How did you first become involved with TechnoServe?
I lived in La Paz, Bolivia, during the summer of 1995 working as both a journalist for the Bolivian Times and as an intern for TechnoServe, while I was studying Latin American politics at Georgetown. This gave me the opportunity to finally witness real development work on the ground. TechnoServe was focused on alternative coca reduction strategies primarily in the Cochabamba region, which I visited. Tackling the complex issues surrounding the coca-cocaine industry in rural Bolivia was no easy task, but TechnoServe was at the forefront of developing economic solutions for its clients. I was lucky to have had this opportunity, and it had a very positive affect on my life and career. I was so impressed with TechnoServe’s direct impact that I went on to join the organization full time in 1996 after graduation.
After your experience as a Fellow, why did you decide to join the Global Advisory Council, or GAC?
I want to stay involved with TechnoServe as much as possible. I enjoy attending alumni Fellow’s events as well as GAC gatherings. The GAC is a great platform for staying up to date on what’s happening at the organization. In addition, you get to meet like-minded supporters and hear directly from the staff about new projects and initiatives.
What are some of your takeaways from seeing TechnoServe’s work firsthand in over a dozen countries?
Over the past decade, I have spent a lot of time in Africa for my investment business, and I visited many TechnoServe programs across the continent. It has been a period of high economic growth in many of the countries where TechnoServe works with significant advances in technology and communication. I have been particularly impressed with how well TechnoServe has worked with clients to capitalize on these advances that in turn improve their businesses. For example, I visited agribusinesses that TechnoServe supported in East Africa, which have adopted mobile platforms to ensure immediate access to global commodity prices and yield information from farmers in their supply chains. TechnoServe has been at the forefront of introducing new technologies to entrepreneurs, which has a positive effect on growth and profitability.
Tell us about a memorable experience from your TechnoServe travels.
One of my most memorable TechnoServe experiences was in Nicaragua in 1997. I was visiting coffee projects in the Jinotega and Matagalpa regions with then country Director Augusto Zelaya. TechnoServe was working with ex-combatants, both Contras and Sandinistas, helping to reintegrate the soldiers back into society and teaching them the skills to start small-scale coffee plantations. I met one client who was introduced to me as “El Terror,” who was one of the toughest Contra soldiers during the war and still looked the part. Trying not to show my uneasiness, we started to talk, and he asked me where I was from. I explained that I had been living in Georgetown and he replied that he loved DC. I was a bit shocked by his response and asked when he had been to the US. He explained that the CIA trained him there and he liked going out on M Street. We talked for a long time, and he told me how he was happy the fighting was over and that he was pleased to have a job. He didn’t care if he was working with Sandinistas or Contras, but more importantly wanted to provide for his family. TechnoServe was instrumental in making this happen for El Terror and hundreds of other ex-soldiers.
TechnoServe has built a model that works and gathered a vast institutional knowledge base.
What do you think are the greatest challenges facing people trying to lift themselves out of poverty?
One of the greatest challenges I have seen is the fact that the marketplace is not a level playing field. Many small-scale business owners have the drive and ambition to lift themselves out of poverty, but they need access to capital and distribution channels to sell their products. TechnoServe has been very successful at providing technical skills to entrepreneurs, which in turn allows them to compete with greater success and increase profits.
Why do you think TechnoServe’s market-led approach is effective?
I believe TechnoServe has been successful for 50 years because of its consistent commitment to viable economic solutions to fight poverty in developing countries. It is rare to see an organization remain focused on a single strategy for so long, but TechnoServe has built a model that works and gathered a vast institutional knowledge base. In addition, the organization has a tremendous team to execute on its programs. The staff are an impressive and diverse group of people that are extremely dedicated to helping the organization achieve its goals.