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TechnoServe's History

TechnoServe is a non-profit 501 (C)(3) organization that was founded in 1968 by Connecticut businessman Ed Bullard. Having spent a year in rural Ghana, Ed was profoundly impressed by the amount of work he saw people doing, yet he was disturbed that this work generated no more than a dollar a day in income.

Ed created TechnoServe to provide the hardworking rural poor of the developing world with the technologies they needed to improve their productivity -- hence the name TechnoServe: Technology in the Service of Mankind. By the early 1970s, however, the organization evolved to focus on community-based, small-business development. In this way, from the early 1970s through the late 1990s, TechnoServe 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, on the 30th anniversary of our founding, TechnoServe undertook an organization-wide strategic planning process. We recognized that we stood in a position to leverage our experience working with small community businesses to consider a bold initiative -- one with the goal of creating economic growth for entire nations rather than just isolated communities. With guidance from Stace Lindsay of Michael Porter's Monitor Group (world-class leaders in the analysis of country and business competitiveness), we analyzed the tremendous changes in our operating environment since 1968, assessed our competitors, identified our points of competitive advantage, and developed clear strategies to turn our ambitious new vision into reality.

TechnoServe Today

This strategic planning process resulted in our revised 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. It also resulted in a number of fundamental shifts in the way we work:

  • Business Type. A shift from small, farmer-owned and managed businesses to businesses of all shapes and sizes -- provided that their links to and positive impact on the poor are clear.
  • Product Type. A focus on high-value versus commodity products.
  • Staff Profile. A change in staff profile from agronomists and community development specialists to finance, marketing and strategy specialists drawn from the private sector.
  • Partners. A decision to broaden and deepen our service offerings through strategic alliances with world-class businesses in the U.S. and overseas.
  • Leadership. A commitment to strengthen the leadership skills of the entrepreneurs we assist, including their ability to constructively engage policymakers in matters of competitiveness and social responsibility.
  • Technology. The integration of the latest relevant technology to our work including Internet access to markets and advice.

How does TechnoServe build businesses in developing countries? First, we locate emerging entrepreneurs and nurture them through training, mentoring and networking. Then we help entrepreneurs to identify customer needs by tapping into market information that is immediately useful for their purposes. We also develop entrepreneurs' capacity to assemble capable managers, create sound business plans, raise financing and penetrate markets. Through our alliances with experts in the field -- including Cargill, Ernst & Young, General Mills, McKinsey & Company, Peet's Coffee & Tea, and Young & Rubicam -- we provide entrepreneurs with world-class advice. To ensure that their businesses can continue to grow and have an increasingly positive impact on the rural poor, we help entrepreneurs to think and act strategically. And we continually measure results to evaluate what works and what doesn't, and apply that knowledge to make necessary changes or capitalize on apparent strengths.

The Bottom Line -- Results

TechnoServe has developed a rigorous, no-nonsense method for measuring the cost-effectiveness of our assistance. After all, successful businesses create jobs and income that are clearly measurable. One way we do this is by tracking a set of "core indicators," which measure total sales, net profits, number of employees and the dollar amount of raw product purchased from the rural poor for each of the businesses we assist. Another is by conducting "impact assessments" that measure increases in positive spending by wage earners, number of new businesses created in the region, and overall well-being of the community that can be attributed to the business. A third method is conducting a "cost-effectiveness" analysis to ensure that TechnoServe's expenses return a reasonable economic and social benefit to the client and the rural poor. But there are also important results we can't measure -- the self-assurance, pride and hope that come with success.