MEDA in the News

Regular lives pursued in Ukraine

Source: "Regular Lives" pursued in Ukraine" by Tim Huber in the Mennonite World Review

Crimea and Molotschna host North American Mennonite presence

Aliyah PSAs political and economic instability ripples across parts of Ukraine, Mennonite agencies — sometimes in communities once home to North and South American Mennonites' ancestors — are working to help people pursue peaceful and fruitful lives.

Months of protests against the Moscow-supported government of President Viktor Yanukovych escalated into street violence in February, and Yanukovych fled to Russia when a new government supported by the U.S. and Western Europe took power in Kiev.

In response, the Russian navy took control of Crimean ports March 3, and thousands of Russian soldiers moved into Crimea, which is predominantly the home of ethnic Russians.

Mennonite Centre

The Ukrainian/Russian ethnic divides that grab headlines are being addressed by the Canadian-sponsored Mennonite Centre in Ukraine, located in what is now the mostly pro-Russian village of Molochansk north of Crimea and south of Zaporozhye.

"I shouldn't say it is a challenge, but we are very aware that there is a difference," said Ben Stobbe of Victoria, B.C., chair of Friends of the Mennonite Center in Ukraine. "But we have staff from both sides at the center and you wouldn't know a difference unless you ask them.

"We aren't going to focus on the past. We will help anyone — Russian or Ukrainian. We're trying to model that, trying to work together."

Founded in 2001 in a renovated girl's school built in the early 1900s, the Mennonite Centre offers humanitarian services to people living in a cluster of villages in what was formerly the Molotschna Mennonite settlement.

"It's very organic," he said. "They come up with the ideas, and we review them and do about 100 little projects a year. We have the community center, we have meals twice a week, we run medical clinics, a mom's support group."

The center distributes medicine, offers camps for kids and assists with medical bills and fuel costs, which can rapidly spike if Russia cuts off the flow of gas products.

"A pension in Ukraine is about $150 per month, but all this imported gasoline is the same price you pay in the U.S. and Canada," said Mennonite Centre director Dema Bratchenko. "A cataract surgery is about $600 for one eye... . There are some old people who can't afford to buy coal and just burn whatever they have, so we have a program where we provide bedridden people with coal. We are trying to fill the needs."

Bratchenko said that even though unrest has not spread to Molochansk, there is a feeling in the air that something big is going on.

"We don't have the army here, but it's pretty demoralizing to know we are on the edge of terrible things that could happen," he said. "That is very, very depressing."

Stobbe noted an underlying fear has developed.

"The word 'mobilization' has made people fearful. That is serious," he said. "I had a conversation with a young man who said, 'Boy oh boy, do I have to pick up arms?'

"I think the young people have identified war as something of the past. Their parents talked about patriotic war, but they haven't seen that in their communities or their times."

The center's approach is to simply function as it always has.

"We give out medicine, we help people, we pay all the bills for doctor visits, we give grants. Yesterday we sponsored a group of people who went to a local sports competition," Bratchenko said.

" ... In the middle of these frightful things we try to live regular lives."


Alexander PSMennonite Economic Development Associates operated a horticulture development project from 2008 to 2013 in the Crimean peninsula and Zaporozhye region of southeastern Ukraine. It continues a presence as majority shareholder in a separate agricultural leasing business.

MEDA President Allen Sauder said Agro Capital Management — which offers financing to farmers for things like tillage and irrigation equipment and greenhouses — has a staff of about half a dozen, including one American.

"It is of course continuing," he said. "Events in the last week or so have significantly affected the business environment. The business is still open, and the staff are safe."

The project has assisted 6,500 farmers, 35 percent of whom are women, to increase farm income by 75 percent annually. MEDA has been in discussions to pursue a second phase, expanding both in the southeast and other parts of the country, but the economic tailspin that has accompanied the political upheaval has put progress on hold.

Sauder said MEDA didn't pursue Crimean development because of its role in Mennonite history.

"As the project unfolded, we were aware of the Mennonite areas, but they are also some of the neediest areas," he said, noting Agro Capital Management works with all ethnic backgrounds, including the somewhat persecuted Tatar community. "I had heard the stories of Mennonite success in farming there.

"It was almost appalling how the land was tended. Farmers had potential, but it just wasn't being used. That's why we had such success; because the potential was there."

Mennonite Central Committee reports its 10 partners in Ukraine continue their work in spite of protests and military actions. MCC continues to monitor the situation and — like the other organizations — asks for prayers for the people of Ukraine.

Top Photo: Aliyah, a client from MEDA's Ukraine Horticulture Development Project, stands in her greenhouse in Crimea at the end of 2012. She received a grant to start a grape vineyard and purchased a strawberry package to grow them alongside the grapes. — Photo by MEDA

Bottom Photo: Alexander, a client from MEDA's Ukraine Horticulture Development Project, stands in Zaporozhye in early 2013. He found buyers for his produce and received a low-interest loan to build a greenhouse. — Photo by MEDA

MEDA makes engaging with young adults a priority

Source: "MEDA makes engaging with young adults a priority" by Rachel Bergen from The Canadian Mennonite

Ethan Eshbach is 22-years-old, a recent college graduate, and is the newest, youngest addition to the Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) team.

The creation of Eshbach's position—coordinator of young adult engagement—is the first step in MEDA's initiative to prioritize the involvement of young people in the organization that seeks to create business solutions to poverty around the world.

According to MEDA's chief engagement officer, Dave Warren, last year the organization realized it was "missing out" by not having the involvement of a younger demographic. "I realized it was one of our key needs," he says. "Younger people are eager to get involved. Through Ethan's role, we look forward to filling that void and providing additional opportunities to connect with our work and our values."

In order to meet these needs, Eshbach, who graduated with a degree in communication from Messiah College in Pennsylvania, was hired a month ago. Now he is working as a consultant to the engagement team to focus on improving MEDA's social media networking, creating programming especially for young adults and improving MEDA's presence on Mennonite campuses across North America.

Eshbach says young people are the future of the organization, but a lot of them don't know about MEDA or how to get involved. His position is an important step in raising awareness by meeting young people where they are. "What I'd love to see is a mutually beneficial relationship between MEDA and young professionals," he says. "Young people have a lot to offer MEDA and I believe that MEDA has a lot to offer young people."

Jono Cullar is one young adult who is benefitting from his involvement with MEDA. The 23-year-old Conrad Grebel University College business student works as MEDA's only campus ambassador. Cullar, who attends Mannheim Mennonite Church in Petersburg, Ont., promotes MEDA at Grebel events.

He also networks with young professionals to get them involved. Two of his friends, Drew Warkentin and Eric Tichbourne from Conrad Grebel, entered a MEDA video competition and won. "Marie and Liz's Story" explores the theme of about the empowerment of women in business as a key to development.

"I think they're going to be involved [with MEDA] for the foreseeable future," Cullar says.

According to Eshbach, MEDA is hoping to hire more campus ambassadors as a part of its priority shift to focus on young adults.

Prior to attending Grebel, Cullar did a year-long internship at MEDA Paraguay, based out of Asunción.

"My values directly align with MEDA's values and I really appreciate and resonate with what they're trying to do with using business practices to address social and economic issues," he says.

Cullar hopes to start a business after he graduates next year and thinks the things he's learning from MEDA now will help him in his future goals.

MEDA conventions are another way for young professionals to get involved with MEDA, Eshbach says. A student competition, for instance, allows business-savvy students to propose business plans to owners.

Cullar has been to the MEDA convention twice and participated in the student competition once. He pitched a business plan to Prairie Harvest, a business out of Newton, Kan.; however, his team didn't win.

MEDA's 2014 convention is taking place at the Fairmont Hotel in Winnipeg from Nov. 6 to 9, and Cullar plans to be there.

Eshbach is proud to work for an organization so committed to engaging young professionals like himself. "MEDA is on the forefront of engaging young adults," he says. "Not many charities or non-profits are doing this or are as excited about what young people have to offer."

Creating Economic Opportunity for over One Million Africans, UNCDF-MasterCard Foundation Announce Recipients of MicroLead Expansion's Investment

New York, NY - The MasterCard Foundation and the UN Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) today announced the eight projects from eight countries in Sub-Saharan Africa that have been selected and awarded a total of $12 million to develop savings-led financial service providers with a focus on rural markets, women, and alternative delivery channels.

The announcement, part of the UNCDF-MasterCard Foundation MicroLead Expansion initiative, will help the selected institutions increase access to responsibly priced and delivered savings services for over one million low-income Sub-Saharan women and men by 2016. MicroLead, a programme initially launched by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and UNCDF, was expanded in 2011 by a five and a half year, $23.5 million partnership with The MasterCard Foundation.

"Safe and secure savings products help families, particularly those in rural and remote areas, build assets for the future and weather economic shocks," said Reeta Roy, President and CEO of The MasterCard Foundation. "These projects mean that over one million Africans will gain access to the kinds of financial services and products that enable economic opportunity."

The projects cover a wide range of approaches, including green field expansion of banks, bank downscaling, MFI transformation into deposit taking institution, village savings and loan association linkages to formal financial institutions, financial cooperative development, and deployment of alternative delivery channels.

MicroLead Expansion received 57 applications from 23 financial or technical service providers covering 27 Sub-Saharan African countries. Awards have been made to: CRDB Bank to start a new bank in Burundi, WOCCU to strengthen the Umurenge Savings and Credit Cooperatives in Rwanda and to create four new credit unions in Liberia and strengthen the national association of credit unions in Liberia, Women's World Banking to help NBS Bank Malawi downscale into rural areas via agents and mobile money, CARE to link village savings and loan association members to Mwanga Community Bank in Tanzania using technology-enabled applications, MEDA to support Ugafode in Uganda to expand into rural areas with people-centered product design, Opportunity International to support the Ghanaian institution, Sinapi Aba Savings & Loans, in its transformation process and deployment of netbooks to increase savings mobilization and BASIX/PAMIGA and MIFED to support A3C, UCCGN, and CEC in Cameroon to expand into rural markets by employing point of sale devices and mobile money.

"Although the financial services industry is making great strides to increase outreach to those currently un- or under-served, the MicroLead and MicroLead Expansion programmes allow UNCDF to work with market leaders to push frontiers for women, those in rural markets, and those still left behind in the quest for safe, secure savings options," said Marc Bichler, UNCDF Executive Secretary. "We are very excited to be working with The MasterCard Foundation to expand our work that began with the support of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to push the frontier of savings services for those who are still excluded from financial services adapted to their needs."

In 2008, UNCDF and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation launched MicroLead - a partnership that targeted to reach 525,000 new savers in least developed countries by December 2013. As of today, all targets have been surpassed. In 2011, The MasterCard Foundation and UNCDF concluded an agreement to expand MicroLead in Sub-Saharan Africa, particularly in rural markets and for women customers. The Expansion programme targets reaching 450,000 savers by December 2016, but based on project applications and negotiated agreements, MicroLead Expansion expects to far surpass this target and instead reach over one million customers, over 50% of whom will be from rural markets and over 50% of whom will be women.

With a specific emphasis on savings, women, rural markets, and technology, MicroLead Expansion is a performance-based programme that will build the capacity of financial institutions to pilot and roll out sustainable financial services, particularly savings services.

To learn more about the programme, visit


UNCDF is the UN's capital investment agency for the world's 49 least developed countries. It creates new opportunities for poor people and their communities by increasing access to microfinance and investment capital. UNCDF focuses on Africa and the poorest countries of Asia, with a special commitment to countries emerging from conflict or crisis. It provides seed capital – grants and loans – and technical support to help microfinance institutions reach more poor households and small businesses, and local governments finance the capital investments – water systems, feeder roads, schools, irrigation schemes – that will improve poor peoples' lives. UNCDF programmes help to empower women, and are designed to catalyze larger capital flows from the private sector, national governments and development partners, for maximum impact toward the Millennium Development Goals. For more information, visit

MicroLead/MicroLead Expansion, UNCDF's flagship global thematic initiative funded by UNCDF, The MasterCard Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and LIFT Myanmar has provided access to financial services to over 450,000 (net) depositors globally since 2009. For more information, visit

The MasterCard Foundation is an independent, global organization based in Toronto, Canada, with more than $6 billion in assets. Through collaboration with partner organizations in 50 countries, mostly in Africa, it is creating opportunities for all people to learn and prosper. The Foundation's programs promote financial inclusion and advance youth learning. Established in 2006 through the generosity of MasterCard Worldwide when it became a public company, the Foundation is separate and independent from the company. Its policies, operations, and funding decisions are determined by its own Foundation Board of Directors and President and CEO. For more information on the Foundation, please visit