MEDA in the News

Farmerline mobile technology training GROW women farmers like Anna in Ghana

GROW client Anna DebluSource: "Farmer Story #6 – Anna Deblu" by Jessica Kaisaris on the Farmerline website

In December 2014, Farmerline and MEDA visited Vida and 40 other female smallholder farmers in the Lambusie-Karni district of Ghana.

Meet Anna Deblu, a soybean farmer out of in Piina, the Lambussie-Karni District in the Upper West Region of Ghana. Through Farmerline and MEDA's GROW Project, which communicates agronomy audio content in local languages to women's mobile phones, Anna has been able to increase her soybean production from three bowls (7.5kg) per acre to an impressive 40 bowls (100kg) per acre. She explains how her crops were initially negatively impacted by unpredictable rainfall patterns and insufficient information on the appropriate planting times during her last production season.

Farmerline aims to fill this information void faced by many smallholder farmers by communicating data on weather forecasts, best farming practices, financial tips, and market access directly to farmers' mobile phones in the form of voice calls. In partnership with MEDA, Farmerline hopes to empower smallholder farmers, like Anna, across Ghana with timely and locally-relevant agricultural data.

'Ghana's growing economy is not evenly distributed amongst its people. Food security continues to remain a serious challenge due to poor crop yields as a result of, among other things, poor access to improved agricultural information and weather. Farmerline innovative technology is key in addressing this deficit'. – Mohammed Abdul- Fatawu, Value Chain Officer I MEDA Ghana.

Stay tuned as #Farmerline continues to tell the stories of small-scale farmers in Ghana over the upcoming months.

To learn more about the initiative, visit us at www.farmerline.org or follow us on social media @farmerline 

GROW project and Farmerline partner, educate Ghanaian women farmers like Vida on food security

Vida scooping her soybeansSource: "Farmer Story #5 – Vida Baazaantaayele" by Jessica Kaisaris on the Farmerline website

Did you know that half of Ghana's female population is in agriculture?

Vida Baazaantaayele is a soybean farmer in Piina, Wa. This past farming season, Vida suffered heavily from post-harvest losses due to insufficient storage facilities. Farmerline and MEDA's GROW Project have launched a partnership in order to educate women in the Northern region of Ghana on food security and sustainable households. The hope is to address challenges such as Vida GROW project clientVida's through filling the knowledge gap.

In December 2014, Farmerline and MEDA visited Vida and 40 other female smallholder farmers in the Wa district of Ghana. Workshops such as these are encouraging for women to form their own farming associations, a critical means of support for many women independently working in agriculture. Not only do farming associations allow farmers to collectively negotiate competitive prices, but it also opens the communication lines to provide a greater sense of community among those living and working together in the same district.

Over the course of the workshop, Vida took Farmerline to show her method of drying soybeans. During this time together, Farmerline was able to teach Vida new, simple techniques for storing and drying soybeans in order to reach optimum levels of moisture and greater yields. Techniques included running your hands through the grains and storing grains above the floor.

Vida is one of 110 million African women making a living in agriculture. Farmerline supports small-scale farmers, like Vida, by sending agriculture-related information directly to farmers' mobile phones in the form of voice calls.

Stay tuned as #Farmerline continues to tell the stories of small-scale farmers in Ghana over the upcoming months.

To learn more about the initiative, visit us at www.farmerline.org or follow us on social media @farmerline 

Bluffton students ponder poverty at MEDA Convention

Bluffton students at 2015 MEDA ConventionSource: "Students ponder poverty at conference" by Chay Reigle on the Bluffton University website

Nine Bluffton students explored business solutions to poverty at this year's Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) conference.

The annual conference, held recently in Winnipeg, Manitoba, seeks to show how business practices—particularly in the private sector—can be used to pave the road out of poverty for others around the world.

"MEDA really made me think about my future career choices," said Emily Huxman, a sophomore from Waterloo, Ontario, majoring in communication and marketing. "We learned a lot about how to be successful in the business world without giving up our values and morals in order to make a profit. We also learned about the many ways big or small businesses can help to ensure human rights, not only for their own workers, but also for workers around the world."

This year's theme—"Human Dignity through Entrepreneurship"—lent itself to several seminars and networking opportunities for students and business professionals alike.

"Once I learned about MEDA's vision and goals, I immediately knew that it was an organization that I wanted to follow," added Carly Unruh, a senior from Wayland, Iowa, studying business administration and sport management. "MEDA introduced me to a way that I could put my faith into my work as a business professional."

Aside from hosting an annual conference, the organization has 200 partners in almost 50 countries working year-round to help end poverty, according to its website. Some of MEDA's initiatives include investing in small agribusinesses to support small-scale farmers, helping women get access to maternal health coverage and providing small populations with microloans to create new and sustainable businesses.

"MEDA was a great opportunity for me," said Owen Lugibihl, a junior from Pandora majoring in accounting and business administration. "It provides the opportunity to meet people who have been in business for a long time, and it gives you a chance to see what they have done to get that far in the business world."

Also at the conference, Bluffton students attended a lecture by Laura Ling, a journalist and author who was detained for 140 days by the North Korean government in 2009. "She talked about her experience there and how she maintained strength, and about what she learned about human rights," noted Jacey Dehogues, also a junior in accounting and business administration.

The conference "helps you become an ethical business person in this world we're in. It's something you don't get many other places," said Dr. Jonathan Andreas, associate professor of economics, who led the trip along with Dr. George Lehman, the Howard Raid professor of business. "Students are exposed to economic development issues that are eye-opening."

Next year's conference will be in Richmond, Virginia. "I most definitely will encourage others to go, even if they're not a business student," Dehogues, from Kalona, Iowa, said. "We learn about things that go beyond the business world, for example, different types of leadership and how to put it into practice. MEDA has definitely enhanced my life this year."

Pictured from left: Mike Liska, Owen Lugibuhl, Carly Unruh, Crosby Suter, Jacey Dehogues, Ryan Gingrich, Marissa Krier, Matt McCoy, Emily Huxman

Service, ethics is foundation of their businesses

Source: "Service, ethics is foundation of their businesses" by Rose Simone in The Record (In print: page 1, page 2 and page 3)

KITCHENER — If you serve your community and customers well, you won't need to worry about the competition.

Jeff HorstChris SteingartThat's what two young business owners — Jeff Horst (right), 25, who co-owns a digital marketing firm called Echosims and Chris Steingart (left), 34, owner of QT Web Designs— have learned in the years since they began their enterprises.

The two were among 20 business owners in North America who recently received Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) awards for people under 35 who combine entrepreneurial spirit with service to the community.

Steingart, a former youth pastor who started QT Web Designs seven years ago, works out of his home office in Kitchener.

Echosims employs six people in offices in the Breithaupt Block in Kitchener. Horst and co-founder, Matt Martin, also have a side business called Meersocial, which provides online social media training on a subscription basis.

Steingart's customers range from real estate agents to small manufacturers, but he also does work, often on a discounted basis, for non-profit organizations, charities and faith-based groups. Steingart gives a lot of his own time to organizations such as Sustainable Waterlooand The Community Players of New Hamburg.

"I would say about 10 to 20 per cent of the work I do is for non-profits," Steingart says.

Horst, who grew up in a Mennonite family in Hawkesville, helped launch Echosims when he was only 21. He too has been involved in a number of local charities and initiatives. Last year, he initiated a ball hockey corporate challenge with proceeds going to the local food bank.

Both entrepreneurs have found that business success comes from doing quality work while being true to yourself and your principles.

Steingart was a youth pastor for the Waterloo Kitchener United Mennonite Church for a couple of years after he came out of university. He and his wife Jillian then taught English in Korea and he wrote a blog about their experiences.

When they returned, he decided to launch his own business. His love of project management and creative design led him to start QT Web Designs (the QT stands for Quality Transformations), a creative services firm. It specializes in website design, hosting websites, and branding of print and web content.

Steingart got into the business by taking online courses and going to seminars and workshops. He uses the WordPress custom theme development platform to create unique websites while also giving clients the ability to make changes on their own websites.

Steingart prefers a sole proprietorship. "I made a decision early on that I didn't want to be hiring and firing people," he says. But he also recognized he couldn't do everything, so he has a network of independent contractors with different skill sets he can call on.

Running his business out of a downstairs home office reduces his bricks-and-mortar costs, so he can charge customers a bit less than what bigger companies charge. He gives discounts to charities and non-profits.

"I feel strongly that groups with limited means should be able to improve their design presence and marketing reach," Steingart says. "It may not be all the bells and whistles, but I can give them something solid that they can build on."

He also provides clients with a library of video tutorials on how to maintain their own websites and make changes.

The one challenge of running a home-based business is "staying on task," especially now that Steingart has a family that includes a two-year-old son, Rowan, and a newborn daughter, Maya, who is only a month old. "I could work 24/7 because I enjoy doing what I do, but with two kids, I have to set a schedule and stick to it," he says.

Steingart says he has a lot of nonprofit clients because he understands their needs. "I speak their language and I understand the challenges they face, whether it be donor acquisition, conveying their mandate, or connecting with their target audience and developing a following."

Clients for Echosims have included home and commercial building developers, small and medium-sized businesses, and organizations such as the Accelerator Centre and the Grand River Hospital Foundation.

Horst says that when Echosims started, about four years ago, people told him not to start a website design business because there were too many companies doing website design. But he and his business partner discovered there was a need for better, high-value websites. "There was a big need to build more comprehensive websites that had more information on them," he says.

There was also demand for digital media advertising campaigns, including through Google ads and Facebook ads. So the company quickly shifted to becoming a full digital media marketing agency. It also works with a network of other independent businesses that specialize in creative design, video and other aspects of digital media.

"No two projects are alike," Horst says. "We build everything from scratch and our work is with companies that really want to take their websites to the next level."

Horst's second company, Meersocial, is still in a startup phase. It is a complementary business that sells social media training on a subscription basis. The online tutorials range from entry level knowledge of social media sites to understanding tracking and metrics so that businesses can know what is or isn't working.

Neither Horst nor Steingart worry too much about competition. Their work comes from word of mouth referrals. They have both found that what really counts is quality and delivering on what was promised. "If you do good work, you will get referrals," Horst says.

Both entrepreneurs refer work to other companies when they have more than they can do on their own. Other companies, in turn, refer work to them. "It is a very collaborative community that way," Horst says.

Horst and Steingart stress the importance of being involved in the community. "We love the community and we are very rooted here," Horst says.

Good business is also built on good principles, they add.

"Whether I am working with a nonprofit or not, my faith informs what I do as a business owner. That means I behave ethically, I don't steal designs, I deliver or even over-deliver on what I promise and I go the extra mile," Steingart says.

"I am not chasing the money but am looking to help people with the needs that they have." 

On the go: Champaign man has world view of business

Peter MillerSource: "On the go: Champaign man has world view of business" by Don Dodson in The News-Gazette

CHAMPAIGN — Peter Miller is only 29, but already he has had business dealings in Ukraine, Romania and Ethiopia and held two jobs in Jerusalem.

Miller, who is working on a master's degree in business administration at the University of Illinois, is executive vice president of Equipment Direct West, an agricultural equipment export company based in Arcola and founded by Wilmer Otto.

But that's not his only business involvement.

In the past year, Miller and a business partner have started a small residential subdivision in Romania. Miller is also a co-owner of Agro Capital Management, a business that leases equipment such as rotary tillers and greenhouses to small farmers in Ukraine.

Plus, he will serve as chairman of the board this year for the Ten Thousand Villages shop in Champaign, which sells fair-trade items from artisans from 35 countries around the world.

In November, Miller was honored by Mennonite Economic Development Associates as one of 20 people under age 35 for making a difference in the world — and exemplifying faith, service and an entrepreneurial spirit.

As his resume suggests, he's very much on the go.

"In 2014, I visited maybe nine different countries. ... For business-related things, I probably spend a week a month traveling," Miller said.

Most of the ventures he's involved in are designed to help people in other countries better themselves.

"Something that underpins most of our business is interest in seeing sustainable economies built from the ground up," Miller said.

"With the real estate development in Romania, we're trying to get starter homes going, and we're trying to employ Roma laborers as much as we can in construction work," he said.

"In Ukraine, our target market is really small farmers," he said. "With small farmers in Ukraine, we have more flexibility than banks do in how we structure the equipment leasing. Banks and other financial institutions have to structure the leases with regular same-sized payments every month. We can tailor them to the individual."

That way, farmers can make smaller payments during the growing season and larger payments after harvest.

Miller, who lives in Champaign, grew up near Hutchinson, Kan., a member of a Mennonite family. His grandfather was a full-time farmer, and Miller's father continues to operate the farm part time, growing corn, wheat and soybeans.

After high school, Miller took a "gap year" before college, to work on a farm in Germany that grew sugar beets, potatoes and onions.

"I knew I wanted to learn another language and travel the world," he said.

Miller then returned to the U.S. to attend Bethel College in North Newton, Kan., with thoughts of becoming a lawyer.

But an opportunity in Jerusalem gave him a burgeoning interest in economic development and international business.

That opportunity was a two-year job with the Mennonite Central Committee, in which he worked with a partner organization to introduce tourists to the Palestinian Christian community in and around Jerusalem.

Miller then took a job with the Lutheran World Federation in Jerusalem, heading up the annual olive harvest on the Mount of Olives.

The 800 trees there are harvested by hand, and the olives are pressed to make oil sold around the world as a fundraiser for the federation's Augusta Victoria Hospital.

"Each year, they bring someone on to spend three months coordinating the harvest, pruning the trees and coordinating volunteer groups," he said. "Often tour groups want to take part in the olive harvest."

Prior to taking the Lutheran World Federation job, Miller met Wilmer Otto through a mutual friend who thought they would be a good fit.

As a result of that, Miller flew from Tel Aviv to Ethiopia on his first business trip for Otto. In Ethiopia, he met with cotton growers interested in improving mechanization of their farms.

"To this day, they still harvest most of their cotton by hand, so someone with a 2,000-acre cotton farm is bringing in seasonal workers, 4,000 to 5,000 at a time," he said.

But without mechanization, they weren't growing as much cotton as they would like, he said.

Later, Otto hired Miller at Equipment Direct West. That company had been actively conducting business in Ukraine and other parts of the world.

"We had been selling used Illinois farm equipment to Ukraine for the last 10 years," Miller said. "That market has dried up since 2009. We have changed the business model since that time."

In July 2014, they acquired majority ownership of an equipment leasing company in Ukraine — Agro Capital Management, which sells equipment to small-scale farmers growing fruits and vegetables for sale in Ukrainian cities and also for exporters.

"A large number of clients are women, and for most of them, it is a primary source of income," he said.

The enterprise had been located in Crimea and southern Ukraine, but with Russia's takeover of Crimea, the company moved to central Ukraine.

In Romania, Otto operates a four-star hotel in Sighisoara, a city in the Transylvanian area of Romania and also has a construction company and other real estate projects there.

Miller said he too has a real estate project there, having developed with a business partner a six-home subdivision close to the center of town.

The subdivision is composed of "small efficient homes for first-time homebuyers — two-bedroom and starter homes," he said.

Equipment Direct West also exports equipment to the east African countries of Tanzania, Mozambique and Ethiopia.

"Most of our work we do in collaboration with local partners, so I never feel too uncomfortable," Miller said. "I can't think of any country where we work where we don't have a local partner we trust completely."

In addition to speaking English, Miller speaks "conversational German and can be polite in Arabic."

Despite recent violence in the Middle East, Miller said he would "absolutely" like to visit the region again.

"I love the Middle East and would love to find a way to somehow do business there," he said. "It's such a vibrant place. The mix of cultures is fascinating to me."

He works from Champaign one day a week, but otherwise commutes to Arcola. To communicate with business partners overseas, "we rely on Skype quite a bit," he said.

Miller entered the UI's MBA program in January 2013 on the recommendation of a friend and hopes to finish up the degree in May.

"I've developed some nice relationships with professors, and a couple have provided great advice on specific business deals I've been evaluating," Miller said.

He accompanied the class to India during spring break last year, where students got exposure to agriculture there.

Miller said his brother, John, took a financial planning job in Champaign, so they are roommates for now. Miller also gave his family a glimpse of his overseas experience.

"I hosted my siblings and their spouses and our parents for a trip to Romania in August. They traveled around, checked out Transylvania and the northern part of the country and had a great time," he said.