Ask a TechnoServe Expert: Myriam Sainz on Corporate Partnerships

"Ask a TechnoServe Expert" is a series where our staff members, who work on a range of important global development issues, answer your questions. In this edition, Director of Strategic Initiatives Myriam Sainz answered your questions about corporate partnerships.

Coffee farmers in South Sudan
A coffee farmer in Yei, South Sudan, applies learnings on mulching her coffee trees through the Nespresso Reviving Origins program.

This month, we asked you to submit your questions for Myriam Sainz, TechnoServe’s Director of Strategic Initiatives. Myriam leads TechnoServe’s global strategic partnership with Nespresso. She has led the scale-up of the Nespresso AAA Sustainable Quality™ Program, impacting over 60,000 coffee farming families in East Africa, and developed Nespresso’s Reviving Origins programs across Zimbabwe, Puerto Rico, and formerly South Sudan.

How do you balance the need to deliver financial performance [to companies] while supporting the health of the value chain (such farmers, farms, local manufacturing) to ensure its sustainability?

– James; Malaysia

Myriam Sainz
Myriam Sainz, Director of Strategic Initiatives

The goal of TechnoServe’s corporate partnership work is to find and develop the cases where there is true shared value – a mutually beneficial relationship between businesses and the communities they work with. In other words, private sector financial performance and the health of the value chain do not need to be contradictory goals. In fact, we first analyze the business case for both the company and the members of the community, to make sure value is being created for all players throughout. Our partners provide program participants with access to technical expertise, financing, employment opportunities, and most importantly, high-value markets, which strengthens the commercial viability and sustainability of the overall value chain.

One example that comes to mind is our work with Danone in Mexico. In this project, we needed to develop a strategy to improve the livelihoods of dairy farmers on a sustainable basis, while also working to diversify Danone’s milk supply and reduce risk. Through the partnership, dairy farmers received technical training and access to financing to improve infrastructure like milking machines and cooling tanks. Participating farmers increased their incomes and the quality and quantity of their cows’ milk, all while developing a long-term partnership with a major buyer that provided price stability in a highly volatile market. In return, Danone received a quality and sustainable product. Although this is just one example, all of our corporate partnerships strive to achieve this same type of mutually beneficial relationship.

In your corporate partnership programs, are there certain kinds of crops or sectors that you have found deliver the most impact for small farmers or entrepreneurs?

– Anonymous

TechnoServe focuses on “high-margin” value chains that provide greater monetary returns to farmers – examples include coffee, cocoa, cashew, dairy, and horticulture. These products are typically intended for export or local processing, and have the potential to generate significant income for the farmers we work with. Companies that buy these crops often also provide services such as inputs, credit, secure markets, and price incentives for quality. In some cases, lower-value crops like cereals can also represent attractive opportunities when they are integrated into the supply chains of larger companies that reward farmers for quality and loyalty (e.g. food processors or breweries).

Given an approach where market incentives are driven by growth and returns, how do you promote gender inclusion/parity?

– Harrison M. Wambua

Women’s empowerment is increasingly becoming a priority for our corporate partners. When given the opportunity, women often prove themselves just as good, if not better, in every aspect of work that would matter to a corporate – farming, processing, selling, caring for resources, etc. This results in greater productivity, quality, environmental sustainability, and, ultimately, a greater return on investment for the corporation.

Research shows that women are more likely to invest their money in socially beneficial ways, such as the education of children, healthcare, and home improvements, which improves the community overall.

The goal of TechnoServe’s corporate partnership work is to find and develop the cases where there is true shared value – a mutually beneficial relationship between businesses and the communities they work with.”

For those reasons, we have designed approaches and proactive measures to ensure that  women are able to participate in our training programs, and that they are learning and benefitting from them. Currently, 39 percent of TechnoServe’s clients are women, but we are always looking for ways to increase that number to at least 50 percent.  When both women and men are involved, there is better decision-making, better household income opportunities, and better performance for the businesses that work with women.

How does TechnoServe work to link smallholder farmers directly to large corporations?

– Billy Shinggu; Nigeria

In general, TechnoServe begins by working with companies to identify the best areas for buying the agricultural products they need. We then invite farmers in that area to join our programs, which provide training and other assistance to help them improve the quality and quantity of their crops, reduce their costs, and manage natural resources more sustainably, which ultimately benefits both the farmer and the corporation. While we do not participate in the exchange of goods, we facilitate the creation of commercially viable relationships that last long after we finish a program.

For example, we partner with Nespresso to identify origins that have high-quality coffee, we invite farmers in that area to join the program, and we offer them training and access to Nespresso as a high-value market, provided that the quality of their coffee is up to standards. We then work with the businesses that aggregate the coffee, which are often cooperatives run by the coffee farmers, to build their capacity to provide services to farmers. We also connect local businesses to the exporters who ultimately finalize the transaction with Nespresso.

In this way, the coffee grown by a farmer in rural Zimbabwe can end up as a very enjoyable, high-end beverage for someone half a world away.