On a trip to Adidome, Ghana in 1963, Ed Bullard, businessman by trade, was struck by the poverty in the area and decided to help. Five years later, Ed founded a non-profit to facilitate the spread of business knowledge and the strengthening of market systems. He named it TechnoServe, an abbreviation of the phrase “technology in the service of mankind.”

Bullard envisioned the organization as an innovative non-profit that would empower the poor by connecting them to the resources they need to thrive while also emphasizing a commitment to integrity. Although Bullard passed away in 1996, TechnoServe has stayed true to his mission, enabling millions of people worldwide and earning a perfect score in transparency from Charity Navigator.

TechnoServe works to improve market systems as a whole, particularly focusing on markets that have a clear unmet demand for a product or service, potential for growth that would benefit poor communities, and the opportunity to impact large groups of people. The organization sees market systems as comprised of three primary facets: direct market players (e.g. consumers, producers, middlemen), suppliers (e.g. producers of intermediary products such as chicken feed), and influential entities (e.g. governments, infrastructure providers).

Based on this understanding, TechnoServe works in three main ways. First, they develop capacity by enabling individuals and communities to improve their skills, share knowledge, and gain access to necessary technologies. They also strengthen market connections by fostering collaboration between market players, and integrating new farms and businesses into the market system. Finally, they improve the business environment and facilitate independent economies by addressing policy issues.

TechnoServe operates in over 40 countries and has affected an estimated 10 million people. Their innovative and adaptable programs have proven that businesses have the potential to empower people and raise them out of poverty. For example, cacao farmers in Peru have doubled their yields thanks to TechnoServe’s training on how to properly prune and fertilize their trees, improve their handling and processing after harvest, and earn higher market prices by selling their cacao together.

TechnoServe has an impressive history of partnerships with for-profit companies. A recently announced partnership with Nespresso is creating a more sustainable coffee supply. Work is taking place in Ethiopia and Kenya to provide support for smallholder farmers and improve supply chain efficiency, and in South Sudan to rebuild the coffee industry after decades of instability. Project Nurture, a partnership with The Coca-Cola Company and the Bill & Melinda Gates, helps foster a sustainable and profitable mango and passion fruit industry in Uganda and Kenya.

Over the past 55 years, TechnoServe has positively affected the lives of millions of people by connecting them to the tools they need to create successful businesses. Their commitment to integrity has earned them the trust of individuals, communities, corporations, governments, and fellow nonprofits. Meanwhile, their work has proven that improving markets systems reduces poverty and empowers the poor. Their success is an excellent model that should be praised, supported, and followed.

Katie Fullerton

Sources: The New York Times, Charity Navigator, TechnoServe
Photo: Humanosphere