Board chairs share their memories of serving with MEDA

Greg Gaeddert and Jenny Shantz

As MEDA celebrates 70 years of investing in entrepreneurs, The Marketplace magazine asked people who have chaired the organization’s board over the past 20 years to reflect on key moments and inflection points. Here are some of their comments about their time chairing the MEDA board.

Greg Gaeddert, the board’s most recent chair, spoke of “recent efforts to establish MEDA International and evolve our corporate and governance structure, and the… grant from the MasterCard Foundation, which has culminated in the establishment of the Mastercard Foundation African Growth Fund.” MEDA president and CEO Dorothy Nyambi, “with her personal profile, vision, and leadership style, has led us to new heights in MEDA’s already rich history,” he said. For Gaeddert, the $205 million MasterCard Foundation Africa Growth Fund “is a transformational event for this organization. It bolsters our presence in each of seven key countries in Africa where MEDA has been involved for many years and has been doing good work.

“My view today is that MEDA is positioned to attract additional capital and more fully impact markets across the globe where MEDA already has a solid history and footprint,” he said. “We are only in our infancy at the 70-year mark as we seek new ways to provide impact at scale.” Jenny Shantz, Gaeddert’s predecessor, recalls the challenges of much of the world being in lockdown during her time as chair. “It was disruptive and difficult. There were no board trips, in-person meetings, or conventions. It changed the way we work. Dorothy was in her second year as CEO when I became chair. The implementation and understanding of the strategic direction, along with her new leadership, was not easily accepted.

“A board decision in September 2020 to trust and move forward, along with the willingness of Dorothy to continue to grow the organization with us, was a major inflection point for MEDA. There were several significant senior leadership changes during my tenure, the most tragic being the loss of our CFO, Orvie Bowman, to a cycling accident.” Negotiations with the MasterCard Foundation that began during her tenure had a positive outcome, resulting in MEDA’s largest ever contract.

Bert Friesen and Debbie Sauder David

That award, plus major governance work to sort out MEDA’s many legal entities and overall structure “position us well for growth and provide more economic opportunities for entrepreneurs around the world,” she said. Tim Penner’s major memory of his time as chair was the transition from long-time President Allan Sauder to Dorothy Nyambi, and the ensuing “first steps towards a new MEDA.” At the end of his term, growth “was tracking really well,” he said. Similarly, Bert Friesen recalls steady growth in donations and new contracts during his term as chair. That trend encouraged the board and management to support MEDA in launching its first major capital campaign, the $50 million Building Enduring Livelihoods initiative, which met its goal.

Debbie Sauder David recalls “wonderful memories” of interactions with talented staff and Board members. She enjoyed many engaging conventions and meetings, international trips to Tanzania, Ukraine and Ethiopia, “and especially witnessing the impact of MEDA’s work. It was an honor and privilege for me to serve the organization that my grandfather, Erie J. Sauder, was involved with from the beginning,” she said. During my time as Chair, 2012-2014, I had the opportunity to help facilitate the 2013 MEDA Convention in Wichita, KS, when we celebrated MEDA’s 60th anniversary.”

She also recalls chairing a board meeting in Gondar, Ethiopia in February of 2013. “As with each of our international Board trips, the impact of MEDA was clearly evident! We sat in the rice fields with the farmers and heard their excitement as they showed us the results of their improved seeds, technologies and crop storage. We observed the creative and skilled weavers using hand looms to fashion flight attendant uniforms for Ethiopian Airlines, thanks to MEDA’s market linkages. We also met with at risk youth and their employers to learn about the safe and much improved workplace conditions they experienced thanks to MEDA’s involvement.”

MEDA had good success with fundraising, budget surpluses and successful programs during those years, she said. Allon Lefever, chair in 2010 and 2011, recalls a variety of new programs and initiatives, including MEDA setting up a presence in Germany, holding a board meeting in Ukraine, and touring projects there. “Programs such as our Agro Capital Program in Ukraine, with well over 300 grape projects, and our huge mosquito net voucher program in Tanzania, were advancing well.” MEDA’s board and management “debated long and carefully” the idea of spinning out Sarona Asset Management as a separate entity, he said. That decision to let staff buy out most of MEDA’s stake in the organization and become an independent firm enabled “a broader reach into the private and public capital markets.”

Sauder David, who was vice-chair during those discussions, says that with the formation of Sarona, “we had come full circle back to the original investments of the founders, including my grandpa.” Mel Stjernholm, chair from 2007 to 2009, recalls visits to MEDA projects in Nicaragua, Tanzania, and Ukraine, as well as manioc plants in Paraguay. Those visits were crucial for board engagement with MEDA’s work and each other, he said.

He also recalls efforts to draft new guidelines for MEDA chapters (now known as hubs) during his tenure. Focusing on hubs is important for MEDA, he said. “There has to be some (ongoing) way to keep the hub members engaged.” John Yoder, chair from 2004 to 2006, recalls the early days of Allan Sauder’s time as MEDA president. “Allan had proven himself in his prior responsibilities at MEDA, shown his deep regard, and passion, for the organization, and his servant leadership ability that made his selection an easy choice for ongoing MEDA leadership, he said.

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