEs in their supply/distribution chains
  • Business development service grants for SMEs and matching grants for business associations to support their SME members
  • Access to growth capital for businesses
  • Training for businesses to fulfill environmental and gender requirements for international markets
  • Access to more efficient technologies so women can participate in the workforce and engage in their domestic household responsibilities

The M-SAWA project is an important part of MEDA’s strategy to create 100,000 decent work opportunities for farmers and entrepreneurs in East Africa over the next three to five years. It will also play an important role in fulfilling MEDA’s long-term strategy to create or sustain decent work for half a million people by 2030. Overall, through the M-SAWA project and by working with the private sector and policymakers in the government to strengthen the enabling environment, MEDA can support long-term systemic change. MEDA looks forward to continuing to work in Kenya with GAC and applying learnings from M-SAWA through the recently launched Leveraging Equality for Gender-Inclusive Economic Development (LEGEND) program.

The M-SAWA Learning Series follows the release of MEDA’s past learning series projects, such as the Agricultural Transformation Through Stronger Vocational Education (ATTSVE), Improving Market Opportunities for Women (IMOW), The Strengthening Small Business Value Chains (SSBVC), and the Greater Rural Opportunities for Women in Ghana (GROW). These learning series highlighted key insights from their projects that can aid current and future international development practitioners in the agrifood market system sector.

“Agriculture remains the backbone of economic growth, especially for countries from the African continent. Strengthening the systems that support small-scale farmers and businesses, from lead firms to policymakers, will enable these farmers and businesspeople to adapt to large-scale shocks, such as climate change and future pandemics. Building resiliency is key for these businesses and farmers to deliver value and prosperity for themselves, their families, and their communities. I’d like to give my sincere thanks to Global Affairs Canada not only for their financial support but for their expertise as a development partner. Their support was truly invaluable in delivering the services and resources that made M-SAWA a success.”

– Helal Ahsan-Ul-Haque, Senior Regional Director, Eastern, Southern, and Central Africa (ESCA) Programs MEDA

Project quick facts

Funder: Global Affairs Canada
Partners: Lundin Foundation, Business Partners International
Project Length: 2015-2022

M-SAWA Key Learning series areas include:

  1. Best practices and lessons learned in delivery of Business Development Services (BDS)
  2. Collaboration between Business Associations and Lead Firms
  3. The impact of COVID-19 on SMEs and Lead Firms
  4. The impact of Technology Adoption Grants (TAGs)
  5. Access to Finance for Women-led SMEs
  6. Business Case for Gender Equality Mainstreaming (GEM)
  7. Use of Environmental Action Plans (EAPs) with SME Partners
  8. Impact of Environmental Sustainability Grants (ESGs)
  9. Promoting Investment in the SME sector in Kenya


M-SAWA project achievements:

  • Lead Firm grants awarded to 25 SMEs to support SEs within their supply/distribution chains
  • Over 54,000 SEs (54% women) supported for decent work opportunities
  • Business development services support and technical assistance for 314 SMEs (177 women)12 SME alliance/association grants awarded (7 of them being women-led)
  • 144 SMEs linked to third-party financing (130 being women-led)
  • Matching grants for 12 business associations (four women) to support their SME members
  • 43 SMEs (13 women) assisted to access investment capital through PEI funds

MEDA’s M-SAWA Learning Series shares best practices and learnings from our partnerships and programming in Kenya, amplifying the voices and perceptions of our clients. Read more or watch the promo video.

MEDA celebrates entrepreneurship in Lancaster, PA

Lancaster, PA– Under the theme, “Celebrating Entrepreneurship,” MEDA celebrated its first in-person Annual Convention since 2019. From November 3rd-6th, this well-attended event included an engaging lineup of speakers and activities. Attendees listened to dynamic speakers and participated in various tours and networking events.

Below are some of the event’s highlights:

  • MEDA’s Year in Review highlighted MEDA’s challenges and achievements during the last year. The Executive Leadership team provided an in-depth overview of MEDA’s long-term goals, including the North-South shift, the need to be more inclusive while remaining consistent with our values and staying focused on our mission, and MEDA’s overarching goal of creating or sustaining decent work for 500,000 people by 2030. The Year in Review also underscored the strong progress that is being made and the hard work that has gotten MEDA to this point.
  • The convention’s seminars focused on diverse topics, such as gender lens investing, the role of faith during uncertainty, and how localization can benefit international development projects. Also included in the convention’s lineup were in-depth breakdowns of MEDA’s projects by its project staff experts, such as Helal Ahsan -Ul-Haque, David Eagle, and Nadia Guerch.
  • This year’s pitch competition highlighted five finalists with highly innovative ideas. They were Diana Orembe, co-founder of Novfeed; Joji B. Pantoja, CEO and co-founder of Coffee for Peace; Fedrick Lainson Kibona, founder of Frecha Milling Group; Jolenta Joseph, Managing Director and Nutritionist of Sanavita, and Fortunatha Mmari, the Co-Founder & Managing Director of AFCO. After much deliberation, the judges announced a tie between Diana Orembe of NovFeed and Jolenta Joseph of Sanavita. Diana’s Novfeed was selected for its innovative concept of transforming organic waste into alternative protein ingredients. Similarly, Jolenta’s Sanavita company was chosen for its focus on childhood and maternal nutrition. The USD $15,000 prize was increased to USD $20,000, considering both competitors’ exceptional pitches.
  • The convention featured keynote addresses by Dr. JoAnn Flett, Executive Director, Center for Faithful Business, Seattle Pacific University, Ndidi Okonkwo Nwuneli, Managing Partner of Sahel Capital and Sahel Consulting Agriculture & Nutrition Ltd., and Kenneth Hochstetler, President, and CEO of Everence®. Dr. Flett provided attendees with insights into the connection of faith in business. Ndidi Nwuneli provided a stirring address for why wealth creation, and not poverty alleviation, matters more in Africa. Lastly, Kenneth Hochstetler gave an engaging speech on the value of resilience in uncertain times.

MEDA thanks its 2022 event sponsors, attendees, plenary speakers, seminar presenters, and panel guests who made this year’s convention possible. It also extends sincere gratitude for the generous support of its private donors; their crucial support enabled MEDA to fulfill its mission of providing business solutions to poverty.

Stay connected

We’re celebrating our 70th anniversary in Toronto next year! Mark your calendars for Convention on November 2-5th, 2023, in Toronto, Canada. To keep up-to-date on Convention-related and other MEDA news, sign up for MEDAzine, our monthly newsletter, or our bi-monthly Marketplace magazine.

Turning a crisis into an opportunity- how Hadija provided decent work for herself and her community

A born entrepreneur

Hadija always knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur. This truth became clearer as she graduated from university. She saw how many young people like herself struggled to find work. So, starting her own business, or creating work opportunities for herself, seemed like the natural next step. In 2015, after Hadija graduated, she learned about onion farming and took a course on manufacturing industrial products in Kenya. After this transformative course, the seed of GBRI Solutions was planted, and Hadija founded her business in 2015.

Hadija saw opportunities in the export business. Being a small business competing against bigger players in the market was initially seen as a disadvantage. But Hadija eventually saw this perceived disadvantage as a strength. Where the big companies could offer greater quantity, her company could provide quality products by working directly with local farmers. Eventually, her strategy worked, and business was going well. GBRI grew, processed, and exported various vegetables, including french beans, peas, baby corn, and avocado to various markets in Germany, the Netherlands, and the U.K.

GBRI at a crossroads

Then the pandemic struck, and markets closed around the world. The lockdowns had a tremendous impact on Hadija and her growing business.

“So just one day you wake up, in the morning and you are told like you cannot export. And at that particular moment, we had produce on the ground ourselves, but also ourselves as a company….We did not plan for COVID….[the] pandemic affected us big time.”

– Hadija

It was at this point that Hadija and GBRI was at a crossroads. She had two choices: either close her business or adapt and try to forge a new path by selling other products. Hadija ultimately chose the latter path and adapted. Instead of looking overseas (Europe), she set her sights on local markets in Tanzania. GBRI learned that 98% of fruits and vegetables are sold through informal channels in urban cities in Africa. With the pandemic closing markets around the world, it became a viable business strategy to focus on local markets at home to satisfy the demand of rapidly growing cities.

A crisis becomes an opportunity

Hadija embraced the unknown and changed her marketing strategy to focus on the bananas and avocado value chains. She worked with MEDA to secure the necessary financing and invested in building cold storage infrastructure to store her produce. MEDA also supported Hadija’s business by securing regulatory approval and attaining an environmental certificate (which signified that her business passed Tanzania’s environmental standards) and providing GBRI with technical assistance.

GBRI then established a new business-to-business (B2B) retail business model which involved collecting the produce orders of her fruit street vendor clients using a mobile-based e-commerce platform and selling it to them directly at wholesale prices. She bought and sold produce directly from mostly women farmers and fruit and vegetable vendors. She also sold 50,000 avocado seedlings to small entrepreneurs (SEs) during the 2021 planting season.

The outcome – defying expectations

Through the support of MEDA, Hadija’s entrepreneurial ingenuity, and GBRI’s innovative new business model, the company has grown and now occupies about 60% market share in Iringa town and 90% in Ilula town. Newer and more modern infrastructure improved her business’ ability to engage with and buy produce from more farmers. Currently, the company is sourcing about 38 tons of bananas per week and eight tons of tomatoes per week for the Dar es Salaam and Iringa markets.

“By doing so, we have not only helped our GBRI smallholder farmers to get assured market but also, we have helped vendors to increase their profitability because, now they don’t need to go to the market early in the morning and incurred transportation costs; we deliver this banana right at a point of sell.”

– Hadija

GBRI’s revenue is growing quickly. The company is currently supplying 90 tons of bananas per month. Now, GBRI sells produce to 600 fruit and vegetable vendors (93% are women, 7% are men) in Iringa Market and 450 fruit and vegetable vendors in Dar es Salaam market. GBRI also buys produce from 250 banana and tomatoes small-scale farmers (85% are women and 15% are men).

Hadija’s business employs 42 permanent workers and between 50-200 casual workers. Profits are so good that she can also offer her staff wage increases. In the next five years, GBRI will continue diversifying into other regions of Tanzania and parts of Europe. It will also work to engage more farmers and continue investing in infrastructure to support its growing operations.

Lessons learned

Hadija reflects on what she’s learned from her experience. One of the lessons is about the power of diversification, or “not putting all your eggs in one basket.” Another lesson is about having faith in yourself, even during uncertainty.

“When you are in business, you have no idea what will happen tomorrow, but now, of course, being more persistent, having faith that tomorrow will be better than today. And even when I’m thinking of doing something and I try to do it and it doesn’t work, I know tomorrow I [will] try to do something else. Maybe just believing that it can work, but not giving up. So not giving up is a big lesson, which I’ve learned over time.”

– Hadija

Through the hard work of Hadija and her shrewd management of GBRI Solutions, it weathered the pandemic crisis and is once again on a more prosperous footing. Hadija’s story demonstrates that the prospect of decent work is within reach for entrepreneurs. Now, she is achieving her dream – running a profitable business while providing decent work opportunities for many local farmers and vendors in her community.

Five lessons we learned from the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) Investor Forum in the Netherlands

My colleague Vymala Thuron and I were pleased to attend the GIIN Forum 2022 as MEDA representatives. For MEDA, using finance for social and environmental change is critical as we work in agri-food systems where we need to ensure these considerations are mainstreamed in each of our interventions including when deploying capital.

Gender equality and climate action were at the center of every conversation this past week. Everyone at the conference (regardless of the sector, region, or size of the funds) believes that gender and climate must be a part of the business model. However, as Colleen Ostrowski from Visa Foundation mentioned, translating these concepts to achieve meaningful and comprehensive integration in the investment decision-making process is still a work in progress.

Here are five lessons that I learned from the event

1. Building community requires radical collaboration and intentionality

Amit Bouri from GIIN explicitly requested everyone in the room to make a commitment to help each other to achieve success even with small actions. GIIN is a large network and looking at the diversity of participants at the event was promising. It is clear that to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, we need collective effort, shared goals and values, and partnerships that use creative delivery models.

2. Redefining impact is necessary

We need to redefine what impact means for each business and how we will refine the strategy to achieve and measure impact. Concrete results are critical to illustrate impact but also recognize that it is a journey, and the journey is different for everyone. Yet, we need clear roadmaps and ambitious goals to push ourselves to be bold and better every day. Erica Orton from the Fair Food Network shared how impact goals at the level of each person/family are critical when it is related to food security and agriculture. When small-scale producers earn living wages and their families can secure basic services, this change can make a concrete difference in their communities and future.

3. Standardization is relevant, and simplicity is best

It was clear that we need to develop principles and indicators that could apply to the industry as a whole and that we can all align with not only benchmarking but to improve our models and have shared guidelines to shape our interventions. Maria Teresa Zappia from Blue Orchard emphasized how donors and investors can find data overwhelming. Lean data can do a better job of showcasing impact and illustrating the progress that is being made.

4. More demand side participation and conversations are needed

Conversations are happening with an authentic desire to meaningfully contribute with investments to create a better and sustainable world but still within the offer side (capital providers). I would love to see more active and intentional participation from the demand side and the women-led businesses and producers that are accessing or not accessing capital voices from the Global South. Being intentional in bringing these voices to conversations will help to deploy capital in different ways, such as capital that is used to transition to sustainable agriculture.

5. Localization matters

Promoting and catalyzing local capital is critical for low-and middle-income countries to prosper. Most funds are still located in Europe or North America, and hopefully, we can incentivize local capital providers and decision makers to develop policies and regulations to promote more local capital. Organizations like the Collaborative for Frontier Finance (CFF) are doing a great job of promoting local capital in Africa.

Congratulations to the GIIN team for this event and its thoughtful agenda. We learned from diverse experiences around the world about how impact investing is making a difference in the lives of many people, especially in emerging markets.

If you’re looking for something else to read, look no further. The Storehouse is packed with content that discusses how entrepreneurship can improve businesses and livelihoods for businesspeople and farmers in the Global South.

Why MEDA works with rural women

On the International Day of Rural Women, it is important to highlight the contributions that women make in agricultural sectors around the world. They grow, process, and produce much of the food that fuels our societies. Yet, they are often unrecognized and marginalized because of restrictive gender norms.

Celebrating the International Day of Rural Women is an important step in bringing to light the critical challenges that rural women face. Below we discuss the important impact that rural women make in the agri-food sectors around the world, the challenges they face, and ways to overcome these challenges to make our agricultural systems more equitable.

The impact that rural women make in the agri-food sector

Agricultural production is dominated by women. On average, women comprise more than 40% of the agricultural labor force in the Global South and rural women make up more than 40% of the labor force in many low-and middle-income economies. Women account for about 70% of total agricultural production and marketing in Ghana, making them central to food security and economic development.

The hurdles rural women face in the agri-food sector

Despite their importance to the labor force of agri-food market systems, rural women are disproportionately affected by poverty, and face many barriers to participating in the agricultural labor market. Two of the biggest hurdles that prevent women from gaining economic empowerment and gender equity include their lack of access to resources (land, finance, and education) and the social norms that prevent them from participating in household and community decision-making.

A lack of access to resources

Women face challenges in gaining equitable access to resources within the agri-food sector. They often lack access to higher-quality land and financial resources to purchase technology and have limited access to quality inputs and high-value market opportunities.

The patrilineal kinship, inheritance, dowry systems, and other practices mean that access to resources and privileges consistently favors men over women. This is supported by the alarming statistic that less than 15% of the world’s landholders are women. The adult male-centered systems of governance (chieftaincy-based, pluralist democracy) leave women under-represented in important decision-making forums.

Women also lack equitable access to other important resources, such as education, entrepreneurial training, and finance. This reality is compounded by inadequate government and private sector services including extension, market information, and health services. In addition to these barriers, there may be an expectation that women are subservient to male family members, meaning they have fewer opportunities and less control over their agriculture efforts and their benefits.

Restrictive social norms

Women’s contributions are often overlooked or ignored by their husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons, as well as community leaders, extension workers, agricultural planners, and policymakers. Traditional norms, religious beliefs, and social practices dictate that men inherit land rights, leaving women controlling very small amounts of highly unproductive land – just six percent in the Northern Region of Ghana, for example. Wives and daughters are obligated to contribute significant labor in the fields of their husbands and fathers, but men retain control over major agricultural decisions.

In Ghana, productivity is also constrained by social norms that dictate that women plant their plots only after men’s plots have been planted. Frequently, this means women miss ideal planting times. Even after planting is complete, they must often work on their husband’s land before tending to their own crops.

Men, women, government authorities, and extension service providers do not consider women to be farmers. Rather, the most common term used to describe women’s role in agriculture is ‘supplementary’ to the efforts of male farmers. This bias against recognizing women’s full contributions and rights goes well beyond agriculture.

Yet, the benefits of fully harnessing the economic potential of women in the agri-food sector are significant. A study by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that if women had access to the same productive resources as men, yields on their farms could be increased by 20 to 30%. This, in turn, could raise total agricultural output in low-and middle-income countries by 2.5 to 4%, reducing global hunger by 12 to 17%.

Moving forward – how to make agri-food markets more equitable

To improve equity for rural women, we should create conditions by supporting men and women to have a voice in how resources are used in development. It also means positioning them to participate in decision-making that will guarantee policies that promote fair access to agriculture and natural resources. Gender, poverty, and institutions are interlinked and cannot be dealt with independently. Recent themes from the International Day of Rural Women, focusing on claiming rights to sustainable development and cultivating good food for all, remain relevant and appropriate. Supporting rural women to secure access to productive resources, decision making among others will address some of the root causes of marginalization. At national levels, governments need to move beyond rhetoric to take practical measures to address the challenges of women. At the community and household level, women and men’s voices should both contribute to decisions on how resources are accessed and utilized.

MEDA prioritizes working with rural women to support them to overcome these persistent and systemic barriers. In the face of these multiple challenges, MEDA supports rural women to build and grow enterprises in the agri-food market system by pushing key levers of change, including:

  • Women’s access to and control over resources, including productive assets, skill building opportunities, market opportunities, appropriate and reliable inputs and services
  • Women’s agency, or the ability to make and act on decisions related to resources, and to participate in household decisions on business, agriculture and income
  • A more just and equitable enabling environment, including positive and enabling attitudes, behaviors, social norms, policies and institutions

MEDA’s programs reflect these priorities. Examples of our work include GROW2 in Northern Ghana, building on the success of the recently completed GROW project, which increases women’s access to productive land, vital agricultural inputs, and higher value markets for their products. In Nicaragua, the Technolinks+ project is enhancing the economic empowerment of rural women by strengthening their knowledge, skills and attitudes through training, economic incentives, access to technology and business entrepreneurship. The RIISA project in the Philippines aims to support 5,400 smallholder farmers (40% women) with market linkages and training to increase their farming incomes.

To truly recognize the value that rural women around the world bring to agricultural systems, we need to address the systemic barriers that prevent them from achieving their potential. Creating awareness of rural women’s participation in the development process with a focus on their needs and rights, highlighting their contributions to sustainable development, promoting household food security, safeguarding traditional knowledge, biodiversity, and peacebuilding are important steps to make our agri-food systems and societies more equitable and prosperous.

For more content regarding our international development projects and stories, check out the Storehouse.

Why harnessing local knowledge is best- a conversation among project staff from Kenya and the Philippines

To better explain MEDA’s transformational journey towards embracing a North-South equilibrium and developing partnerships that are based on delivering systems-level impacts in agri-food systems, Catherine Sobrevega (Country Director, Philippines) and Geoffrey Juma (Country Director, Kenya) sat down with Jessica Villanueva, Senior Director, Technical Areas of Practice to reflect in their own words how their work addresses current trends in international development and contributes to the goals espoused by MEDA’s Strategic Plan.

Jessica: Thank you both for joining me. To start off, can you please share a little bit about yourself and your journey thus far – what you have worked on, what you’re passionate about, and how does this translate into your work with MEDA?

Catherine: I am an international development professional who is most passionate about using economic development strategies to strengthen the capacity of marginalized communities to be self-sustaining. While I have worked with MEDA on several projects in a few geographies, I am thrilled to be MEDA’s first Country Director for the Philippines. Functionally, I like the challenges of leading MEDA’s Resilience and Inclusion through Investment for Sustainable Agrikultura (RIISA) project, because it has enabled me to design new systems and think through the complexities of running a start-up company. Personally, I feel very honored to have been given a leadership role that allows me to guide my team in building out new processes, as well as establishing meaningful connections with local communities in my home country. Working on a MEDA project in a business environment that I am very familiar with has also stretched my imagination to think through how sustainability considerations, particularly around the leadership of RIISA’s initiatives, can be mainstreamed throughout the project. I am confident that the integrated nature of RIISA’s efforts will enable the Mindanao communities to continue thriving after MEDA’s project ends.

Juma: I also have a strong background in international development and feel honored to be leading MEDA’s Leveraging Equality for Gender-Inclusive Economic Development (LEGEND) project in my home country, Kenya. I continue to love the work that we are doing at MEDA, because it strives to tackle the root causes of inequalities by applying a systems-led approach. I am encouraged by the positive results achieved by MEDA’s previous Kenya-based project, Maendaleo Sawa (M-SAWA), and am eager to see how LEGEND’s targeted focus on supporting women farmers to become more economically resilient can extend M-SAWA’s market system impacts to be more gender inclusive. My dream is for LEGEND to showcase women business leaders as being capable of economically and socially thriving despite their adverse circumstances. I see so many women entrepreneurs and operators in my country being overlooked as inferior or incapable business leaders. These gender stereotypes and the patriarchal systems which support them need to change. I also want LEGEND’s results to catalyze more locally driven interventions so that local service providers become the drivers of Kenya’s economic development efforts.

What keeps me excited about working with MEDA is its focus on being a project implementer. I am most engaged when I am actively doing systems work change. I enjoy testing different types of interventions to learn if or how playing with different supply and demand levers can evoke systemic changes. For instance, in LEGEND, I am curious to see whether financial support to financial intermediaries and fund managers causes differences in either party to take meaningful action. I also look forward to sharing the learnings from LEGEND with MEDA’s other Country Directors and likewise hearing about what project results have occurred so that we can support each other’s projects in becoming more responsive to the clients and communities that we are assisting. We are one MEDA team. I like the opportunity of being able to draw on the larger MEDA network to see how else we can apply MEDA’s technical approaches to reduce poverty in the communities we are operating in.

Jessica: In 2020, MEDA launched its new strategic plan, Towards an Equal World. One core tenet that was identified was the need for MEDA to embrace a North-South Equilibrium. How does MEDA’s North-South Equilibrium show up in your work?

Catherine: MEDA has always encouraged its staff – both at HQ and in those in-country – to be creative and to pilot new economic development techniques. Now that MEDA has this mandate to build a North-South equilibrium, I am seeing MEDA proactively experimenting with different ways of shifting power to the Global South. Now more than ever I am finding that I am better positioned to provide critical input and leadership about how MEDA’s project should create and maintain relationships with local partners and donors. It is very important for these players to see MEDA as being representative of the communities it is assisting as in-country teams are best placed to work alongside our neighbors and will be the ones who will continue building on MEDA’s efforts post-project. I am feeling very confident about MEDA’s shift towards having its Country Directors be strongly connected to the geographies in which their project(s) operate(s) in. Hence, why I am feeling very purposeful and grounded working in my native country.

Juma: I agree that I am now seeing MEDA leverage its in-country teams’ community linkages. I think this is the right approach as we are well-placed to leverage our understanding of local market factors and intersectional social norms to collect ground-level data and draw appropriate conclusions from our integrated market systems analysis. I am also very supportive of country-level teams managing relationships with important stakeholders, as we are the ones who will continue to do the work after the end of MEDA’s projects.

Jessica: Can you please tell me more about how MEDA’s desire to “put clients first” has been reflected in your project’s structure?

Catherine: In RIISA, we are aiming to put our clients first by strengthening the capacity of locally owned and operated businesses across several areas of the local investment ecosystem. For instance, we are looking to support in-country private equity fund managers and financial institutions that are looking to invest in locally owned and operated firms. We are also hoping to make connections between RIISA-affiliated private equity fund managers and local, regional, and diaspora investor networks. While it would have been easier to work with investment players that were already affiliated with each other, we wanted to build these localized linkages, because we want to put our clients’ needs first by ensuring the sustainability of our project’s efforts. We also want to ensure that we are sharing these learnings about network building back to our donor, Global Affairs Canada so that more linkages between the worlds of development and investment are created.

Juma: In the early stages of LEGEND, we collected some critical market landscaping data to better understand the unique political, social, economic, and technological contexts of the sectors where we work . While MEDA’s HQ provided some guidance on the data collection methodology, LEGEND’s local project team led the interviewing and analysis effort. Sending our local teams to be “the face of the project” assisted our clients to feel much more comfortable in sharing their lived experiences, particularly as it related to talking about sensitive topics, like gender-based violence. We also understand the cultural nuances of the information that we gathered and could use our translation skills to piece together information to gather a clearer picture of the state of our selected sectors. I am feeling very confident in our ability to leverage this knowledge towards the design of matching grants that will intervene in our target sectors in ways that are most appropriate for clients’ needs.

Jessica: How is your project encouraging more North-South and South-South linkages? How will these connections be forged and sustained?

Catherine: To ensure that both capital and investment information freely flow between the Global North and Global South, as well as within the Global South itself, RIISA is looking to facilitate new business connections amongst local investors, investees, and investment networks. Our goal is to have each of these players understand and see each other as viable business partners so that they carry on these relationships long after RIISA has ended. To do this, RIISA is looking to tap into the existing investment sector ecosystem infrastructure by leaning into our memberships with the Asia Venture Philanthropy Network (AVPN) and trade association groups to encourage others to understand the opportunity of working in the Mindanao cocoa sector.

Juma: In LEGEND, we are looking to build off the legacy of MEDA’s existing relationships from MEDA’s previous M-SAWA project by supporting local business development providers to help us strengthen the capacities of our affiliated SMEs. Internally amongst our LEGEND HQ and in-country project team, we have also developed a culture of openly sharing and receiving critical information in a timely manner so that everyone is well-informed of both the project’s day-to-day challenges and opportunities. We want our whole project team to become accustomed to working closely together as we think this is the future of MEDA’s working culture.

Jessica: Since we have already touched on how your respective projects intersect with market systems development activities, what are the ways that MEDA’s other technical approaches show up in your project?

Catherine: It will take the integration of many technical approaches to see the changes that we want to see in the world. I am glad to be a part of the team which is piloting MEDA’s new E-GEM approach whereby we will ask businesses to think of themselves as being both community and environmental stewards, rather than [being] purely profit-driven. Additionally, we are looking to use innovative finance as a tool to shift what is considered valuable and incentivize the uptake of ESG-informed policies and practices.

Juma: In LEGEND, we are working across a number of fronts to improve the socioeconomic prospects of youth, women, and other socially marginalized actors. Yes, we would like them to be connected to formalized value chains. However, we also want to encourage their communities to respect their contributions and see them as important players in the value chain. As such, we will be focusing a lot of our efforts on providing training which emphasizes the importance of gender and social inclusion, as well as climate change adaptation and mitigation, so that these practices become common workplace norms. We want to see these practices be applied by the entire ecosystem, which is why we are providing trainings at different levels of the value chain to ensure that the information is widely dispersed and adopted.

Jessica: What is the future of MEDA’s programming?

Catherine: MEDA’s projects will have their greatest impacts when they are driven by country-level teams. I am really excited to be a part of the early stages of MEDA’s cultural transformation and to be using my talents to help build out these new communication processes and norms.

Juma: I want to see more co-creation exercises between MEDA’s HQ and local teams. As mentioned, we have started piloting this approach in LEGEND with how we collect primary research. I want to expand this “one team” mindset to other workflows like proposal development where it is very helpful to combine local contextual knowledge with seasoned technical market landscaping skills. I keep hearing from my conversations with donors that they want to know more about how INGOs are strengthening the capacities of their local partners so that international assistance becomes more localized. I am glad to see that MEDA’s Strategic Plan calls for MEDA to adopt a highly collaborative culture and again, a shift towards greater empowerment of in-country teams. I am keen to lean deeper into our networks to develop highly aligned, locally driven partnerships and to then use these relations’ lived experiences to test and validate our new business development ideas. I am seeing more donors ask for consortium-driven proposals, so we also need to be ready to respond to new opportunities with partners already organized. As such, we need to be working now to identify the right organizations to work with and to sort out ways to help each other to deliver our best work.

Catherine: I also think that MEDA’s desire to double down on its use of project-linked investments to further its strategic plan’s goals will only continue. I agree that we need to be activating the full strength of our resources by coordinating our impact investment approach with our technical assistance efforts so that our projects access both donor and investor financing and networks. For instance, with RIISA, I am thrilled at the opportunity to [work] with different types of investors, as well as Global Affairs Canada, because it will take [an] awareness on players’ end for more capital and knowledge to freely flow to the historically underserved Mindanao cocoa sector.

Juma: Another thought here – the future of MEDA’s programming is a shift towards working in a select number of countries for a longer period of time. Again, I am deeply appreciative of the relationships and knowledge that LEGEND has been able to build from M-SAWA. Leveraging these resources better positioned us to identify and understand the market gaps and apply the appropriate solutions to solve them.

Jessica: Are there any final thoughts that you would like to share?

Catherine: I continue to believe in the importance of MEDA’s shift towards embracing a North-South Equilibrium so that more “home-grown” ideas can flourish. I have seen first-hand in RIISA, as well as my other MEDA project that those who are based in-country are best placed to structure a project and monitor the results to ensure that it is getting all [the] resources it needs to succeed. I am, therefore, very excited about the opportunity for RIISA to create an enabling business environment in the cocoa sector that is self-sustaining, inclusive, and locally driven.

Juma: By experimenting and testing different combinations and sequencing of integrated interventions, we are able to show what’s possible and inspire others to collaborate with us and follow up on our piloting efforts. It is only when we are all applying our talents towards a unified goal that we will evoke meaningful changes at scale and will be able to deliver on our goal to create or sustain jobs for a half million people in emerging economies by 2030. I am thrilled to be a part of the leadership team that is reimagining MEDA’s identity as an agri-food system-change enabler by saying “yes” to new possibilities and “more” to local project ownership. I continue to feel that these efforts will yield a brighter future for MEDA’s clients ahead.

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