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Investing in the Future

A poultry cooperative is being helped to grow and create new income opportunities in a region hard-hit by South Africa's apartheid history.

Standing in a chicken shed in a remote part of South Africa, with a makeshift whiteboard and a local resident serving as a translator, Ryan Drake-Lee considered his challenge: to persuade the members of Masana Poultry Farm to reinvest some of their slim earnings into their cooperative. Drawing on his experience as a McKinsey & Company consultant in Atlanta, he addressed the farmers' probing questions and strove for a consensus.

Drake-Lee had come here as a volunteer consultant, working with several clients as part of a TechnoServe program (funded by South Africa's Business Trust) to create jobs and revenue in this economically marginalized region. In the case of Masana, his job was to help the cooperative expand to meet growing local demand and quadruple its annual revenue.

Drake-Lee's chicken-shed presentation succeeded. Through regular on-site meetings, he then began helping Masana secure financing to build new sheds that will more than triple their capacity. He is also helping them cut costs by reorganizing and finding less expensive supplies. In addition, the cooperative has expanded its products to include feed and poultry vaccinations, and it now plans to sell beyond the local market.

The farmers are on track to see their income increase by more than a third, enabling them to better afford education for their children, among other life improvements. Seeing their futures brighten has given Drake-Lee a tremendous sense of achievement.

"I love it," he says. "Never before have I felt like I was making such real impact and having as much fun."