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Technoserve, a non-profit economic development organization, helps entrepreneurial men and women in poor rural areas of the developing world to build businesses that create income, opportunity and economic growth for their families, their communities and their countries.
TechnoServe was founded in 1968 by Connecticut businessman Ed Bullard. Having spent a year in rural Ghana, Mr. Bullard was impressed by the amount of work he saw people doing, yet he was profoundly disturbed that this work generated no more than a dollar a day in income.
Ed Bullard created TechnoServe to provide the hardworking rural poor of the developing world with the technologies and skills they needed to improve their productivity – hence the name TechnoServe: Technology in the Service of Mankind. From the early 1970s through the late 1990s, the organization focused on community-based, small-enterprise development. This work helped more than 3 million men, women and children throughout Africa and Latin America to build small, farmer-owned businesses producing, processing and marketing basic agricultural commodities.
In 1998, TechnoServe undertook an organization-wide strategic planning process. They recognized that they stood in a position to consider a bold initiative – economic growth for entire nations rather than just isolated communities. TechnoServe developed clear strategies to turn their ambitious new vision into reality and adopted their current mission: To help entrepreneurial men and women in poor rural areas of the developing world to build businesses that create income, opportunity and economic growth for their families, their communities and their countries.
TechnoServe focuses on building thriving businesses and industries, creating economic growth that can benefit not just individual households, but also entire communities and countries. They provide a full range of business development services to entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized businesses. Their strategy for generating economic growth in developing countries is based on a market-driven, business-oriented approach.
TechnoServe’s work varies by sector and country, according to the opportunity. To complement their business- and industry-building work, they also run entrepreneurship development programs that more broadly promote a culture of entrepreneurship and give individuals the training and connections they need to successfully launch and manage their own businesses. While the specifics of how to drive growth in each sector varies according to the particular needs and country conditions, core elements of their approach include:
- Developing a practical business model. Pragmatic interventions are designed with an understanding of how to overcome the diagnosed constraints to improve competitiveness and encourage investment.
- Identifying the best lead entrepreneurs and investors. It is critical to ensure that the lead entrepreneur and investors in a sector have the appetite to stay with a venture for several years, recognizing that they will face considerable challenges. They should be innovative and prepared to share the story of their trials and successes to the benefit of others.
- Supporting implementation excellently: The technical advice and business development support required will depend on each entrepreneur and sector’s needs. They are likely to include: capital (especially for start-ups), market linkages, skill building and operational support. Excellent business execution is critical for nascent business success.
- Enabling the environment: Individual entrepreneurs often lack capacity to influence the government to facilitate their investments, improve infrastructure and remove regulatory constraints.
- Continuously improving and scaling up: In some industries, one business taken to scale is the best solution, but in many this will not be the case. Seeking ways to continue to improve the business model and attract new entrants based on the lead entrepreneur’s success is essential to achieving scale and improving the return on donor investment (ROI).
Since its inception in 1968, TechnoServe has helped to create or improve more than 1,500 businesses, benefiting millions of people in 30 countries. In 2005, TechnoServe assisted 166 clients who generated nearly $50 million in sales and purchased about $35 million worth of products from more than 143,000 rural producers. They have also trained thousands of people in business and entrepreneurial skills.