Over the last two years MEDA’s 20 under 35: Young Professionals Changing the World Initiative has recognized 40 young professionals under the age of 35 for their demonstrated commitment to faith, service and an entrepreneurial spirit. We've had the opportunity to honor people like Chris Steingart, a web designer from Kitchener, ON, who finds his foundation for business in Mennonite faith values. Economist Kaylie Tiessen was recognized in 2015 for her dedication to improving lives through economic justice and growth.
International development workers met in Toronto April 26 to hear what leading agencies are learning from recent program evaluations of their work.
The event highlighted the findings of an impact evaluation of MEDA’s YouthInvest project, managed by Jennifer Denomy and Nicki Post of MEDA, as well as presentations on other successful youth economic empowerment projects by Plan Canada and CARE Canada.
From 2008 to 2014, YouthInvest reached over 63,000 youth in Morocco and Egypt with savings, loans and soft skills training. With the support of The MasterCard Foundation, MEDA worked with banks, microfinance institutions and training institutions to develop youth-friendly products and build capacity of their staff to support youth clients. MEDA presenter Elena Mizrokhi, who worked as our Monitoring and Evaluation Manager in Morocco, noted the number one lesson from the assessment was the proven impact of training on youth keeping bank accounts open and continuing to save.
Kaylie Tiessen, a recent 20 Under 35: Young Professionals Changing the World award recipient, supports MEDA in a way that fits her busy lifestyle. By enrolling in the monthly giving program at MEDA, Kaylie gives to MEDA on a regular basis and saves time and money.
"As an organization, MEDA stands above the rest. MEDA has the most principled, sound and mission-oriented approach to development,” says Tiessen. “I'm very busy, and giving is very important to me. Giving has to fit into my life schedule, and that's why I support MEDA monthly through recurring automatic gifts."
MEDA’s monthly giving program can help with monthly budgeting and environmental sustainability. Rather than making a gift once a year, a monthly gift lets you choose an amount you’re comfortable with, and it’s easy to plan ahead. We’ll send you fewer mailings, which is environmentally friendly.
Monthly giving is effortless: Automatic withdrawal means you don’t have to write a check or go online every time you want to make a gift. Your impact is maximized when we can count on your gift. To top it all off, you can feel great because you’ve made a life-changing difference every month.
Join us in our mission to create business solutions to poverty today! Enroll in our monthly giving program here. Don’t hesitate to reach out to Sarah French, coordinator, donor relations, if you have any questions about enrollment.
Kaylie Tiessen is an economist working as a national research representative at UNIFOR. She was recently featured in the United Church Canada's UCObserver.
It truly was a wonderful experience. Here’s why: Usually we cycle on the road because they are paved; however, Google maps tries to take us on bike routes, which end up being sand and/or gravel. It doesn’t sound like a bad route, and it’s not, but if you have 28inch tires then you end up doing 20km in two hours. This is not advantageous, because we can usually get up to 35km an hour. So based on previous experiences, we avoided any type of trail. Now that we are in Quebec, we are spoiled rotten. Not only has the route been nice, but the architecture is so different here. I really enjoy going through small towns and seeing the churches and colorful tin rooftops. Did I happen to mention that since we’ve entered Quebec we have been cycling along le Fleuve, the St. Lawrence River. Today we stopped to enjoy the beautiful little islands and to look at the mountains on the North shore. Tomorrow we arrive at Riviere-du-Loup (Wolf River). National Geographic describes it as having the second most beautiful sunset in the world.
Wally Kroeker, MEDA's director of publications, wrote the following to present last week in Harrisburg, PA, at a Mennonite World Conference seminar. Unfortunately, he couldn't make it, so we share it with you here today.
For more than 60 years MEDA has been a mechanism for Mennonite businessfolk and others to share their skills and resources with the less fortunate. We have sometimes been described as a “mission arm” of the Mennonite business community. Perhaps it is bold to say so, but I believe we have redefined the nature of ministry and whole-life stewardship as we’ve helped people in poverty to build livelihoods that last.
If you look through our early archives you’ll see photos of white-faced (maybe sunburned) Mennonite men riding around on the backs of pickups, trudging through jungles, and sitting under trees eating watermelon with indigenous Paraguayans. Back home in California and Ohio these men ran large companies and employed hundreds, maybe thousands, of people. Ed Peters, our first president, was described by Life magazine as a “shirtsleeve millionaire.”
We began in 1953, a time when Mennonite refugees from Russia and Europe had been dislocated following the Second World War and had ended up in Paraguay. MCC had generously provided them with food and shelter. But those who had left trades behind could not get the working capital to build businesses to provide goods and services in the Mennonite colonies. The local banks wanted exorbitant interest rates because they had no collateral or credit history.
Orie Miller, the head of MCC, knew all about business and the need for working capital. He worked for a successful shoe business back in Pennsylvania. He knew how important it was to have productive enterprises to provide an economic foundation for a community. He decided to recruit other Mennonite businessfolk from North America. He organized trips for several of them to visit Paraguay and see for themselves what could be done. These visitors immediately saw the need, and just as quickly saw a way for them to fit in.
They formed a new organization – called MEDA – that would provide not only capital funds but also personal engagement to develop enterprises.
Loans and investments were made. Members were assigned to sponsor certain projects and to visit their partners to provide ongoing encouragement. As the loans were repaid, other projects were proposed and new loans were made.
The first project was the Sarona Dairy in Paraguay’s Fernheim Colony. Native Paraguayan bush cattle produced only a couple of quarts of milk per day. MEDA formed a partnership with local farmers to clear some bushland and import a high-grade bull for cross-breeding. Before long, milk production was boosted to several gallons a day. If you go to Paraguay today, and eat breakfast at a four-star hotel in Asuncion, you may be served yogurt or chocolate milk from one of the numerous Mennonite-owned dairies. Today, two-thirds of Paraguay’s dairy production comes from the Mennonite colonies.
The next project was to help a small undercapitalized tannery make leather from cattle hides. Erie Sauder recalled that before the tannery was built the people used to stretch out cattle hides to dry in the sun, but wild animals would come at night and chew them up.
A cattle operation and a tannery led quite logically to MEDA’s third project, a shoe factory to make shoes, boots, saddles and motorcycle seats from the leather from the tannery. You can see they had a few ideas about vertical integration. By the late 1970s the factory was producing more than 600 pairs of shoes a month.
And so it went.
The need for MEDA’s brand of help was immense, and invitations came from all over the globe. Soon MEDA found itself working in Africa. Eventually there would be more than 100 projects in places like Tanzania, Zaire, Somalia, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria, working with the poorest of the economically active.
Along with its success, MEDA learned important lessons.
One painful discovery was that loans were often made by local committees on the basis of family ties, or friendship, or even to augment authority. We learned that if you give a village pastor the combination to the safe you are combining spiritual power with economic power. When this combination is abused, it is a very potent brew. MEDA learned to practice sound lending based on business criteria.
The Africa years also taught important lessons about dependency – lessons that not enough well-meaning agencies have learned. Some borrowers thought North American money was a magic currency that did not have to be repaid. Debts were seen as an imposition rather than as an obligation. Sometimes tough love was needed – “If you don’t repay, we can’t lend to your neighbors.” MEDA had to convey what some of us learned as children – there is no Santa Claus.
Today we are known worldwide for, among other things, micro-enterprise development, having been a pioneer of this movement. We helped prove that the poor are bankable.
One of my favorite client stories is of Vincenta Pacheco of Bolivia. I met her twice – first in 1990, and then 10 years later. She had been injured in a kitchen fire and needed money to pay her medical bills. A small loan from MEDA enabled her to buy sewing equipment so she could set up shop as a tailor. The additional income covered her medical costs and eventually enabled her to create some jobs for her neighbors.
A decade later I went back to Bolivia on an evaluation mission. I asked the local staff if Vincenta was still around. Yes, she was. I went to visit her. Her little shop had expanded and she had created more jobs. I asked if she still needed microfinance loans. “Oh no,” she said, proudly. “Now when I need to upgrade equipment or buy fabric, I use my savings.”
That is music to our ears. We like to work ourselves out of a client.
It’s surprising the angst I had before this trip. One example is how scared I was of Northern Ontario before, and during, the trip up until arriving in the province. I was scared that we wouldn’t find towns, cafes, or any sort of food. Bears, wolves, and moose petrified me. I thought we would be cycling for days without seeing people. I was utterly and completely wrong.
Northern Ontario has been my favorite part of this trip and created many dear memories. I am a proud Canadian and extremely proud to now say I am from Ontario. Coming from the Sandbanks, I personally believed I was spoiled, and I am, but there are many more beaches across Ontario. In Terrace Bay we set up our tents on the beach and swam in Lake Superior. In White River, where Winnie the Pooh originated, we took a five-hour break from cycling to enjoy the sandy beach of White Lake Provincial Park. In Marathon, we camped right on the water. The beauty of Tobermory shocks me. I have pictures on social media, and its beauty blows everyone away. It is a gorgeous, turquoise area on Lake Ontario with caves and cliff jumping. What’s more surprising is that I never knew of Tobermory even though it isn’t that far from me. It took us a month to get across Northern Ontario, and WE ARE STILL HERE. The majority of the time we camped along beaches like these.
There have been a few milestones on this trip: finishing the Rockies, going over Summits, and detouring to Saskatoon, among others. One milestone that was extremely important was arriving in Thunder Bay. This is the halfway mark across Canada, as well as where Terry Fox decided to end his run to fight cancer. When we went to the monument, overlooking the sleeping giant, I was deeply touched and felt a wave of emotions. I had goose bumps on my arms. What Terry Fox did was extraordinary, and I am only getting a glimpse of his trip from this ride. I felt like crying because I was so overwhelmed with emotions standing there and looking at the statue. Another epic achievement for me was going across the Che Cheman Ferry from Manitoulin Island to Tobermory. This signified that the hardest parts of the trip were over, conquering the mountains, facing headwinds (sometimes for days) in the Prairies, and going through the hilly Canadian Shield in Northern Ontario. We took the night ferry at 10pm so that we were able to stay outside and look at the stars while we talked about our accomplishments and how surreal it was that we had made it this far. Now we are headed out East, and there is less than a month left of the trip.
I look forward to its beauty, and I recommend all Ontarians, and the rest of Canadians, to visit North West Ontario and take your time to see it.