Q&A: Evelyn A. Windhager Swanson

Evelyn A. Windhager Swanson has been involved with TechnoServe for more than 20 years. She is the chairman of TechnoServe’s Global Advisory Council and our European Board of Directors. Evelyn began her career on Wall Street and then transitioned into nonprofit fundraising with the Environmental Defense Fund.

Evelyn has a B.A. in Economics and Political Science from Yale University, a B.A. and M.A. in Politics, Philosophy and Economics from Oxford University, an M.A. in International Studies from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from the Wharton School. She lives in London and New York with her husband and their two children.

Evelyn (right) stands with Athanasie Musabyimana, a Rwandan coffee farmer who has overcome tremendous obstacles to create a healthy, prosperous life for her family.

How did you first become involved with TechnoServe?

A Wharton School classmate lassoed me into TechnoServe's 1990 Junior Fundraiser at the United Nations. As a freshly graduated MBA, I was immediately hooked by TechnoServe's businesslike and effective approach to addressing global poverty. The following year I was asked to chair the entire event, which I only felt comfortable doing if I could witness TechnoServe's work in the field.

Evelyn returned to Rwanda nearly 20 years later to see more of TechnoServe’s impact firsthand.
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You chose to visit Rwanda. What was your experience like on the ground?

By the time I stepped off the plane in Kigali in December 1990, the Tutsi/Hutu conflict was beginning to escalate. Despite tense days traveling through the countryside with an armed driver, I was overwhelmed by the impact TechnoServe was having on people's lives. The rice cooperative Cavecuvi — the largest largest cooperatively owned agribusiness in Rwanda at the time — had been working with TechnoServe for only five years, but had turned its struggling business into a great success. I visited several other projects, and was impressed with how TechnoServe delivered expertise and training which yielded profits and dignity.

You chair the Global Advisory Council. What does the Council do?

This group used to be called “TechnoServe Members,” but TechnoServe chose to change the name and some of the group’s functions last spring in order to make members’ role a more relevant and satisfying one. Global Advisory Council members are committed to supporting TechnoServe financially and acting as ambassadors for TechnoServe by providing strategic advice and connections. The group is talented and diverse but shares a common interest in participating in TechnoServe’s vision. Members participate in regular meetings, receive special briefings about TechnoServe activities and have the opportunity to visit projects in the field.

You also chair TechnoServe's European Board of Directors. What are some of your priorities?

Europe holds vast potential for TechnoServe, and as a trustee I am helping to build our base of support. Europeans are generally very receptive to the relevance of economic development to their own lives. We have had success with several foundations, and we are in conversation with several other large foundations and individual donors.

Why do you think TechnoServe’s approach is effective?

In an ever more interconnected world, poverty anywhere affects people everywhere. TechnoServe’s work is effective because it harnesses the desire people have to help themselves — nurturing dignity by allowing people to take ownership of their successes and failures. TechnoServe is effective because it looks for sustainable solutions, not quick fixes.

 

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